I am looking to start my own Mobile Home Transport Company. Does anyone currently do this and can you share any feedback? What is best equipment for moving single wides?
The coolest Toter I ever saw had a fully articulating Hitch. I think it was called an Omni Hitch.
It’s basically a fully articulating hydraulic arm that can reach out and hook up.
He even had a Fifth Wheel adapter for moving RV’s.
This guy could put a Single Wide into the Tightest Spot ever. He NEVER had to unhook and reposition. I used him for +20 years.
It was definitely the best set up, unless you want to bring along a House Tug.
For anyone considering starting an MH Transportation company - buying a truck, hiring personnel - know that this is a difficult and expensive endeavor. Because commercial trucking insurance is so expensive, you typically need to run that truck/tractor/toter a lot to make it pay for an expensive insurance policy.
If you are hauling homes for yourself and others and have one toter, the cost for commercial trucking, cargo ($100k limit), and general liability insurance will exceed $10,000. If you don’t have any experience, double or triple that - if you can find it at all.
It’s funny that this just got attention two years later. So we actually just did this last year in NC. We’re based out of the charlotte, NC area. Since the odds of you being in our area and competing with us are astronomically small, I’ll spill the beans and give you the ENTIRE playbook.
We started a setup crew because we had built in business. We have two parks here locally that we bought and are permitted for about 110 pads between them and have only ever had about 15 pads developed. So yes we are actually building parks based on standards and codes from 40 years ago; it’s wonderful.
Here’s the meat and taters:
You HAVE TO HAVE a house tug, platypus, and two RELIABLE trucks that can haul them, block, and axles. There are a lot of old guys out here using bottle jacks and their trucks and that’s it. That’s how it’s been done since the beginning of time but it’s significantly more dangerous and time consuming. The reason you NEED this equipment is to work year round, or as close to it as possible. Most guys with just a truck and bottle jacks shut down from Oct/Nov until March or April because it’s too wet to work. If your truck has no traction and the house in sinking in the mud you just have to pack up and go home.
Buy your house tug and platypus from Cutting Systems Inc (CSI) in Union Grove, NC. They’re known across the country for building the best machines and they stand behind their work. DO NOT buy Remote Trax. Their machine is garbage. I know other setup guys in my area that have had their CSI house tug for 30 years; I’m not exaggerating.
You need a minimum 16ft trailer to pull the house tug. Buy a tandem axle, bumper pull trailer with 8,000lb axles. Don’t buy a gooseneck - you need your truck bed. We pull a 20ft trailer with side rails so we have room on it for block/axles/wheels if need be. The tug is 11,000 lbs and the trailer will be 3-3500ish so you have about 1500 lbs to play with safely. Platypus is self explanatory; just buy the machine and the rest is easy. You also need two GOOD trucks. We learned this lesson the hard way. We bought an 01 F350 and a 96 dodge 2500 (that 12-valve cummins though…) to start. We were on a tight budget and they got us going but weren’t quite adequate. The platypus can be pulled by a newer(2010 or newer diesel) 2500 and that truck can still serve as your block/materials truck. The tug needs something with some ass. The F350 did the job but bit the dust last week. We went and bought a chevy 5500 and I wish we could’ve done that from the beginning. Don’t cheap out on your trucks. The more time you spend fixing them, the less time you’re spending setting houses. You’re either in the truck repair business or home setting business; not both.
Next you’ll need tools. Combo wrenches, impact drills, impact wrenches, measuring tapes (100ft and 300ft), levels, shovels, come-along (doublewides), socket sets, wrenches, roofing nail gun ladders, air hose, 200ft of commercial grade extension cord, about 100 1x3s to put up plastic on doublewides, 6 mil black plastic (DWs), 20 ton bottle jacks (2 regular height, 2 stubby). You’ll also need an anchoring machine (buy minute man), generator, and air compressor. Don’t cheap out on the generator get something decent that puts out 5500 watts or more. The air compressor can bog it down at times.
A note on impact wrenches: We have two compacts, one full size, and one full size corded. If you can only buy two, start with the full size battery and full size corded. Compacts are good for breakdown but you need the full size for tightening up wheel lugs prior to transport (the compacts can’t torque them down tight enough) and you need the full size corded to lag doublewides together. Driving in lags will burn up your battery powered full size; it just doesn’t have the power. This becomes very apparent on 60ft+ DWs.
House Tug and Platypus: $132,000
Trucks: $25,000 but here again, if you can spend more, please do. It will save you SO MANY HEADACHES.
Tools: $2-4000 depending on if you start with the essentials or everything. We started with the essentials and bought things as needed until we had two of everything.
Air compressor: $100-200
Anchoring machine: $1200
Our total startup cost was about $175,000 but we got a loan for $110,000 for the house tug and platypus. This will get you started setting houses. To start with I would strongly recommend just doing setup and hiring out the transport. There is a lot of very expensive insurance involved with transport and unless you’ve got a whole lot of cash just burning a hole in your pocket it’s better to hire it out and build that into your price.
IF you want to start cheaper and use a truck and bottle jacks then go for it. A decent toter is $30-40k. Make sure it has a 6-way hitch. Buy a single axle, not tandem; easier to maneuver since you’re going to be working in tight spaces at times.
If you want to really do it and buy a toter, house tug, platypus, the works, then go for it. We hire out transport for $1000 per floor. Sometimes more if we’re going further than 30 minutes or so. Our transporter has told us that after paying escort, fuel, permit, and monthly insurance he probably makes $2-300 per floor. Don’t expect to pull your own homes and make a significant amount of money more. The important thing that pulling your own homes gives you is velocity. You’re not waiting on somebody else and you might be able to pull 2 or 3 floors a day depending on distance.
