Chalet RV at Full Capacity to Meet Demand
Chris and Brenda Hanson know the value of perseverance.
The Hansons, owners of the Albany, Ore.-based recreational vehicle manufacturer Chalet RV Inc., thought they were positioned for success a couple of years ago. With a popular line of small travel trailers and folding popup trailers, their business seemed to be taking off, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported.
Then came the recession.
“In 2008, the whole economy changed,” said Chris Hanson, the company president. They went from making 550 units per year down to 200. They cut their work force by nearly half. They had to buy back inventory from RV dealers who went out of business. They watched as sales went downhill.
Now, two years later, things are looking up. A new line of truck campers has proved very popular, and the company is working at full capacity to meet demand.
“We were weakened by” the economic slowdown, Chris Hanson said. “We’re still just barely surviving. But the future is bright. Next year should be unbelievable in terms of orders.”
When the Hansons first purchased Chalet RV and moved the company from California to Oregon, they focused mainly on the smaller side of the RV market – literally. Their trailers, both the folding and conventional variety, are among the smallest, lightest-weight ones on the market. They start in price at around $9,000 – very low for an industry where a luxury RV could cost hundreds of thousands.
“There are people who are looking for that small, energy-efficient travel trailer,” Hanson said.
The small trailers are a niche market of the RV industry, and the Chalet name was just one tiny piece of the RV industry. It was a challenge just getting customers and dealers to know that Chalet was out there.
“What really helped was when one of our sales reps went out on the road with one of our models,” said Brenda Hanson, the company’s general manager. “It was a three-week venture, just getting it out there for dealers to see. It was really helpful in getting people to know that we existed.”
Just when things were going well for Chalet, the recession hit. RV manufacturers across the country suffered.
Chalet stayed afloat by broadening its offerings so that it wasn’t relying on sales of the smallest trailers. Since December 2009, it’s been producing large truck campers, designed to be mounted on the back of a pickup. Their truck campers are among the largest, most luxurious on the market, with double slide-out walls and special touches like a wine rack and an island in the kitchen.
The truck campers cost in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 and are designed to appeal to a whole different customer than the ultra-light, economical travel trailers. These customers tend to have enough wealth that the recession didn’t slow down their purchasing, Chris Hanson said.
“Now dealers have sold more of these than we’ve ever made,” he said. “Our challenge now is not orders. Now our problem is growth.”
The Hansons need to hire more workers to keep up with demand. They could use another building to store all the materials they need to manufacture their products. Getting the capital they need to hire and expand, all the while maintaining profitability, is a challenge, Hanson said.
It’s a challenge Chalet RV is glad to have, though.
Looking at the variety of RVs parked outside Chalet’s manufacturing facility in south Albany, Hanson can see the full range of the company’s products, from the smallest to the largest.
“With what we offer now, we can almost be a full-service supplier for a dealer,” he said. “We’ve got something for everybody.”