Alberto Piña on the Art of Improvement Podcast
Karen Clauss: Coming up this week, we talked to Alberto Piña, CEO of Braustin Homes. We’ll talk about how he worked with his brother and how they change people’s lives with their business. Our conversation with Alberto Piña coming up next on The Art of Improvement.
Giovanni Marotta: Welcome to The Art of Improvement. I’m Giovanni-
Karen Clauss: And I’m Karen Klaus and today we are talking to Alberto Piña. He is the CEO of Braustin Homes. Thank you so much for coming by today.
Alberto Piña: Thank you for having me.
Karen Clauss: So you’re in business with your brother. You got to tell us a little bit about what you do. I looked at your website and the one thing that caught my eye was we change people’s lives with our business. And I loved that. It was absolutely like, wow, you do. You provide affordable homes for people that may not be able to get one. May just want one. Can you talk about that a little?
Alberto Piña: Yeah, absolutely. So our big focus is of course affordable housing, basically making the starter home cool again. The core of our businesses helping people we never meet basically buy homes they don’t see and then we deliver them all over Texas and New Mexico.
Karen Clauss: What is the difference, please forgive me for my ignorance, but what is the difference between mobile homes and manufactured homes? I always wondered that.
Alberto Piña: So officially after 1976 they became manufactured homes. When the federal government stepped in federal regulation on the quality and how they’re built. But when we were naming the company, we chose mobile home cause that’s how our customers refer to them. And a big part of starting a business is listen to the customer and giving them what they want.
Karen Clauss: Exactly. So I mean, how did you get into the business anyway?
Alberto Piña: I started … it was 10 years ago last week. And frankly I just needed a job, so.
Karen Clauss: That’s always a good way to start a business.
Giovanni Marotta: So where are you in the industry before?
Alberto Piña: Yeah, I started in sales, then took over a store as a manager, and I’ve worked in all parts of the industry at this point and few years ago we just decided we wanted to see some change that wasn’t happening and we decided to do it ourselves.
Giovanni Marotta: So what did you feel like the hole was in the industry? Meaning, what could you make better? What did you think was bad about it or what would make it better for the customer?
Alberto Piña: The biggest hole we set out to kind of fill was the customer experience, the experience of buying a home. And if you think about the used car industry before CarMax came onto the scene, our industry was, and still in large part very much is that way. And for us, when folks are looking to make the biggest buying decision of their lives, we just didn’t think with modern technology they had to go through all the hoops and gimmicks and all that kind of stuff. We wanted to allow them to buy a home the way you can buy anything on Amazon. Right?
Karen Clauss: Well, I mean how is it different from buying a home and what makes people decide, okay I want a mobile home versus a regular standing home. I mean, how do you even come to that point?
Alberto Piña: I would say for the bulk of our customers the budget kind of dictates that.
Karen Clauss: Okay. Because I don’t know anything about the cost. I mean, what are the costs?
Alberto Piña: Our average home’s going to range between $25 to $30 a square foot. A big part of that is just the factory efficiencies. Right? It takes three days to build a home this way versus six months on a traditional site built. So the biggest thing is cost, right? Folks that want to get into home ownership but maybe can’t afford a $250,000, $300,000 mortgage. And that’s really where our industry comes in. So a lot of the things that we offer, if you’re buying $1 million home, you get that experience. We wanted to bring that to the folks buying a $30,000 home.
Karen Clauss: And so do you, these are so basic, but I just want to know for anybody that’s interested, maybe they have the same questions. I mean, do you make a mortgage payment? Is that how it is or do you have to pay the whole thing up front, or?
Alberto Piña: No. Mortgages just like around-
Karen Clauss: A regular home.
Alberto Piña: A traditional home. Right? And you know, a lot of folks already have the land so they’ll just buy the home. If they don’t, we can help them find the land, do all the utilities and whatnot.
Karen Clauss: What do you mean?
Alberto Piña: Water source, septic, all that stuff.
Karen Clauss: So you set that all up when somebody buys it.
Alberto Piña: Yes, Ma’am.
