Adventure Homes earns national awards
By Sue Carpenter | The Garrett Clipper - KPC Media
A gamble nine years ago to breathe new life into a bankrupt manufactured home company in Garrett has paid off. And it was only fitting they were recognized for their efforts in Las Vegas as Manufacturer of the Year for the third year in a row.
Adventure Homes’ more than 200 employees celebrated the company’s award Tuesday with a catered steak and chicken meal. They also won 2018 design awards for homes with more than 1,800 square feet and best single-wide design.
“In Las Vegas, they said we were most highly recognized one-plant builder in the nation,” Adventure Homes partner Wally Comer said at Tuesday’s celebration. “We’re going to have a good year this year, we’ll be $25 million, we have good profits, it’s just been a great experience.”
He compared first-year sales at $12 million, jumping to $17 million and $21 million later on. The recognition has brought Adventure Homes a lot of business — and Comer thanked employees for making it happen at Tuesday’s celebration.
Every year, Comer said, he and administrators go to Las Vegas to pick up trophies, and every year, “I feel a little guilty because you guys put in a great effort, and I appreciate it,” he told employees.
Beginning next year, should they win the Manufacturer of the Year Award again, Comer said he will be taking three people who were with the company when it started nine years ago, and also will take two people who have been with the company more than one year. “I want some of you to be there an enjoy it, too,” he told employees.
“We may get (the award) a fourth year. Our production is up, and we have grown people, so the plant is very successful. I knew we would be successful, I didn’t know we would be this successful,” Comer said.
“A lot of people were saying we were nuts,” Comer said of buying Fleetwood Homes in mid-August 2009 through a bankruptcy auction with businessmen Walt Fuller and Jerry Henry. Fuller developed the industrial park on the east side of Garrett where the housing plant is located and sold the land to Fleetwood in 1989. Closure of the company would have meant 80 jobs lost in the community.
Fuller said a potential loss of so many local jobs in 2009, should the plant not have reopened, was unacceptable. Comer described the purchase as a “pivotal moment for Garrett.”
Three days prior to the purchase, 58 production and 22 office workers officially were fired from Fleetwood Homes in order to reorganize as Adventure Homes. The investors purchased the assets of Fleetwood Homes for $1.75 million through an auction in bankruptcy court.
All 80 former Fleetwood Homes employees were “rehired” with the new manufactured-home plant on Aug. 17, 2009, after going through an employment application process. Partnering with Fuller and Henry was key to the plant’s success, both with investors and suppliers, they said.
At Tuesday’s event, Production Manager Keith Carnahan and Controller Susan Kasinger handed out umbrellas to dozens of employees who had birthdays during the last quarter — to the cheers of coworkers. Some of the Adventure Homes employees joined the company right out of high school, others formerly worked for Fleetwood Homes, and many are family — both related and by friendship.
Signs in the factory read: “Would you buy the home you built today?” “Remember the next inspector is the customer” and “If we don’t do it better, our competition will.”
“I would put you guys up against anyone else, you really care about what we do,” Carnahan told workers Tuesday.
“It’s nice to get recognized nationally,” said Comer. The winning home with more than 1,800-square feet was his floor-plan design with lots of extras, and a balcony off the master bedroom. But no matter how magnificent the interior, the big dilemma is making the exterior not appear to be a manufactured home, he said. This 2,300-square-foot home has upscale windows and doors, and custom shutters.
“The industry is trying to get bigger,” said Comey of a six-week backlog. Home prices range from $25,000 to $125,000. Adventure Homes workers produce eight or nine floors on average per day. A single-wide home is considered one floor, while a double-wide is two. Last year, the company built 1,900 floors, including 800 doubles, according to General Manager Rich Rice. “It’s a 60/40 mix, with singles more popular,” he said.
Adventure Homes recently was hired to design and build two homes by the Lions Club and Turnstone Center for Children and Adults Disabilities in Fort Wayne to be used for training for the upcoming Paralympics for the blind. Each home on North Clinton Street has eight to 10 bedrooms and a kitchenette. Sight-impaired athletes were part of the design planning, making sure ceiling fans were high enough to accommodate taller athletes; wall switches were used instead of pull chains on the lights; and color differential was implemented for floors and cabinets. All of the team members will be housed at the center for training.
“We really proud of that,” said Comer.
After Tuesday’s meal was over, workers checked out a progress chart on the wall to see how much work they still could get done by the end of the day.
“Let’s go — I have houses to build,” one worker said as he returned to the production line.