As it stands, Paradise Coast RV doesn’t have much to show for itself in Benton Harbor, Mich.
Just four frames on the shop floor in the early stages of being made into travel-trailer prototypes.
But president and owner Ted Simpson said he sees bigger things, the Benton Harbor Herald-Palladium reported.
“I’m hoping to employ 10 to 15 people by the end of this year,” said Simpson, 47, who has 30 years of experience in the recreation vehicle industry.
He said that “if things go well” he hopes to have the first Paradise Coast travel trailers for sale at dealers by April.
He started Paradise Coast RV in October. It’s occupying space rented from Molten Enterprises, a production machining company, at the north end of Water Street in downtown Benton Harbor.
Paradise Coast’s first models will be 12-, 14- and 16-foot travel trailers, styled inside and out to look like those made in the 1940s, ’50s or ’60s. But inside, the campers will feature modern amenities like microwave ovens, flat-screen televisions, iPod docking stations and computer data ports.
More modern-looking units will follow.
Why start with the retro look?
“There’s an increase in the retro market,” Simpson said. “People are pulling the antique ones out of barns and fields and restoring them.”
But parts are hard to find, restoration is expensive and the old appliances using liquid propane can be unsafe.
Simpson said he wants to start with retro-looking units, which will give Paradise Coast RV a niche when trying to recruit recreation vehicle dealers. Otherwise, the company would have to compete with makers of contemporary units.
Although he hasn’t completed a prototype, Simpson said he has been passing out literature and talking to dealers at RV shows and at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) annual trade show in Louisville, Ky., and received “strong interest.”
This might not seem the best time to start such a venture because the economy is still weak and gasoline prices are rising. But Simpson is optimistic.
He cites RVIA statistics showing that shipments to dealers of all recreation vehicles motorhomes, folding campers, travel trailers and truck campers fell from 390,500 in 2006 to 165,700 in 2009, but then climbed to 242,300 last year. Shipments this year are projected at 259,600.
Shipments of towable RVs, such as those Paradise Coast will make, totaled 16,400 units in December, a 32.3% gain over December 2009.
And a University of Michigan study shows favorable demographics for the industry.
The 50-64 age group, the biggest single market for RVs, is growing rapidly. Furthermore, the fastest growing group of RV owners are ages 18-34.
Paradise Coast’s travel trailers will weigh no more than 2,500 pounds, so they can be towed with mid-sized vehicles such as a Ford Edge or a Buick Lucerne, rather than needing a big SUV or pickup truck.
Simpson has been hiring workers already in the RV industry to work during their off-hours at his company, doing engineering, design and construction.
Until now, Simpson said, “This is a personal investment, strictly out-of-pocket at this point.”
But he’s looking for support, preferably people with $25,000 to $50,000 to invest, though he will talk to those with more or less.
He can be contacted at email@example.com or (269) 605-9775.
He said his current rented space is big enough to have seven trailers in production at a time.
“My goal is to produce no less than one a day out of this facility.”
Should he need more space, potential landlords have already offered to build him a building.
Simpson started in the RV industry working in the electrical department at Georgie Boy in Edwardsburg, Mich.
He worked for various companies, working his way into management, with his last job being at Forest River Inc. in Goshen, Ind.
“It was a personal choice to be here,” Simpson said of his decision to start his new venture in Benton Harbor.
“I have owned property in the past in Benton Harbor and would like to contribute to the rebuilding of the community.”
To be closer to his new business, he moved in January from Buchanan to St. Joseph.