As a hobbyist, TrailManor Inc. founder William Hulsey, a metallurgical engineer for a military contractor, built his first hard-sided popup trailer in the early 1970s in his Tennessee back yard. It was a one-of-a-kind design unlike anything on the market then — or now.
“It had springs and pulleys and it looked like a machine,” recalled William Hulsey’s son, TrailManor Vice President Keith Hulsey. “It was ugly.”
Plans to license production to an existing RV manufacture didn’t materialize. “Nobody wanted it,” Hulsey said. “They thought it might be more suited to an automobile manufacturer because of all the mechanics. My father spent 12 years refining it before he could get it on the market, and then he did it himself.”
Since the senior Hulsey began to manufacture TrailManor commercially in 1985, the family-owned company has grown steadily in a niche market somewhere between folding camping trailers and conventional travel trailers.
“They are half the weight of a standard trailer and they have a lot of features of a luxury popup,” Hulsey said. “More than anything, our competition are hybrid and lightweight trailers.”
TrailManor’s eight floorplans — in lengths ranging from 26 to 33 feet — are built on a custom chassis with panel-wall construction. The interior and exterior walls are formed by laminating aluminum to polystyrene insulation. “They are built like an airplane,” Hulsey said. When parked for camping, the upper walls rise from a stored position and swing up and out to form either a bedroom or a living room at each end of the unit, extending its length by about 8 feet. The maneuver employs a manual cantilever lift system that the company says requires no more energy than that used to open an automobile trunk. Inside the unit, hinged cabinets lift and slide into place, and split doors both inside and outside latch together. While being towed, the TrailManor measures 5 feet 3 inches high. Open, TrailManor offers 6 feet 4 inches of headroom.
For 2002, TrailManor is offering as an option a swing-around tongue that shortens the unit’s storage length by 2 feet. “A 26-foot trailer that is 19 feet when it is towed becomes 17 feet when it’s parked in a garage,” Hulsey said.
The company also has added a gas/electric water heater, rear window awning and outside shower as standard features in 2002 models. In addition roof-top air conditioning will be available throughout the line, instead of just in the larger models.
TrailManors typically are purchased by RVers in transition, Hulsey said. “Our main market is tent campers who are trading up,” he said. “Most of our customers are in the 50- to 60-year-old range, but we are just starting to get more younger people because tow vehicles are getting smaller.”
Hulsey said that despite softness in the RV market, TrailManor grew 40% in 2000 and is on track to do the same again this year. The company is working to expand its nationwide dealer base, which numbers 40. “We’ve got good dealers that do between 30 to 50 trailers a year,” Hulsey said. “Some do more because it is selling well. It’s not like selling a product that you are competing with seven different brands being sold across the street.”
The advantage of family members occupying key positions in the company is better communication, Hulsey said. “There is a lot of trust with the people working here,” he explained. “We can get things done more quickly than a typical company just because everybody knows everybody else so well.”