My Interview with Vaughan Buckley, Modular’s Leading Innovator

One of the people in the modular housing industry I’ve wanted to interview since I met him a few years back is Vaughan Buckley, the owner of Vaughan Buckley Construction in Philadelphia. He is the rising star more people in our industry should emulate. Vaughan Buckley, Owner of VBC
His vision for what is and could be for the commercial and affordable housing side of our industry is not just an idea he thinks might work but rather it’s his idea put into action and the results so far are amazing.

Here is my Interview With Vaughan Buckley:

Modcoach: Vaughan, you were recently named one of Philly’s
40 under 40. Can you tell us how that came about?

Vaughan Buckley: I was nominated by one of our employees, so the award was actually a surprise. It’s so great to be a part of such an elite group of people [both the Philadelphia Business Journal and Professional Builder Magazine 40 under 40 alumni]. I’ve learned a lot in my years in the industry from so many people, it’s always exciting to win recognition, but it’s tough to properly share it, because in reality the recognition was earned through advice, mentorship and support from a whole lot of people. I see it as a recognition of the strength of our partnerships.

This past year you started a new commercial business with a PA modular home factory and from what I’ve seen and heard that is going very well. Could you tell us more about this unique enterprise?

Vaughan: We have had a great partnership with Ritz-Craft over the last decade as a customer. Around 18 months ago we partnered to create the Johns Buckley entity. This has allowed us to combine Ritz-Craft’s deep manufacturing experience in PA with our pipeline of commercial business to provide a more dedicated supply line to our customers. It has also allowed our team to get much more involved in the manufacturing operations. The business has been well received by our existing and new customers and has been wildly successful. The integration of factory knowledge and field expertise is key to any successful large scale project and the VBC/Ritz partnership brought both of those things to our clients.

Modcoach: You’ve been teasing the modular housing industry about a big announcement. Could you tell us more about this event?

Vaughan: Over the past 10 years we have grown into a company that’s much bigger than I ever could have predicted. We now have almost 200 employees in 5 states and perform operations from manufacturing, supply chain, consulting, general contracting and rigging/set services through to specialty trades, design, marketing and architectural consulting. Therefore, as we announce the grand opening of our newest venture, a factory in Hamlet, NC, we are simultaneously announcing that all of our companies will be re-branded to the Volumetric Building Companies or VBC for short. Our current brand, Vaughan Buckley Construction, does not properly recognize the immense amount of people and supporters that we have and it was time that the brand becomes more than “Vaughan Buckley”. This isn’t just about a name change though, it’s about taking the next step towards the future of the Volumetric modular industry and doing so in a way that respects the traditions of the past while embracing innovation and the future potential that our company can bring to high density modular housing.

Modcoach: Tell us more about the rebrand and why you decided to not only change the name and logo, but break out into divisions?

Vaughan: We’ve become so much more than a GC or a manufacturer. We have experience on our team that stretches from lean manufacturing to robotics, cutting edge technology experts, design professionals, trade professionals and boots on the ground experience in both field and factory construction. Therefore, we see a short timeline until we create future divisions in these areas and expand to other parts of the country. We have started out right now with two divisions – Manufacturing and Construction. Expect set crew, design, logistics, technology innovation and creative marketing divisions to be announced in the near future.

Modcoach: Vaughan, you’ve recently announced you opened your own modular factory in NC. Are you about to enter the Southern market or is it to feed the Multifamily-starved Philly area with more modular units?

Both! The Northeast demands more capacity and the Southeast is starting to understand and appreciate high density Volumetric construction in some of its higher labor cost markets. We intend to service both from NC. We are actually servicing clients as far West as Colorado from this plant as well.

Modcoach: I remember talking to you for the first time three years ago at my Modular Boot Camp in Toms River, NJ. You impressed me then as someone that could go far in our industry. Are you seeing opportunities for modular construction beyond what is currently being done on the East Coast and are you planning to be at the forefront of that change?

Vaughan: Thank you very much, I appreciate the compliment and I believe our team is well positioned to help facilitate that change. As I see it, it isn’t so much a problem of what is being done on the East Coast from a manufacturer (supply) perspective as it is what is being done from the client (demand) perspective. The work that we and some other select manufacturers have done on the East Coast over the past three years in particular has begun to prove concept on large scale modular development. 10 years ago no one would believe that a 6 story wood frame building near Center City Philadelphia or in another metro area was feasible, now it’s our typical building type. That kind of scale requires knowledge and skill certainly, but it also requires production capacity. In order to win business on a scale like that, capacity on the same scale is mandatory. Institutional investors, who are responsible for the vast majority of high density modular sales are not willing to contract with a non-bondable factory, a start-up factory, or a factory with a single production line. They need to know that their risks are minimized and that their vendor’s execution ability is high. They don’t like to be the first at trying anything and they certainly don’t want to lose money. This means we have to change the way we do things! We have to build more and we have to do it faster, with higher quality, better engineering and with lower defects – this requires a wholesale change to the status quo. We expect to be a big part of that change and our team won’t stop until we get there.

Modcoach: It’s clear the industry is hot for investment dollars. Are you partaking in this? Any advice for other factories considering investment?

Vaughan: There is a huge amount of dollars in the marketplace trying to figure out how to disrupt the construction industry. We have accepted investor participation in some of our newest ventures but we’ve been very selective. We get offers from speculative and institutional investors, but at this time we’ve been able to get all the support we need from our clients and colleagues. I think this is an important distinction. Our clients know our business, know our strengths and can support our vulnerabilities. They trust us, they use us as clients already and it strengthens an already strong manufacturer/client bond. Some of our clients have M&A and finance experience, some are large developers backed by institutional investors, all are brilliant and most are also personal friends. So they have so much more to bring to the table, than money. Institutional investors will be a big part of this industry’s future and I fully expect they will one day be involved in funding requirements for our organization, they just weren’t the right fit for our current raise. Working with a group of people every day to make something bigger and better is that much easier when you’re doing it with folks that can help make the heavy lift a little lighter. So I would encourage others in the industry to continue to grow and expand as fast as they see fit, but to be slow to accept outside investment dollars that knock on the door, unless it’s a good fit and has more benefits than just cash.

Modcoach: What do you see for the future of your company?

Vaughan: I see us expanding the areas we service and the size of projects we build exponentially. We want to be a part of solving the affordable housing crisis, the skilled trade crisis, the renewable energy crisis and the construction productivity crisis and we are completely self-aware of how large that problem is and how difficult it will be. So we have to ramp up in a big way and we have no illusion that we can do this alone. We can’t make a dent in these issues without improving processes, industry standards, design, material specifications, energy efficiency, employee training and recruitment, building materials, automation and robotics, etc… We expect to continue to work with and partner with lots of other smart folks inside and outside of our amazing industry. The leap to 20% market share is a steep climb, but very achievable if we all work together. We are continually adding smart and experienced people to our team & we are going to need high level executive leadership positions and middle management roles in the upcoming years. It’s exciting times!

We appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and your readers and we look forward to many more announcements in the future… Please watch our space!

Follow our LinkedIn or Facebook page and be sure to come see us when our new website launches at in the upcoming months. We also have some of our open positions on our website and would appreciate hearing from the talented candidates that read your blog.

Thanks for your time and I for one am looking forward to lots of news about you and your companies in the future.