Fulfilling the need
Business View Magazine interviews Billy Hall, COO of VESTA Modular, for our focus on Advanced Technologies in the North American Construction sector
Driven by a mantra of ‘thinking beyond the box’, VESTA Modular has earned top ranking with Inc 5000 as the Fastest Growing Modular Building Company in America. Based in Southfield, Michigan and operating through a branch network and distribution facilities, VESTA offers temporary and permanent modular building solutions, including turn-key buildings for the workforce housing, office space, education, storage, hospitality, and medical sectors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left VESTA Modular uniquely positioned, given that they own a fleet of 3,000 buildings that they lease to customers across North America – predominantly for use as classrooms, offices, medical facilities, disaster response, storage, remote housing – wherever a temporary solution is needed.
Billy Hall, Chief Operating Officer of VESTA Modular, relates, “We built the company to be somewhat resilient during good and bad times and we obviously found that to be true with what’s happening today. Over the last year, we’ve experienced increased growth in providing our modular buildings to customers in need across the country. Back in March, we had a couple of big projects that were going to happen this year and got postponed or delayed: one for a cruise line and another for an office building down in the southeast. As a result, we had to look for additional ways to overcome those obstacles. What ended up happening in the months from March to August, we saw a huge need for providing our temporary buildings to hospitals and medical facilities, as well as colleges and universities in the education market.”
A big part of that was temporary dorms – VESTA provided hundreds of beds to various colleges across the country as they were looking to safely return students to campus under the CDC guidelines. Existing inventory was moved from California to Massachusetts, and the company built hundreds of new beds to fit the need. Hall admits, “Obviously, with modular construction we sell speed. And at a time like this when speed is critical and people need the space, we were fortunate to be able to help and really proud to be a part of the solution for maintaining the social distancing requirements.”
VESTA Modular is comprised of two divisions. On the leasing side, the firm owns over 3,000 modular buildings that they lease to customers, largely for education and office space. That part of the business represents a huge growth opportunity in the coming years. The second division involves building permanent modular structures – hotels, offices, dormitories, apartment facilities. “Doing both those things is somewhat unique,” says Hall. “But one of the foundations we built VESTA on is having a temporary modular building that can be moved anywhere as the need and demand is presented. We get them coded for multiple states so they aren’t restricted to one particular location.”
Last year, VESTA built a unique and challenging project on a manmade island in the middle of the Bahamas called Ocean Cay – it was workforce housing for a cruise lines’ private island. The project consisted of three, three-story apartments and a two-story townhome. The 80 modules were built in two different factories located in northern Florida and Southern Georgia and then shipped by boat from a port in Fort Lauderdale to the island. The VESTA team received the modules on the island to assemble them like Legos and finish the buildings out on site. As a result of the success of that project, VESTA began working with another cruise line, doing a similar build – providing workforce housing on a private island in the Bahamas. The Ocean Cay job was finished around the end of 2019, and the VESTA crew was ramping up in February for the next project but that was put on hold due to the impact of the pandemic on the cruise industry.
Classed as an essential service, VESTA saw a bigger increase in revenue this year just through providing temporary bed space for hospitals, colleges, offices across the U.S. Hall explains, “We do a lot of government work as well, so our guys were called to duty and had to travel and work on the job during this time, while continuing to maintain the CDC requirements and health and safety protocols. It introduced a whole new level of execution to what we do on the site. Our team really stepped up and put themselves on the line; going out to start and finish these projects and help the people that needed the space the most.”
The company offers great support to the team and ensures they have what they need to get the job done. As Hall attests, “We take pride in the great team we’ve built over the last six years; we continue to grow stronger together, even more so during this pandemic, as everyone’s been stepping up to do more than they were before. And we’re spread out. We were a remote workforce before it was cool. We’ve had to adapt with a lot more videoconferencing and streamlining communication but it wasn’t a major shift. We just improved it – we did Zoom happy hours, a Halloween party, some of our sales meetings we did through the virtual process that we’d never done before. That was kind of neat to see everyone in that light.”