Karen Clauss: That’s extreme. That’s nice. So are there rules, are there laws about where you can put a mobile home?
Alberto Piña: There are, and that’s one of the things we’re working to kind of change right now. Zoning for the most part is pushed where you can build these homes on the outskirts of this city. But if you look at here in San Antonio and really just any big city, affordable housing is a huge problem. And the traditional methods of construction just aren’t scalable to solve that. Right? So there’s just like cell phones have advanced with technology, so has the product that our industry creates, and one of the projects we’re working on right now is a manufactured home subdivision to show people what the modern product looks like, to hopefully help get some elected officials to change some of those zoning laws.
Giovanni Marotta: What is a modern subdivision look like compared to what it was 30 years ago? What’s the difference? Because when people think the mobile home they think of 30 years ago, what does it look like today?
Alberto Piña: When it’s all done and put together, it looks just like any other home you’d walk into. We’re actually just at a subdivision that a local site builder was developing, and walking through it with our team a lot of the features on the inside that we’re doing, granite countertops, tiled, 5×5 foot wide showers, we weren’t seeing in in this site build product. On the outside now though, the subdivision we’re working on, an attached garage, front porch, just like any other house.
Giovanni Marotta: So you’d mentioned the experience that people have when they buy a $700,000 home or a $500,000 home, that you wanted to bring that to your industry. How were you able to do that? Like in what ways? What experience are you giving the buyer now in your industry?
Alberto Piña: Our big focus is helping folks answer all of their questions without ever having to call us, right? If you look at the shift that’s happened, not just in our industry, but since Google came on onto the world, folks buying stuff now, we don’t want to talk to sales reps. Right? I’ve been in sales my whole life. I don’t like talking to salespeople. So we wanted to give them all that information to help them answer those questions upfront. After making the decision to buy, we wanted to facilitate the purchase. So we built a mobile app that really streamlines the entire paperwork process, helps with the service. Our goal is to allow folks to do the entire process from their couch. And I think we’ve accomplished that. We’re always looking to get better, but so far we’ve accomplished that goal.
Giovanni Marotta: Now when someone looks at buying a mobile home, are there different brands? Are there different builders? Are there different, like what are the different options they go to as far as is your company different than the next person that’s doing a mobile home? How does that work?
Alberto Piña: Yes, so there’s a core of builders, factories. These are built in the factory and then the way the laws are written, a consumer has to go through a broker to purchase that home. As a broker we’re responsible for setting it all up. Right? So that’s really why the customer experience had to be the core of our business, because what we sell, you can buy 20 other places down the street. What really separates us is how you go about the process in the experience you have going through the purchase process with us.
Giovanni Marotta: Okay. So when you were looking for a job, how did you end up going into business with your brother?
Alberto Piña: My brother, he started in the industry when he was living down in the Valley a few years prior to us starting this, and his management team was a little different than what we had up here in San Antonio. He went back into sales selling copiers to schools and hospitals and whatnot. And then two years prior to starting our business, he moved back up to San Antonio and we were working together at that point. There was just change we kept asking for, but as most industries, if it’s already working, there’s some resistance to change and settling for I guess good enough. So it just got to the point where we realized to see the change that we wanted to see, we were going to have to be the ones to do it.
Karen Clauss: And is this the first business that you’ve ever started yourselves and run yourselves, or have y’all done anything else before this? Because I did it myself. I opened up my own business, and so I get it. You just think you have a vision that you want to be your own boss and you want to do everything. But had you ever tried anything else or is this it and you went full force?
Alberto Piña: This is I would say our first grownup business. My, Jason and I, we did start we called it Safari lawn care way back when. We wanted Gameboys and our parents were going to give us the money. So we had to go, you know, we made the business cards, went door to door, handing out flyers, the whole nine. But as adults, this is our first stab at it.
Karen Clauss: But why this, I mean, what made you go this direction?
