Woodland Park Taps Strong U.S. Park Model Trend
Ernie Yoder says he is somewhat embarrassed to admit it but when he bought Jayco Inc.’s recreation park trailer division in 1983, he thought he’d be five years into retirement by now. “It was an investment,” he said.
Instead, Yoder, 60, expects that he will be leading park model manufacturer Woodland Park Inc. in Middlebury, Ind., for another 10 years or so.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever retire,” Yoder said. “I wouldn’t know what to do.”
Yoder’s company manufactures entry-priced Timber Ridge and midlevel Woodland Park brands in 8 1/2- and 12-foot widths. The most recent addition to the company’s lineup is the high-end Oak Ridge, available only in an 8 1/2-foot width that debuted at the 2002 National RV Trade Show.
Among the three park model brands, the company offers 44 standard floorplans, but the Woodland Park and Oak Ridge brands rarely are built without custom modifications.
More than 60% of the models Woodland Park sells are customized in some fashion, according to national Sales Manager Jeff Schmuhl.
“That speaks to a trend that people are living in their units for longer periods of time,” Schmuhl said. “We have to be careful, though, to say these are not mobile homes. They are not HUD-approved. They are RVs.”
“We don’t build ‘cookie cutters,’ ” said Yoder, who instituted a computer-aided design system in the early 1990s. “We have a completely new set of blueprints for every unit we build. That means we have to have people who understand and can build off a blueprint.”
Because park model manufacturers don’t have to worry about trailers being towed frequently from place to place, the unit’s weight is not a primary concern. The result is that the frame can be heavier and the unit can be stocked with home-style appliances, according to Schmuhl.
In some floorplans, Woodland Park lines are available with pitched roofs, sunken bedrooms and lofts. Units with loft floorplans are built in 11-foot widths so that the unit can be stretched to some to accommodate the 2 square feet needed for a stairwell.
Yoder, a carpenter by trade, formed Woodland Park after working for Jayco in sales. He was assigned to redesign Jayco’s park model line in 1982 and three months after debuting the Woodland Park lineup the Middlebury Ind.-based RV builder decided to sell the division, which it offered to Yoder.
“I ended up buying it four weeks later,” Yoder recalled.
A handful of Woodland Park’s 55 employees have been with the company since its inception, and more than half for longer than five years – facts that Woodland Park urges its dealers to stress in sales and marketing programs.
In December, at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville show, Woodland Park unveiled revamped interiors in the entry-level Timber Ridge.
Yoder recently has noted a significant shift in the age of his customers. “Two years ago the age group began to get younger,” Yoder said. “It used to be our customers were 65 and older. Now, the age is 58 and older.”
Woodland Park brands are sold through 57 dealerships, most of them primarily marketing traditional RVs.
Yoder said the nature of RV parks that accommodate park models also is changing. “Parks for the most part have been transient – people come and people go,” Yoder said. “A lot of parks are seeing the profit in leasing, renting or selling a lot that gives them continuous revenue. We’ve seen a 30% increase this year in parks that have become their own dealers.”
Yoder declined to disclose Woodland Park’s sales, but said his goal is to build 400 units a year. Schmuhl said sales in 2002 compared to 2001 were up, with 35% in 12-foot-wide units and 20% in 8-1/2-foot-wide units.
Where will trends take the park model?
“The next ones are going to have wings on them,” Yoder joked. “Twenty years ago when we started building 12-wide, people were saying that we were going crazy. Then the loft and sunken bedroom came along, and we’ve got open stairways now. The changes never end.”