When former Fleetwood executives Mark Gerber and Kean MacOwan founded Timberland RV Co. in late 1999, they didn’t follow the book on RV startup ventures.
First, they rented a plant in Peru, Ind., 75 miles southeast of Elkhart County, the hub of RV manufacturing in the United States. Second, they decided to build travel trailers and fifth-wheels without options. Third, they figured that to be a top seller at the high end of the entry-level sector they needed to offer as standard many features that typically are found in a higher price tier.
“Our thought was that the industry has been driving for low cost at the expense of camping convenience and features,” said Timberland President Mark Gerber. “We offer zero options, but we have unique convenience features that set the product apart.”
The strategy seems to have worked. Two years after producing it’s first RV, Timberland had climbed to 15th in national travel trailer sales, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
Timberland’s main brand is Timberlodge, a line of wood and aluminum travel trailers and fifth-wheels ranging in price from $9,700 to $22,000 and available in 18 floorplans in lengths of 19 to 37 feet.
“We felt the Timberlodge would appeal to an entry-level buyer,” Gerber said. “We have found that we are selling to a lot of second-time buyers because of the features. That is what has helped us grow during the downturn. We are not relying on the first-time buyer to get our business.”
Industry insiders may have noticed that the “Timberlodge” brand was marketed until October as “Timberland.” The name was changed to accommodate shoe manufacturer Timberland Co., which asserted the rights to the name. Timberland also agreed to do business under the name Adventure Manufacturing. “There were no legal issues,” Gerber said. “It never got to that point. We saw no problem changing the name.”
Timberland introduced two new towable brands at the Louisville show in November – the Glacier, an upgrade of the Timberlodge in five floorplans between 26 and 33 feet, and the Riverside, a feature-packed ultralite in three floorplans from 25 to 30 feet.
Retail prices for the wood-and-hung fiberglass Glacier range from $22,000 to $26,000. The Riverside, built on an aluminum frame with laminated fiberglass sidewalls, retails for $18,000 to $19,000.
“We are about 300 pounds heavier than your traditional ultralite because of our philosophy of bringing features up to the next price level,” Gerber said. “We have weight savings because of laminated fiberglass sidewalls and the aluminum frame, but we kept regular cabinets. The Riverside maintains a traditional feel inside, but still is less weight than a traditional travel trailer.”
With the introduction of Glacier and Riverside and a 74,000-square-foot plant expansion that will be completed in April, Timberland will double its production this year to 3,000 units.
The company opened its plant in Peru, about an hour’s drive north of Indianapolis, to take advantage of labor costs. “It’s awful competitive in the Elkhart area,” Gerber said. “We are close enough to Elkhart to have reasonable material costs, but far enough away so that we don’t have the labor nightmare.”
Gerber spent 15 years at Fleetwood in various marketing positions, and directed Fleetwood’s relaunch of the Mallard brand. MacOwan worked for Fleetwood for 26 years in sales and product planning.
“For most new companies, there is an apprenticeship,” Gerber said. “We had a great tutor – Fleetwood – and we’ve got an average of 21 years of experience at Fleetwood among our supervisors. We run our business like a Fleetwood plant because that’s what we know how to do.”
Not coincidentally, Timberland’s Riverside ultralite was named for Riverside, Calif., the community that is home to Fleetwood’s headquarters.
Gerber summed up how the company operates as follows:
“We follow John Crean’s philosophy that you don’t spend any money that doesn’t go into the product,” he said. “We don’t have fancy offices and only 14 of 130 employees are not involved directly in production. The money that we spend goes into the product.”