Alberto Piña: 10 years ago, to be completely honest, I almost didn’t show up to my interview. I didn’t know if I wanted to sell mobile homes, trailer homes. I just knew what a lot of folks know is the stereotype of the industry. But when you get to meet the people that this industry serves, it’s the core of our community, right? It’s not just low income people now struggling with housing. It’s teachers, first responders, the people that make the core of our city. And without addressing housing, we’re going to lose, you know, especially in San Antonio, we’re going to lose a lot of that if we push everybody to the outskirts of town.
Karen Clauss: So when you talk about these communities, these new communities, you’re not talking about the outskirts, or where are you talking about? I mean, and how hard is it for you to even get that done?
Alberto Piña: So the one we’re working on now, and we’re still in the very early stages, but there were two things we really wanted to make sure this property provided. One was public transportation, make sure it was attached to it via line. Then the second thing with all the growth happening downtown San Antonio where we started, we wanted to make sure it was within a 20 minute drive of downtown San Antonio where all the growth and the energy of San Antonio is happening right now. And so this property, it’s going to be on the South side of town, but within 15, 20 minutes of downtown and major highways, that kind of thing.
Karen Clauss: And when you’re talking about a subdivision, will the homes already be there for people to purchase just like you would any other brand new subdivision or are people going to pick out their home and then put it there on the lot?
Alberto Piña: So we’ll have a couple of show models. Part of what we’ve done with our business is using virtual reality and augmented reality. We really help people pick out their home without it having to be there. Right? So as a business that saves us money, that reduces our costs and our operation model, which allows us to pass savings on to them. So we won’t have homes on every lot of the subdivision, maybe one or two. Then using the virtual reality, augmented reality technology, they’ll be able to see what their home would actually look like prior to buying it.
Karen Clauss: And another thing is, and I’m not cutting down any home builder, but there have been some affordable housing that you see pop all over the city in the outskirts. And my dad and I always laugh, we’re like, “Yeah, I live in the Brown house with a gray roof,” because that’s all there is. It’s like, and you can jump from roof to roof because they’re so jam packed in there. So with your subdivision, will people have a choice of, is it wood on the outside, is it siding? Do I get to pick a color? How does that work?
Alberto Piña: Yes. So there’s going to be a lot of choices as far as the decor and how it looks. I think the biggest difference, our main goal of this subdivision aside from affordability is to get families and neighbors out of the house, away from the screens. So one thing we’re working on it, have y’all heard of free range children? That kind of concept?
Karen Clauss: It’s just everybody gets to get into the middle, or? I mean that’s what I understood it as. I’ve read it, but no.
Alberto Piña: Basically how a lot of us grew up, getting kids outside, not worrying about them. So what we’re working on with our architects is a concept where instead of the front doors opening up in the streets, all the front doors along the street or what you would think of a street opens up to a community park. Then all the garages, the cars go through the back and the back alleys. And so instead of having a yell ball every five minutes when you’re throwing the ball outside, kids can just go play in this massive front yard.
Karen Clauss: That’s brilliant. I mean, there is one community and it’s sort of near Brackenridge Park that I’m seeing go up and it’s beautiful and they have that same concept. It’s like everything that’s in the middle, that’s where everybody can gather and it is, how weird is that, you know?
Alberto Piña: Your neighbors might actually talk to each other. [crosstalk 00:14:06]
Karen Clauss: Okay, everybody can go outside. That’s a pretty great idea. I like that a lot.
Giovanni Marotta: So how does it work with you and your brother building the business is y’all had a business when y’all growing up to buy game boys and stuff, so how has it changed and developed and what’s your role compared to his?
Alberto Piña: So my brother and I are really, his strengths make up for my weaknesses and vice versa. So what he does is he really runs our sales team the whole day to day, making sure the plans and the processes we put in together actually happen. He’s really good at refining those and making them more efficient. My main job at this point, starting a business, it was everything. But now as we’ve hired people and grown, my main job is kind of pushing for the future of our company. So projects like the subdivision, working on what our next steps are. Our virtual outpost expansion is through HEB, those kind of projects.
Giovanni Marotta: What does that mean? What were you talking about? HEB, what is that?
