Later this month, the Kampground of America (KOA) campground in Herkimer, N.Y. is going to start renting out the nation’s first park trailer to achieve “Emerald” status from NTA Inc., a Nappanee-based company that specializes in certifying “green” manufacturers.
Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc. received the Emerald status for the Herkimer park trailer in late April after proving that the unit met NTA’s highest green standards.
Indeed, the Herkimer KOA unit, believed the first “off-grid” park trailer in the country, features numerous green features, including solar panels capable of producing 2 kilowatts of power, bamboo flooring, LED lighting, recycled axels and tires, recycled lumber composite decking, on-demand water heating, energy efficient heating and air-conditioning.
But while this unit may demonstrate one company’s efforts to prove how green it can be, in reality, park trailer manufacturers in Elkhart County, Ind., and across the country are increasingly seeking green certifications, not only for their products, but for their manufacturing processes.
And several consulting engineering firms are helping them obtain their green certifications. In the past year, TR Arnold & Associates in Elkhart has certified Elkhart-based Trophy Homes Inc. and Forest River Inc. as well as Middlebury-based Woodland Park as green manufacturers, while Athens, Texas-based Athens Park Homes also met NTA’s requirements for green certification. Elkhart-based Country Log Cottages, for its part, has also obtained green certification from Anderson, Ind.-based BIS LLC, as has Chariot Eagle Inc., an Ocala, Fla.-based park trailer manufacturer.
Olin Wenrick, president and CEO of Trophy Homes, said consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the merits of green products and it may eventually get to the point where manufacturers are at a disadvantage if they aren’t able to tell their customers they are green.
“It’s coming. So why not start now?” Wenrick asked. “It at least tells people out there that I’m trying to do the right thing for the environment.”
In Trophy’s case, it already was. Trophy had already adopted environmentally friendly manufacturing practices, such as recycling its construction waste, so it was relatively easy for the company to get green certified, Wenrick said.
Dave Burrows, national sales manager for Middlebury-based Woodland Park, said his company also achieved green certification with relative ease.
“We didn’t really have to change anything,” he said. “We had been manufacturing to green standards for quite a while. There was just not a certification process or a verification process for our industry.”
But TR Arnold & Associates, NTA, BIS and other consulting firms have tried to fill that void, and park trailer manufacturers are finding it’s worth their time and effort to seek green certifications.
Burrows, in fact, said Woodland Park’s dealers applauded its green certification. “Basically, the dealers looked at it as a move in the right direction. They looked at it as another tool for them to sell our product. And my Canadian dealers absolutely loved the thought of a green product.”
Mandy Leazenby, TR Arnold & Associates’ green program manager, said her company looks at several criteria before determining whether a company’s manufacturing operations can be green certified. “We look at indoor air-quality, resource efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency, operations and maintenance and innovative practices,” she said. “We also look at the attitude of the company and the extent to which they recycle materials during the construction process.”
But while obtaining “green” certification has been relatively painless for several Elkhart County manufacturers to achieve, selling “green” units is another matter, said Wenrick, adding that his company’s green status hasn’t yet translated into increased sales.
That day may come, however.
In fact, while many consumers may not yet be ready to purchase an “off grid” green park trailer with all the bells and whistles, such as solar panels with backup generators, consumers are showing interest in purchasing park trailers with energy and water saving features, such as LED lighting, low flow faucet and showerheads and energy saving appliances.
Dick Grymonprez, vice president of marketing for Athens Park Homes, which achieved its green certification last year, said his company is seeing increased demand for instant hot water heaters.
“Some people just focus on solar panels, but there are different shades of green,” said Leazenby of TR Arnold & Associates, adding that there are many green features in today’s park trailers that are very positive features for consumers, such as units with low-VOC paints and finishes as well as formaldehyde-free carpets, wall materials and flooring.
After enduring the biggest downturn in the history of the recreational park trailer business, several recreational park trailer manufacturers are reporting increased sales and renewed interest in their products, which are used by consumers as vacation cottages and by campgrounds as rental accommodations, according to a Recreational Park Trailer Industry Assocation (RPTIA) news release.
“It looks like spring is definitely going to be better than it was last year,” said Tim Howard, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Division of Damon Motor Coach, a Thor Industries Inc. company in Nappanee, Ind., that has long been one of the largest park model manufacturers in the country.
“In the past two months, we have seen a better market, a better demand for products, broadly, than we saw during the same period last year. This is an encouragement, certainly, because it was a long, painful ‘off’ season.”
Granted, Howard said his company’s backlog is still “not anywhere near what it would have been in normal times three years ago,” but it’s moving in the right direction.
“Several park trailer manufacturers are saying their orders are up at least 10% to 15% from where they were a year ago,” said RPTIA Executive Director William Garpow, whose association represents park trailer manufacturers. “Of course, park trailer shipments were down about 50% last year, so we’ve still got a long ways to go to get back where we were three years ago, but at least we’re heading in the right direction.”
Indeed, several Elkhart County, Ind., park trailer manufacturers say they are seeing a sustained increase in orders and inquiries this year, which they say bodes well for the future.
“Business is a little better than last year,” said Dave Burrows, national sales manager for Middlebury, Ind.-based Woodland Park. “It’s definitely not the 2006, 2007 or 2008 numbers. But consumer optimism and demand here over the last two months has started to increase, which is nice to see. Prior to that, dealers were extremely nervous and skittish about putting any product on their lots. Now they’re starting to see traffic coming in. My dealers are more optimistic this year than they were last year.”
“Sales are up nicely,” said Jim Foltz, general manager of Forest River Inc. in Elkhart.
Other companies say they are seeing even stronger business levels.
“So far this year, our business seems to be back to normal for us,” said Curt Yoder, vice president of Kropf Industries Inc. in Goshen, Ind. “There’s definitely much better activity and interest this year compared to last year. We’re running at full capacity now and we hope to continue that.”
Olin Wenrick, president and CEO of Elkhart-based Trophy Homes Inc. said his business is up, too, this year, but is still off about 50% from where it used to be. But Wenrick said he is optimistic about his business prospects this year. “We’re beginning the climb,” he said.
Other park trailer manufacturers across the country are similarly optimistic.
“Our park trailer business year-to-date is up over last year for January, February and March,” said Dick Grymonprez, vice president of marketing for Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas. “We’re encouraged that it’s going to be a better year.”
Grymonprez added that the biggest impediment to improving park trailer sales is the same impediment facing every other industry in the country: limited bank financing.