The firm relies on their manufacturers, transportation companies, and installation companies – the ones who build the modular product in the factory, transport it to the site, and then assemble it, while VESTA oversees and manages everything from the construction side of it, or the leasing aspect if it’s a building they own. “These crews are the core and backbone of our success,” says Hall. “They are the unsung heroes, with our project managers they are really the key to maintaining happy customers and our future success on these jobs.”
In essence, VESTA is a modular building general contractor that hires out subcontractors. They work with about a dozen manufacturing partners, depending on the project location and the type. They are currently finishing the Vignes project in L.A. for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. It was awarded in mid-October and a good portion had to be completed by December 31st. To meet a critical timeline like this, VESTA engaged three different factories – one from Dallas, one from Boise, and one in L.A. – building three different product types to provide 232 beds plus an 8,000 sq. foot administration and kitchen building in an unbelievable short window. Hall notes, “That’s something you can’t do without having good partner relationships and a good workforce that you trust. That certainly sets us apart from the competition.”
As families and individuals continue to be affected by the loss of income and other COVID-19 perils, the need for housing for the homeless is growing in communities throughout North America. Hall acknowledges, “In addition to the increase in the education and office sector, we’re seeing a huge need for providing shelters for the homeless. And modular buildings are perfect for this because it’s a quick, cost-effective solution. There’s a shortage of space for the homeless all over, so I see there being a huge need for us to help with that demographic over the coming years. It’s rewarding for us, seeing the Vignes project all come together – working with the county and the architect and the contractor to get it done. We’ll be happy when they get to put heads on beds there, so to speak, and get the place operational. To build a facility like this in less than 90 days is pretty remarkable.”
Supplier partnerships are invaluable for VESTA Modular. A good example is Automatic Sprinkler of Texas (ASOT). As Hall explains, “Our relationship with ASOT dates back to before we started VESTA, doing large projects like hotels, apartments, workforce housing solutions. They’ve been a great partner working with us all across the country and providing fire suppression and fire alarm services to our key projects.”
Advanced technology continues to be a driver for VESTA. They are now working on an app that will make it a simple process for customers to lease or maintain their building with the push of a button. Or if they want to add services on, that can be provided as well. The company is also investing in additional buildings. And they are always on the lookout for strategic acquisitions to grow in areas where they don’t have a presence today.
Hall sums it up well, stating, “We’re fortunate to have been in a unique position to help during this pandemic, from providing our modular buildings to providing support services to those in need. We have a great team and we couldn’t have done it without them. In the coming years, we’ll be focusing on the colleges, and the homeless housing, and the office space – we’re excited for the future and looking forward to continued growth.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHAT: A manufacturer and leaser of modular buildings
WHERE: Southfield, Michigan
Automatic Sprinkler of Texas, Inc. – www.autosprinkleroftx.com
Founded in 1995, Automatic Sprinkler of Texas, Inc. is proud to be employee-owned and has, collectively, over 60 years of experience in the industry. Our full service organization provides fire protection needs including design, material, fabrication, installation, maintenance/repairs, and inspection on all types of systems. Automatic Sprinkler of Texas designers are certified with the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies in fire sprinkler and fire alarm.
Our scope of work includes wet and dry pipe systems, pre-action, deluge, FM-200, CO2, foam systems, as well as alarm and detection. We install fire pumps, fire hydrants, backflows, standpipe and residential systems using CPVC and steel pipe. Our fire sprinkler installations are designed per NFPA 13-13D-13R and our fire alarm installations are designed per NFPA 72.
We have over 18 years of experience in modular building in plant installation, onsite system set up, and operation training. We are qualified with trained designers and installers of all modular projects, including final site work for fire protection, including fire alarm and fire sprinkler. We have completed projects serving the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Veterans Administration, Department of Energy, Border Patrol, National Guard, and the Department of Corrections.
Automatic Sprinkler of Texas has completed over 2,500 projects and over 25,000 floors throughout the U.S. We aspire to exceed customer expectations in every aspect of our industry, and work to provide greater knowledge and performance than our competitors. We hold the highest standards of integrity and superiority and promote positive work environments. Teamwork and accountability is the core of our existence.