Curt and Norma Hames founded what is now known as Hames Homes in 1969. The company is now in its third generation and employs a total of 25 people. PHOTO HAMES HOMES

 

By Emery Styron
news@corridorbusiness.com

“It was quite a culture shock,” remembers Barbara Hames-Bryant, of her family’s move in 1969 to Marion to open a mobile home dealership, after stops in Bangkok, Thailand, and southwest Missouri. “We had never been through an Iowa winter.”

Fortunately, her parents, Curt and Norma Hames, weren’t easily daunted, either by harsh weather or a chilly reception from the area’s 20 existing “trailer dealers,” as they were known at the time. The Hames set about delivering a culture shock of their own, both to competitors and the state’s manufactured home industry, with effects that are still felt 50 years later.

“Mobile home dealers were considered disreputable. My parents had never been business owners, never lived in Iowa, had never sold homes. We were in a perfect place to challenge the common wisdom of the industry,” said Ms. Hames-Bryant, who now serves as president of the three-generation company her military-retiree parents founded.

Using $25,000 they had saved in the service, the couple launched Homestead Mobile Homes at 640 Marion Blvd., and quickly contested the Iowa Department of Transportation’s restriction on Sunday sales of manufactured homes.

IDOT at the time regulated the state’s manufactured housing industry, controlling not only the movement of large structures down the highways, but also the retailers who sold the homes, much as the agency regulates car dealers.

“Since auto dealers couldn’t sell homes on Sunday (and didn’t want to), mobile/manufactured housing dealers couldn’t sell homes on Sunday either,” said Iowa Manufactured Housing Association (IMHA) Executive Director Joe Kelly.

The Hames, he said, “fashioned themselves in the housing business and not in the car business.” Their successful legal challenge to the Sunday sales law placed manufactured home sales on a level playing field with the real estate industry, but dismayed fellow mobile home dealers, who not only took Sundays off, but closed shop all winter.

The Hames soon upset another apple cart by heating their mobile home display models with gas and making sales all winter while competitors basked in warmer climes.

Removing barriers to sales and working hard to match customers with the right homes for their needs paid off. Dropping the Homestead franchise and rebranding as Hames Mobile Homes in 1971, the business opened a second sales center in Hiawatha in 1972 and a third in Iowa City in 1974. The business has since consolidated to a single location at 5410 Wasbash St. SW in Cedar Rapids.

Members of the IMHA who wanted to influence the Hames against taking “radical” action invited them to join the association, Mr. Kelly recalled, but the couple ended up turning association leaders toward their way of thinking. Mr. Hames was elected IMHA president in 1975. He and his wife led the association’s successful drive for a state “tie-down” law, passed in 1977, that they believed would improve both the industry’s image and the safety of residents.

Mr. Hames, who died in 2017, went on to serve decades as chair of the IMHA legislative committee, and in 2001 became was the first manufactured housing industry representative from Iowa inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana. His son, General Manager and Vice President of Sales Troy Hames, is wrapping up his second term as IMHA president, continuing the family’s leadership in the industry.

Hames Communities model positive image

The Hames quest to create a positive image for manufactured housing goes far beyond lip service and lobbying. Their three mobile home communities – Grand View, Summit View and West Park Village, all located in Cedar Rapids’ fast-growing southwest quadrant –earned the company a ranking among the top 100 manufactured home community owners in North America in 2014 by the Allen Report, a trade publication for the manufactured housing industry.

With on-site management, paved streets, neatly-trimmed lawns and amenities like basketball courts and playgrounds, covered picnic pavilions, off-street parking and community centers, Hames communities are a far cry from “the stigma of trashy neighborhoods and falling down buildings” that Ms. Hames-Bryant says still plagues the industry.

Hames communities are home to some 2,200 people – a population larger than that of 80 percent of the cities in Iowa, Ms. Hames-Bryant notes. The company functions much like a municipal public works department, maintaining streets, water mains, sewers and streetlights. The communities attract all types of families, both young and retired, and are “lovely,” Ms. Hames-Bryan said.

“We screen applicants and do background and credit checks. People can move in and be sure they are not living next to a drug dealer.”

Hames now makes all its sales – about 60-70 per year – within its communities. One driver of the business is affordability. Ms. Hames-Bryant said. Manufactured homes, built in a climate-controlled environment, cost $40-50 per square foot, compared to $110 per square foot for site-built homes.

Multi-generational buyers and sellers

Over the years, Hames has developed multi-generational relationships with customers and has become a multi-generational business itself.

“We’ve sold manufactured homes to families and extended families, which we love, and multiple homes to the same families as they upgrade,” said Ms. Hames-Bryant.

Troy’s and Barbara’s third sibling, Cynthia Hames, serves as the company’s loan service and titling manager, and three third-generation family members work in the business. Troy’s son, Curtis, is sales manager, and his son-in-law, Clint Aldeman, helps with sales. Barbara’s son, Sean Bryant, does outside maintenance.

Of the score of mobile home dealers in the market in 1969, a half-century later, only Hames remains. And, “the family remains sensitive to improving the profession in as many ways as possible, including thinking of ways to make living in a manufactured housing community even more enjoyable,” said Mr. Kelly.

“The Hames family will be around, and as leaders, for many years to come,” he predicted. CBJ