Finally, AVOID THE MOUNTAINS when starting out. Everything takes twice as long and is harder on your trucks, equipment, etc. Tight turns, narrow roads, steep hills, sketchy setups. The guys who make a living up there are just built different.
All that said, get an education in this first before diving in. We started by sending my business partner to work for one of the guys about an hour down the road. He worked for them for 6 months before coming to run our crew. He made lists of tools, procedures, what he would do differently, what can save time, etc. Experience is king. It would even pay to work for somebody who does it the old fashioned way with bottle jacks and a truck. That way if your equipment is down or something you can still work.
Lastly, time your startup. Like I mentioned earlier things pick up from Feb through Oct/Nov but you can’t work if it’s raining or the ground is so soft you can’t move the home. Try to start finding customers in February and start working in March. Customers will be plentiful and you’ll have less rainy days than in the fall/winter. Good weather = more working days = more money made = paying your bills and having some left over = reserve for the winter months. I PROMISE you’ll do half your normal volume in the winter IF YOU’RE LUCKY. All the guys I know that just have a toter and bottle jacks shut down entirely because working legitimately isn’t worth the hassle.
I’ll leave insurance up to you. There are plenty of old timers out there that don’t work for lots and don’t carry any. We started that way but as soon as we could afford insurance, we got it. I’m not recommending that but when you’re bootstrapping it, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Happy to answer any questions. We need more young guys getting into this. My partner and I are 26 and 27 and we’re the youngest guys doing this in our area by about 25 years. The dirty little secret within Clayton is that the older guys are retiring and closing up and there are virtually no crews replacing them and that is straight from the horse’s mouth at corporate.
I’ve seen a 6 way hitch with a winch but never an omni hitch. That’s just downright cool. I know what we’ll be putting on our toter next!
Amazing write up. The golden nuggets of info in this forum are amazing. Thank you.
I do have some questions:
After all is said and done, does the net income the business generate actually worth it? Or is it just better used as a way to save costs in in-fill projects from MHP’s you currently operate and make some side income to cover it?
what’s the cost for you (employees, and other on- going costs) to set a home versus hiring it out? What’s the margin you are saving? I’m sure the benefits in speed are amazing, however.
at what scale would it make sense for somebody to follow this model? I’m currently struggling finding reliable people who can do this and seriously considering just doing it myself, but alas, it’s not so simple.
I’m not considering ever doing this but thank you for the write up. Love seeing what goes into the business, especially having worked with movers and installers so frequently.
- After all is said and done, does the net income the business generate actually worth it? Or is it just better used as a way to save costs in in-fill projects from MHP’s you currently operate and make some side income to cover it?
Only you can answer this question. I don’t know what your business looks like. We have about 100 pads to fill over the next 4-5 years and it’s not like we’re going to stop buying parks either. At 15-20 per year just for ourselves, it made a lot of sense when you consider the going rate for moving a singlewide is $3500. I’d say if you’re not filling 15 of your own pads per year then it’s probably not worth it unless this is a business you really want to expand into. What I don’t recommend is buying all this stuff and then just letting it sit most of the year because you only set 8 or 10 homes per year. When your equipment, trucks, etc sit, it’s almost worse than working it to death.
- what’s the cost for you (employees, and other on- going costs) to set a home versus hiring it out? What’s the margin you are saving? I’m sure the benefits in speed are amazing, however.
This is a loaded question since this is a business for us, not just a side venture so we can set our own stuff so I’ll give you our numbers but if you just do this on the side for yourself you’ll be able to trim these down.
Anchors, Straps, Bracing systems, ABS footer pads: $4-500 depending on size of home. Variance is due to how many footer pads you’ll need.
Labor: 2 guys, 8 hrs @ $15/hr = $240, before I catch some flak for just having two guys, yes you can run a 2 man crew if you have the equipment. Before we found good, consistent help that actually showed up, my partner and I could dig in a 76ft singlewide in 2 hours but we bust ass because time is money and we aren’t hourly. Two guys who know what they’re doing can set a singlewide in a day and be home for dinner.
Fuel: 2 trucks, $50 per truck per job average. Housecat and Platypus get filled up once a week or so. $15 for housecat, $5 for platypus.
Transport: Can vary but we pay $1000 per floor.
Total: $17-1900. Transport is what kills you if you don’t pull your own homes but like I mentioned above. Where we save a tremendous amount of money is new homes. I’m licensed as a dealer and we buy about a dozen new homes each year. For those you’ll spend an extra $150 or so on block but to set a new house will cost $8-900 AND you get axles, wheels, tongue, and all the hardware.
The overarching fixed costs not mentioned above are loan payments (equipment and trucks) and salaries. My business partner is our crew lead now until we get one guy trained up and he is salaried at $40k/yr. If you get to the point where you can train somebody good with a brain in their head to run your crew then you can get away with paying them $18-20/hr. $18-20/hr comes out to roughly $40k/yr but one good guy that can run your crew is worth that and more.
- at what scale would it make sense for somebody to follow this model? I’m currently struggling finding reliable people who can do this and seriously considering just doing it myself, but alas, it’s not so simple.
All in all, unless you’ve got a spare $250k laying around and you can buy everything you need for cash and just run it as you need, I would 100% NOT recommend getting in business just to save yourself money. You’re trading one rusty knife for another. Unless you set 20 of your own homes per year, the cost savings really isn’t worth it. If you’re moving less than 15-20/yr it would be better to find a good mover to partner with. Pay them cash and keep them happy.
If you’re going to get into moving houses, get into it as a business, not to save you money. And to answer your question earlier, the older guys who run a setup crew and work it themselves have about a 50% profit margin. We run it like an actual business (not just our jobs) and our profit is about 25-30%.