Chris Hanson went shopping for an RV four years ago, but ended up buying a company, Chalet RV, which manufactures A-frame Chalet hard-sided folding-camping trailers.
“I called the company one day while looking for a dealer,” said Hanson, now president of Chalet RV Inc., Albany, Ore.
“I struck up a conversation with the owner and one thing led to another,” Hanson said. “We negotiated for about six months.”
At the time, Hanson was a facilities manager for Hewlett Packard in Oregon. Chalet RV then was located in San Jacinto, Calif. By the end of 1998, Hanson had purchased Chalet RV and moved the company north to Albany, Ore.
“I realized the Chalet was a product that people wanted, and I felt I could improve on it,” Hanson said. “A lot of the improvements were in terms of quality, manufacturing control.”
The result has been positive, he said. Chalet RV’s revenue last year increased 40% over 2000 at the time of a general RV industry slowdown.
“Surprisingly, a lot of our market tends to be retired couples,” Hanson said. “Many of them are stepping down from motorhomes and large fifth-wheels. Some of our dealers feel the retired couple is our primary customer. But we also sell to a lot of single women because they like the security of the hard sides and the towability and maneuverability of the product.”
Chalet features four floorplans, all based on a 12-foot vacuum-bonded laminated fiberglass shell on a 16-foot trailer, for which the powder-coated frames are manufactured locally.
A shorter 13-foot Chalet LTW version, weighing less than 1,000 pounds, debuted at the Louisville Show in December, as did options for a high sidewall that raises the interior height 6 inches and an integrated one-piece front storage box that sits on an extended frame.
An off-road “TrailBoss” option, featuring automotive-style tires, beefed-up stabilizers and an additional 4 inches of ground clearance, also is available, as are eight window placement packages in all but the LTW.
Chalets retail for $6,000 to $11,000. Hanson said the company typically overbuilds Chalet’s features, which “makes it a little tough in the market because our price looks high on the surface.
“But if you look at the total of the folding-camping market, we are right at the average,” he said.
Hanson said the Chalet folding-camping trailer has been manufactured by different companies since the late 1960s. “I have a picture showing a Chalet from 1967,” he said. Chalet is now sold through a network of 30 dealers, the majority of which are in the West and Northwest.
Hanson said that unlike typical tent trailers, the Chalet can be set up in less than a minute. “You don’t have to deal with all the canvas,” he said.
The roof raises on a manual ball-bearing/track system with the assist of a set of torsion springs. The A-shaped sidewalls lift into place and lock automatically.
The standard Chalet has a 3,000-pound gvwr and a dry weight of 1,400 pounds Hanson noted that Chalet’s light weight allows the trailer to be towed behind smaller vehicles for greater fuel economy.
Although simple in design, Hanson said the Chalet is difficult to manufacture.
“A standard travel trailer can be thrown together and pushed out of the plant,” he said. “Our tolerances are much more important compared to a product that doesn’t have any moving parts. The frame has to be flat and the cabinets have to be square. If you start with a box that is not true, it won’t operate properly.”
Although the firm is committed to continuing to refine the Chalet, it isn’t locked into the A-frame niche, Hanson said.
“We can go all sorts of places in the hard-sided niche,” he said. “That means that future products may not have the ‘A’ frame. There is nothing specific right now, but we always are interested in continuous improvements.”