Home Back Issues Jan/Feb 2012 Chalet RV keeps on rolling

Chalet RV keeps on rolling

| Print |  Email
Articles - Jan/Feb 2012
Thursday, January 19, 2012

By Dan Cook

0112_ChaletRV
Cheaper and lighter than most RVs, Model XLI935 by Chalet RV typifies why the Albany company has weathered the industry's downturn.

Chris Hanson remembers that time back in early 2008 — before the crash — when he thought: “I’ll finally be able to quit my day job.”

Hanson, co-founder/co-owner with wife Brenda of Albany-based Chalet RV, was working days for Hewlett Packard in Corvallis and helping Brenda run Chalet in his spare time. “Production was up, orders were coming in. I said to myself, ‘This is gonna be the year!’ Then, everything collapsed.”

Now, nearly four painful years later, the Hansons have cause for cautious optimism once again. As the dust has settled over the demise of the once-vibrant Oregon recreational vehicle industry, Chalet is still alive and even planning to hire more employees come March.

How did this feisty little 12-year-old RV manufacturer survive when industry giants like Country Coach and Monaco Coach couldn’t as stand-alone operations? The secret appears to be part the Hansons’ dogged determination not to fail, and part the company’s ability to respond quickly to market trends.

“That’s why we survived; we were more flexible and could turn on a dime,” Chris Hanson says. “Sometimes we’d launch a new product just to get something new out there, and discontinue it later.”

Chalet’s website claims it’s “the nation’s leading manufacturer of ultra lightweight hard-sided travel trailers.” But even being an industry leader in the recreational vehicle business is no guarantee of success these days. Chalet’s focus on narrow RV niches, such as high-end truck campers and lightweight folding A-frames, means giving up volume for market share. When the industry died in 2008, share shrank in every niche.

The Hansons say they were quick to respond, fighting to stay afloat. They downsized and watched for niches that might hold out promise.

Meanwhile, they were beginning to see a definite sales uptick. But increased demand posed a financial problem: Already undercapitalized, the Hansons had to somehow find the funds to ramp up production. They got $350,000 in government loans in 2010, added a second production line, hired more workers and began to get some traction in the marketplace.

In 2011, unit sales topped 300; still well below Chalet’s pre-crash peak of 500, but a good sign. At one point during the peak season they employed 60. (That fell to 40 during the winter.) But that was enough to raise the Hansons’ hopes once again.

“We’re optimistic. The future is very bright for us,” Chris Hanson says. But will he be able to quit his day job? “I don’t even think about it anymore,” he says. “This business is just too crazy.”

 

More Articles

Fork & Bottle

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014

National media can’t get enough of Oregon’s pinot noir, artisan-food purveyors and lively, independent film scene.


Read more...

The Backstory

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014

In our cover story this month, Wendy Collie, CEO of New Seasons Market, and Kim Malek, owner of Salt & Straw, discuss their rapidly growing businesses and Portland’s red hot food scene. The conversation provides an interesting lens through which to explore trends in the grocery store and restaurant sectors.


Read more...

Podcast: Testing for Emotional Intelligence with John Hersey

Contributed Blogs
Friday, September 19, 2014
ivbU3sIXBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

How can you tell if you, a peer, a subordinate or a job candidate has the emotional intelligence needed to do well?


Read more...

Podcast: Turn Things Around with David Marquet

Contributed Blogs
Friday, October 17, 2014
davidmarquet thumbBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

How can you move from a command-and-control leadership model to one of true empowerment and accountability? David Marquet did, and he took notes along the way.


Read more...

The Rail Baron

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Oil is gushing out of the U.S. and Canada, and much of it is coming from places that don’t have pipeline infrastructure. So it’s being shipped by rail.


Read more...

Powerlist: Law Firms

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

A conversation with leading partners at law firms in Portland and eastern Oregon, followed by October's powerlist.


Read more...

Books Rule

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY JON BELL

Powell's stays relevant in the digital age.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS