RV Maker Finds Alternate Products to Survive
Editor’s Note: Cherie Ve Ard wrote this story about her experience in ordering a new travel trailer from the Oliver Travel Trailer Co. The story appeared on her website, www.technomadia.com. She and her companion, Chris Dunphy, describe themselves as a “pair of technomads traveling, living, working and playing full-time in a small solar powered RV, embracing nomadic serendipity.”
When we were doing the research selecting our home on wheels, one of the things that most impressed us with the Oliver Travel Trailer Co. was how fabulous the people working there are.
The Oliver family has a long history of invention and entrepreneurship, and their family-owned Oliver Technologies company has for years had a thriving business manufacturing foundations for manufactured homes, as well as sub-contracting out their fiberglass and manufacturing expertise to others.
The Oliver company was headed by two twin brothers – Jim and John Oliver. They also loved to camp, and years ago purchased two Casita travel trailers. Over years of taking their families camping, they came up with a long list of things they’d like to see improved on the classic Casitia design to make a more long lasting high-end trailer. Designing their ideal travel trailer became an obsession, and the two brothers spent several years using their existing workforce and hiring on experts in fiberglass construction to design what they considered the ultimate travel trailer.
Sadly, John Oliver passed away before the first trailer off the line was sold – and thus the official name of the trailer, the Oliver Legacy.
Today, Oliver Travel Trailers is a separate business with a factory down the road from the ongoing Oliver Technologies, and it remains family run with many of of Oliver extended family on staff.
Each Oliver trailer is highly customized and hand built from start to finish, and most customers get to meet the people who worked on their trailer. When they were building ours, they even sent us weekly “baby pictures” showing the construction process on the assembly line. By the time we picked up our trailer last July, we felt like part of an extended family.
We had a chance to catch up with Jim Oliver at his home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., a couple months ago – and had him tell the story behind the trailer and introduce their newest addition to the travel trailer line – the 22′ model.
The timing of Oliver’s debut into the travel trailer market last year was not ideal however, with the economy taking a nosedive just as the Oliver Travel Trailer company was preparing to ramp up production.
But while many RV companies are folding and going out of business, Oliver has found an innovative way to keep the factory line producing through these lean time – by finding other lines of business.
In addition to the still thriving Oliver Technologies business, the Oliver Travel Trailer factory is now being repurposed to produce high end handicap bathtubs. They have been able to use many of the same techniques, equipment and facilities – and have therefore been able to keep their highly skilled and trained craftsman employed.
Despite the downturn in RV sales, all of the institutional memory and expertise that goes into building the Oliver Legacy is being retained.
On our last visit to the Oliver factory in Hohenwald, Tenn., in late May, Oliver was finishing up a couple of the new 22-foot model travel trailers. After those are done, all of their employees will be put on the bathtub line until such time there are enough orders for travel trailers to open up the lines again.
While we are disappointed that other prospective Oliver owners are being put on hold right now, we are extremely impressed with how Oliver is handling the downturn. By ramping up a new line of business, Oliver is managing to keep their employees trainined and up to date – and employed. Everyone there remains committed to the future of the Legacy, and will be well situated to jump right back into the travel trailer business when the economy perks up.
So what does that mean to someone considering an Oliver?
Be in touch with the factory, and let them know of your interest. They’re batching up their orders with no set delivery date right now. As soon as they have enough orders, they’ll be getting back into production.
We think this is a highly innovative and responsible way of handling the down economy and its effects on the recreational vehicle industry. Oliver has demonstrated their commitment to taking care of both their existing customers and their employees, and we fully expect that they have a bright future once the market picks up again.
We also very much appreciate how open they have been about the tough times they are going through. A lot of other companies would pretend everything was great right up until the doors shut, and we salute Oliver for embracing a more open and honest path.