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

Which Way to Chinatown?

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

The Jade International District, already Portland's center of Asian life, is poised for rejuvenation. Where does that leave the westside's historic Chinatown?


Read more...

Carbon Power

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Researchers in a multitude of disciplines are searching for ways to soak up excess carbon dioxide, the compound that contributes to global warming.


Read more...

Downtown flower shop readies for the Valentine's Day rush

The Latest
Monday, February 09, 2015
021015-giffords-thumbBY MEGHAN NOLT

VIDEO: Gifford's Flowers brings family approach to PSU-area shop.


Read more...

Labor Pains

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Thinking about starting an internship program? Be careful. Navigating unpaid internships can be tricky.


Read more...

7 industry trends of 2015

The Latest
Friday, January 09, 2015
covertrends15-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Industry groups identify top trends for 2015.


Read more...

Will Medford Ever Be Cool?

February 2015
Friday, January 23, 2015
BY DAN COOK | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

A real-estate developer and a Lithia Motors executive aim to revamp the city's forlorn downtown.


Read more...

Imperial Palate

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Power Lunch at the Imperial.


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