Wilder Company and Irene Rebuilder Reaches Milestone
One of the more ambitious plans was when several non-profit organizations teamed up to create the Modular Housing Innovation Project in 2013. It was a pilot program to construct 10 well-insulated and energy efficient modular homes to replace mobile homes.
Leading the effort was Steven Davis, Vermod owner, a local builder with an energy-efficient construction background.“The pilot program moved along very quickly. The concept of replacing traditional mobile homes with energy efficient modular homes really appealed to people. It all took off without doing any real advertising. So much was word of mouth,” said Kristen Connors, Vermod General Manager and Davis’ niece.
As a result of the pilot program’s success Vermod was born. The company set up shop in an old maintenance garage on Maple Street in Wilder, a village in Windsor County just north of White River Jct on the Connecticut River.
From top left: Kristen Connors, Vermod General Manager; Richard Broughton; Donald Hufault; Steven Davis, Vermod Owner, and Kristen Connors; A Vermod zero-energy ready home.
Vermod quickly outgrew that space and moved to its current location on Route 5 in 2015.
The company along with its 16 employees builds a variety of modular homes. They range anywhere in size from 14 feet by 40 feet to 14 feet by 72 feet and can be built wider should the owner choose.
The homes layouts have changed as well. Originally the homes were one box, but then Vermod started designing homes with two boxes side by side and then homes that are side by side with a third box on top.
“Steven is more of the creator. He comes up with the concepts and the exterior design. Much of what we do and learn is thanks to research and development. Many people don’t understand that what we may have been doing last year is not what we are doing this year because we are always finding new ways to improve our product. It is kind of like a car manufacturer. Last year’s 2019 model is probably not going to be exactly like the 2020 model,” said Connors.
The company works to provide net-zero ready homes by densely packing each home with insulation, mounting solar panels on the roofs and installing efficient heat pumps.
“Because the homes have so many energy efficient features, it takes longer to build a Vermod home than a traditional manufactured or modular home. Most of the time the energy-efficient systems we install are more complex and can cost more than a traditional modular home.”
The energy-efficient systems they install perform remarkably well, but there is a high-level of maintenance that comes along with owning a Vermod home.
“In the beginning I think we may have missed the boat a bit educating and training homeowners. With all our homes the performance is there, but when maintenance is not conducted regularly there can be some setbacks and we are working with homeowners on how to maintain their homes.
As the company grew hiring more employees and building more homes, Connors said each day could be hectic.
“You are trying to run a business that is growing so fast and you are trying to do all sorts of things all at once. Suddenly I’d look at the clock and say ‘Wow! It’s already 5 o’clock,’” she said.
In 2019 Connors heard about the Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders Program, a free executive-level training program for entrepreneurs wanting to expand their small businesses.
“We were creating a great product, but there was a lot of organizing that needed to be done. We were growing so much it can often be hard to make sure you are always checking off your boxes, so I thought I could really benefit from this class,” she said.
During the seven-month course, the 20 students selected for the program meet once every two weeks at Vermont Technical College in Williston to work with their instructor and a network of industry experts to create a three-year strategic growth plan.
“It was great to sit in a room with people who are experiencing the same issues as me. At first you think it’s going to be difficult to get away from work, but a big part of the class is to learn to step away, examine your business, come up with solutions and implement them” said Connors.
When the opportunity came, Connors decided to look at Vermod from top to bottom.
“I dug thru the entire business. From the web site to the production schedule. I broke it down into 16 areas and looked at ways to improve each area. A few of the things we did was to create a training manual for our employees, which has everything they need to know about Vermod, implemented a plan to better educate our customers about Vermod homes and rearranged much of the front office space to improve administration functions,” Connors said.
Soon Vermod will finish its 100th home and start building its 101st. As much as Connors says she wants the company to grow, Vermod’s mission is to continue to build an affordable energy-efficient home one at a time.
Danny Monahan, Small Business Administration
vermontbiz.com / South Burlington, VT / January 2020