One of the downfalls of reviving a widely admired RV is that everyone wants a piece. Since Paul Wipf and a South Dakota colony of Hutterites have resurrected the TrailManor product line, dealers have been chomping at the bit, so much so that Wipf had to decline orders.
“I can’t even imagine the demand. … It’s like a cult following. It’s even worse,” Wipf said, happily overwhelmed by the positivity. “People love their TrailManor.”
Scroll down to see Hutterites in the new facility, the interior of a TrailManor, as well as new owners and dealers.
It all began last year when Wipf and his brother Joseph, who leads the Hutterite religious colony in Parkston, S.D., convinced his members to diversify from their – largely – agriculture business. Last October, TrailManor moved from the 60,000-square-foot operation in Nebraska, where past owners Bob and Cleo Eikhoff had based it, to a 35,000-square-foot plant on the Old Elm Spring Colony the Hutterites converted to manufacture TrailManor RVs.
The brand itself is famous for the hand-operated, pop-up ingenuity that makes it feel like a Transformer bot. Currently, Wipf plans on attending RV trade shows to find new ways to modernize the trailers, adding things like USB ports to start.
“They need to be wired for today’s technology out there,” he said. “I’m trying to make it look more modern.”
However, when it comes to a collapsing trailer, getting amenities and additions to fit becomes a complex puzzle.
“When that trailer collapses, it needs every square millimeter of space,” Wipf said, who may hire a consultant in the fall that can remedy this.
Currently, though, the colony assembles two trailers a week, but Wipf hopes to ramp that up to two a day.
To start the builders off, Wipf had them walk through three frames (one 31-feet long and two 27-feet long), lending them a training ground and foresight to go from design prints to finished product. The small group has shipped each available model size.
The dealers are eagerly anticipating more. So far, the network is comprised of five dealerships spread evenly through the U.S.: Custom RV (Ontario, Calif.), Texas Choice Outdoors (Fort Worth, Texas), Bankston Motor Homes (Huntsville, Ala.), Prosser’s Premium RV Outlet (Sturtevant, Wis.), and MCD RV Center (West Yarmouth, Mass.).
But Bob Eikhoff expects to sign on about 20 dealers by year’s end and intends on having a unit on view at RVX: The RV Experience at Salt Lake City in March.
To date, more than a dozen units have been manufactured thus far with plans to produce one per day once the Hutterites have finished tending crops in two months.
Wipf also had been hit on repairs of older models before the 2018 renaissance, because no one else could service them.
“People didn’t know where to turn,” he said. “They’d call for repair parts. And we’re finally getting into the swing of it. We’ve been shipping parts all along, but not to the extent where some of these guys needed it.”
In the end, Wipf sees this being far more lucrative than the Hutterite’s current footing in agriculture. So, now it’s a matter of convincing them.
“I’m sitting there as the new kid on the block,” Wipf said, hopeful to get more employees once the community sees the viability of TrailManor.
TrailManor required the faith of one man to bring it back to life. Now, the religious colony has to meet him halfway to make it competitive once again.
“As soon as those fields are ready to be vacated, they’ll have more people in their factory to train,” said Cleo Eikhoff. “But they first wanted to train the base crew.”
“They’re fast learners, and it’s going well – I’m surprised with where we’re at,” Wipf said about maintaining quality control at a consistent level. It’s other things, like finding a lauan wood supplier, that frustrates production.
“Otherwise, it’s finally coming together,” said Wipf with a cheerful demeanor. “Just need a little more help, but it’s coming.”
“They’ve made a very well-built trailer. Some dealers have been to the Hutterite colony to look for themselves,” said Cleo Eikhoff. “Thank God the Hutterites have taken (TrailManor).”
The next nationwide TrailBlazer Club rally of devoted TrailManor fans is set for Oct. 13 to 20 in Nashville.