Alberto Piña: Yeah, so in July we opened up, we call it our virtual outpost. So if you’ve ever been in HEB and seen where they have the barbers, the cell phone companies. So we rented one of those spaces and when you walk in you can grab a tablet and all the floor plans on the wall come to life. They pop out in 3D with using augmented reality technology, we have these giant three foot canvases on the wall that if you hold the tablet up to those turn into customer videos telling their story. We have Oculus headsets you can put on. You’re actually in the house through virtual reality technology, and then if you’ve got questions you can video chat with a team member from the back of the store. So even though most of our business was done online, we enjoy talking to people and we thought maybe using this technology to at least give that face to face without us actually being in front of them would help improve the experience for some of the folks.
Giovanni Marotta: How do you think the customers have responded to the AR and the VR as a sales tool? Just because all those coming in to lot of different industries, it’s not really … a lot of people have never even put on the goggles to see in virtual reality. So how is the response in the business from sales going into that?
Alberto Piña: So one of the big focuses for us and we see it, I would say almost every customer we show that to, it’s their first time seeing it. So the look on their faces is just awesome. But one of our big focuses was to make it practical and actually serve to increase the level of experience when buying a home. So not just technology for technology’s sake, if that makes sense. Right. So one of the things we did, if you download our app and you take our interactive catalog, everything you can do in the store with augmented reality you can do at home on your couch. So it’s looking for ways that there’s a practical application of this technology to help them make a decision.
Giovanni Marotta: Do you feel like getting into that industry of AR and VR, does that help improve your sales? Does it give you more credibility? Does it better the experience more people want to buy your homes? How does it set you apart or does it even set you apart from your competition other than they can do VR? How does it make a difference with the customer?
Alberto Piña: It definitely sets us apart. We’re the only ones doing this, not just an in our space but we were the first ones to do this in real estate in general, the whole virtual outpost concept. It’s still new, so we’re still beta testing and tweaking things. But we have had a few customers that have gone through the experience at a grocery store and ended up buying a home from the grocery store, which is kind of cool to think about. I would say it does add to the credibility with our customers, because I think people nowadays want to buy from companies that are constantly improving. And the whole theme of this podcast, The Art of Improvement. Part of that in today’s world is embracing new technologies and bringing that in.
Karen Clauss: I keep on hearing you talk about credibility and trustworthiness, and since I don’t have any experience with mobile home dealers, I’m getting that there may be some shady ones just by the way you’ve been talking, maybe I’m wrong. But if that is the case, I love that you constantly bring it up and constantly say, “Hey, we’re above board. We want you to see what you’re getting.” So I mean, what is it that is so untrustworthy about some, and I don’t want you pointing fingers, but I mean is it they to try to rip you off on the costs or the add-ons, or how does, I mean, somebody that has not had that experience, you would walk in and think, “Oh, you just go pick, pick, pick.” How are they going to mess you up?
Alberto Piña: Well, I do want to start. There are a lot of great people in our industry-
Karen Clauss: I’m sure, yes.
Alberto Piña: A lot of companies trying to do it the right way. But just like any other industry, if you think back to used cars 20, 30 years ago, there’s a lot of that too, right? And part of it, what we sell isn’t a want. It’s a need. Right? If you think after hurricane Harvey, in our industry you saw prices jumped $20,000, right? Which is outrageous. When people need something, it’s easier to take advantage of that need. There are times when we’re helping people where they’ll just, anybody that says yes, they’re going to run that direction. Right? A big core of what we started with in building our team was the belief that a company can be for profit and for people simultaneously. You don’t have to pick one or the other. So we focus on volume of sales instead of extremely high margins off a few individuals.
Karen Clauss: I love that. I absolutely love that. I wanted to mention since we’ve gone this entire time without mentioning who we’re talking to, again, the CEO of Braustin Homes, Alberto Piña and his brother, you know, you run this. It’s based out of San Antonio, or?
Alberto Piña: It is.
Karen Clauss: So people in the surrounding areas too can come and buy and you’ll build on their lot or how does that work?
Alberto Piña: Yes, so we have, I’d say 70% to 75% of the people we help, we never meet. So we’re helping folks in West Texas, Odessa, folks in New Mexico.
