Mobile home maker sells 16,000th home

12/12/2012 7:02 AM

12/12/2012 7:03 AM

Tommy Andes has sold enough homes to replace every single dwelling in Cowley County.

On Tuesday Andes, a salesman for the Skyline mobile home plant in Arkansas City, handed over the keys to his 16,000th mobile home to his son, Ryan Andes, co-owner of East Side Homes in Wichita.

Representatives from Skyline, of Elkhart, Ind., the dealership and friends of the Andes family milled around, shaking hands and trading stories before they swapped keys and took photos.

Tommy Andes said the secret to such prodigious productivity is enjoying the job, selling strong products, working with good people – and longevity.

Perspective is something the mobile home industry has gotten a lot of in the last 10 to 15 years.

Mobile homes rode a credit bubble in the mid-90s to tremendous highs, selling more and more expensive units to almost anyone who wanted one. The bubble popped in the late 1990s and sales declined.

A decade ago there were three mobile home plants in the Wichita area, now only the Skyline plant remains.

A decade ago, there were a dozen dealerships in the area. Today, there are three, and Ryan Andes estimates he has 60 percent of the market.

This year will see a slight uptick in sales nationally, maybe 5 percent, driven largely by the demand for housing for oil field workers in North Dakota and Texas, said Skyline’s vice president of sales and marketing Terry Decio.

“I don’t want to come off too bullish,” Decio said, with a rueful laugh.

Ryan Andes said the homes he sells have gotten smaller and less expensive, as buyers’ incomes and the amount they can borrow have shrunk.

And, he said, he is selling fewer homes to individuals who will put them on rented lots in urban mobile home parks. At the same time, he is selling more to the owners of those parks, who are now renting the home as well as the pad – traditionally unpopular with park owners because of the amount of monitoring, upkeep and repair.

The biggest percentage of sales, he said, goes to rural buyers who own their own lots.

Ryan Andes said he buys from his father often – Skyline is his biggest supplier – and that means if there are problems with the product, he’ll call his dad to get it straightened out.

“I’ll say ‘Hey, what’s going on with this?’ ” Andes said. “The tables are reversed, but I can’t get too hard on my dad.”

Both father and son have lived the ups and downs of the industry.

Tommy Andes said he’d keep the foot-long commemorative gold key he got on Tuesday, but he’d also keep the congratulations in perspective.

“It’s like a football team,” he said. “It’s really nice when you win, but it’s always ‘What are you going to do next week?’ ”

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