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Q & A with Charlie Lazor of FlatPak Continued...

Charlie Lazor of FlatPak.

Prefabs:  Where would you say you are at in the whole scheme at FlatPak?

Charlie Lazor:  Step one was the designing and building of this house, the FlatPak prototype [his current home].  It was completed in the summer of 2004.  Step two, we licensed the fabrication, marketing and the sales to a company called Empyrean,  a component based builder of modern houses. This November [2007] I took FlatPak back into my office to do everything under one roof.

We designed and built about a dozen FlatPaks across the country, but I wanted to grow FlatPak in a different way, meaning integrated in marketing, sales, design, fabrication and assembly.  So our core FlatPak team has developed FlatPak ‘2.0.’

Prefabs:  Prefab companies seem focused on design, are there bigger problems?

Charlie Lazor:   Only a segment of it [Prefab] is an "architect or designers" problem, and then the rest of it is all the entities required to make it successful.  There is a sales and communication function.  There's a design function, obviously.  And, there's a fulfillment function.

We have a fulfillment system which is going to be based on a team of assemblers who do all the jobs.  Everyone that gets a FlatPak house gets the same team, with the same FlatPak jumpsuit and super hero capes on, jumping out of the FlatPak truck to put their house together.

I feel that is a big jump forward for us.  The knowledge base required is embedded with the doers, as opposed to trying to embed the knowledge with different crews as you go.  We're really excited.  We have some great consultants and a robust team that is experienced as well as a bend to doing things in progressive but practical way.

The consultants that we have on board are pushing the envelope in their respective areas.  The building industry, particularly residential, is very fragmented, and it’s very stubborn and very conservative.  It’s an industry that doesn't change. 

What we are doing, in my mind is obvious.  The problem is it goes against the grain of how things are and so that makes it more of a challenge.  You're not going to get it right the first time out.  I think the ones that are persistent and who are flexible and listen well are the ones who will succeed.  I'm confident that we will be in a good place in the next couple years.

Prefabs: After living in the FlatPak prototype, are there things you changed in the FlatPak design?

Charlie Lazor:   The outside of the house is very much like our current houses with some small material substitutions. On the inside, we've spent a ton of time fine tuning details, but the essential idea of eight foot panels that can be tiled together starting at the roof and working down to a variable height has stayed the same.

One thing that has changed from this house as a prototype is the window system.  The prototype had glass directly mounted to the frame of the house.  We now use a conventional, commercial grade aluminum window and door system.  The ceilings, the cabinetry, the concrete floors, radiant heat, the wall dividers and the sort of a plug and play system of material choices, remain the same.

Prefabs:  So a few things have changed?

Charlie Lazor:   Yeah.  It’s not so much the design and the material,  it’s been developing methodologies for communicating to the clients what FlatPak is and developing methodologies and tools to communicate with the client during the design process.  And the same process of developing methodologies to document and make decisions in the office and how we communicate that to the crew that is putting it together.  To me, this is what is often missing with Prefab, it’s like four fifths of the problem. 

Yes, you need a system that is logical and makes sense, a system that works on a module, but to me that's a fifth of the problem.  A lot of it is industrial engineering type prefabs questions that don't often get baked into the idea.


Prefabs:  Prefab often seems misunderstood by consumers…

Charlie Lazor:  The prefab house has been over simplified in the media.  Like a lot of things, it sounds too good to be true,  and it is.  A lot of people think these houses show up with a ribbon around them, lifted onto the foundation and two days later you’re living in it.  The amount of work that happens before all that is tremendous.  I think a lot of people were writing about prefab a few years ago as some kind of miracle solution. They are not low cost housing, they do not happen instantaneously.

Prefabs:  Your idea of success in building a FlatPak home?

Charlie Lazor:  Our goal is to build these houses in less than six months and provide as much value to our clients as we can.

Prefabs:  And in terms of FlatPak as a company, your idea of success?

Charlie Lazor:   I'm a true believer in building a business slowly and carefully, learning to crawl before we walk, and walk before we run.

My goal is to do about a dozen houses in the next 12 months.  Based on that, I would be pleased if we did about two dozen homes a year after that. Most of all, each home is a client; a person, or a couple.  We want them to be happy and fulfilled with their FlatPak house and to say it was a great experience.

Prefabs.com:   Thank you for your time.

Charlie Lazor:   Thank you.

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