By JACK WEATHERLY
Fred E. Carl Jr. is emerging from his Viking Range years with a new venture, C3 Design.
The company will build modular homes that are not what one might think of as “prefab” houses. It aims instead for the same high-end market that Viking dominated.
Carl’s ventures are coming full circle. The first was homebuilding, a continuation of the construction business founded in Greenwood by his grandfather and carried on by his father.
Carl designed and built homes until he founded Viking, whose commercial-grade cook stoves were his designs and became the premier brand in the industry. The first product was shipped in January 1987.
At its height, Viking employed about 1,200. It was sold to Middleby Corp. of Elgin, Ill., on the last day of 2012, when its work force had fallen to 700 due to the cratering of new-home construction and drop in annual sales of 50 percent from a prerecession level.
Carl says that C3 construction is superior to that of site-built homes.
With a projected lifetime three times that of the traditionally built home, and marked advantages in energy savings and sound reduction, the C3 homes won’t come cheap.
Carl said in an interview this week with the Mississippi Business Journal that a “rough preliminary” estimate is $200 to $300 per square foot for the modules – not including transportation, acquisition, preparation and landscaping.
The average time required complete C3 buildings is 22 weeks, compared with 56 weeks for site-built homes, according to Carl.
The buildings will range from small, specialty buildings – studios, offices and the like – to full-size houses. The company is designing a 4,000-square-foot house now, he said.
But the longer range goal is to go even bigger – to include hotels and multifamily projects, he said. “Over a 10-year period, we’ve got big plans.”
C3 was starting to gear up to manufacture in Greenwood, but the opportunity of buying an established modular home manufacturer altered the course for the start-up, Carl said.
Franklin Homes of Russellville, Ala., fit Carl’s long-range vision for his new company.
So C3 recently bought the 46-year-old builder and will expand its plant over the next nine to 18 months along with its distribution network, he said.
Franklin Homes, which employs about 80, has already built multi-story apartment buildings, has a bid in on a Hampton Inn and just built a 22-unit townhouse project.
The Franklin Homes plant will also serve to provide a revenue stream as it sells its more moderately priced houses, he said.
After expanding the Franklin Homes operation, C3 will concentrate on manufacturing in Greenwood, he said.
“We’re going to get started in Greenwood as well as expanding at Franklin,” he said
C3 also owns three HomeFront Home Improvement Centers, which give the start-up a buying scale, while also selling to the public. They are in Greenwood, Winona and Carthage.
Jennifer Hall, executive director of the Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association, said, “I’m very excited that Fred Carl is choosing a venture in the modular housing industry. I know that whatever Fred designs and builds is going to be the utmost quality.”
The marriage of C3 and Franklin Homes is a good match because the Alabama manufacturer consistently has the premier models at the annual manufacture homes conventions. “They were a company that thought outside the box.”
Modular homes have made inroads in manufactured housing in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hall said. Then-Gov. Haley Barbour named Carl housing commissioner for Gulf Coast rebuilding in 2006.
Carl’s interest in modular homes was piqued and he designed and built cottages in a traditional style as an alternative to trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hall said.