Giovanni Marotta: So you’re all over, they can actually buy the house from you and not even come to San Antonio?
Alberto Piña: Oh, yeah. Yeah. The majority of the folks that buy homes from us do it all online, over the phone. [crosstalk 00:20:45] make anywhere in Texas.
Giovanni Marotta: And they can make all their selections and all that?
Alberto Piña: Yes sir.
Giovanni Marotta: Oh, wow.
Alberto Piña: Yeah.
Giovanni Marotta: That’s very interesting. So when they have the experience, are they doing it all on the VR, on the computer doing their selections, or how much do they actually get to select?
Alberto Piña: Well, if they’re, say an Odessa, 400 miles away, they might not have the VR headset, but the video you see when you put that headset on, you can see on your phone or your computer. So we may do a video chat or video conference where we’re walking him through that video from their phone or their computer. Right? So it’s using different tools, not just the VR, AR really all this technology to give the experience that the individual needs, whether they’re in front of us, whether they’re at the HEB or 400 miles away out out in West Texas. So it varies depending on the location and the circumstance.
Giovanni Marotta: So what did you do before that technology? Were you still selling out in Odessa or Dallas or wherever?
Alberto Piña: Initially when I first started I was 23 and I learned selling the traditional way where you’ve got a big expensive dealership. People come to you. If they’re not coming enough, you go hang out pieces of cardboard on a telephone pole to make people call. And I’d probably put out more of those signs than anybody in that company at the time. It just didn’t work. Right? We were one of the first groups of folks to have things like Facebook. So then we started asking, why aren’t we using these tools to help get the word out there and have people call us? Right?
Alberto Piña: I would say five years ago what we’re doing probably wouldn’t have been possible because a lot of that technology wasn’t out there. But things like Matterport, those videos had been around for a long time. So sometimes just having a decent conversation with people, you don’t need technology for that. Right? But in our industry that at times is a competitive advantage.
Giovanni Marotta: How much do you think the industry has actually missed the boat? Because they’re so set up into how the industry works. In most industries, all the competitors market and do exactly what they do to get customers all within 10% of each other. They’re all doing the same thing. And you’ve kind of gone outside the box with that. Do you feel like most companies are stuck in that?
Alberto Piña: For our industry, we are still the only ones doing what we’re doing. I imagine that’s going to change. We were invited to a national convention out in Tennessee where we were talking to 500 folks from across the country. We’re going to another one in Louisville in January. So eventually that’s going to change-
Karen Clauss: But that first hand wins.
Alberto Piña: Maybe, you know.
Giovanni Marotta: Are you speaking at the convention to tell everyone how to do this? Or, you just attending the convention?
Alberto Piña: In Tennessee and in Louisville we were asked to talk on panels about disruption, right? And what we’re doing, and even talent folks. I mean, we’ll tell anybody, because a lot of folks in our industry still think it’s crazy.
Karen Clauss: Well, and a lot of people listen and they say they’re going to steal it, but not everybody steals, so. Only the winners win at the end of the race. You know what? As we’re wrapping up here, I really want you to give out how people can get in touch with you, how they can go to your actual sites or websites to find out more.
Alberto Piña: Yeah. Our website has a ton of content, video. We’ve got a podcast, Doublewide Dudes, blogs, and that’s findmymobilehome.com, but of course they can always give us a call, 210-510-0500. Our team is super low pressure. They’re really just there to answer questions, so if you’ve got a question, definitely don’t hesitate to call them and they’ll help you get it answered.
Karen Clauss: How much is a payment on a $30,000 home? I’m just asking, I’m just asking for somebody that might want one.
Alberto Piña: $300 to $400 a month.
Karen Clauss: That’s a pretty good mortgage.
Alberto Piña: Yeah.
Giovanni Marotta: Definitely pretty good. Very affordable for sure. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming in and it was great talking to you and learning more about your industry. If you want to hear more about us, go to the iHeartRadio app and you can download the app for free, and you can take a look at us more and hear more of our interviews on The Art of Improvement. Thank you very much and thank you for listening to The Art of Improvement.