Starcraft: Much More Than Just a Foldout Maker
The success of Starcraft RV Inc. in the folding camping trailer market has been a double-edged sword.
“When Starcraft comes to mind to a lot of the world they think ‘camping trailers,’ ” said Donald J. Walter, president and CEO of the Jayco Inc. subsidiary headquartered in Topeka, Ind. “The challenge and exciting reality with this company is we are more than camping trailers. Our mission is to expand beyond the world of camping trailers, aggressively. We want to attack the market.”
This latest market offensive began in the 2002 model year when Starcraft reasserted its role in the conventional towable market by introducing the Aruba travel-trailer brand to take advantage of consumer tastes for brighter and more wide-open interiors. It continued this year with the addition of Aruba fifth-wheel floorplans and the launch of the Homestead fifth-wheel series, with its more traditional decor.
To accommodate expansion in the trailer market, Starcraft this summer will complete renovation of a 35,000 square foot factory it purchased on 11 acres in nearby Shipshewana that will house its sewing shop and other departments.
With a 15,000 square foot expansion planned for Topeka, Starcraft will have an additional 50,000-square-feet of manufacturing space to accommodate an increase in travel trailer and fifth-wheel construction.
Walter, 57, a former administrator at Miami University of Ohio, joined the RV industry in 1973 after his car broke down in Forest City, Iowa, and while he killed time waiting for repairs he took a tour of Winnebago Industries Inc.’s factory there. “I came out absolutely fascinated with these houses on wheels,” he said.
After stints as an executive with Coachmen Industries Inc., Elkhart Ind., and as president of Holiday Rambler Corp., Wakarusa, Ind., Walter became president of Starcraft when Jayco acquired the firm in January 1991.
Also for 2003, three fifth-wheel floorplans in lengths of 28 and 30 feet were added to the Aruba series, which debuted in 2002 with seven travel-trailer floorplans.
All-new for 2003 is Starcraft’s Homestead series, a midpriced sister of the Aruba, with three fifth-wheel floor plans. “The difference is the decor,” Walter said.
Starcraft also makes Starcraft and StarLite trailers, Starcraft, Constellation, Star Shuttle and Launch series folding camping trailers and TravelStar lightweight expandable trailers.
While expanding into the travel trailer and fifth-wheel markets, Starcraft, founded in 1903 to manufacturer agricultural products, doesn’t intend to lessen its emphasis on the folding camper market.
To mark its 100th anniversary, Starcraft this year also introduced the 18-foot Centennial camping trailer series with four floorplans featuring a permanent galley and dinette and higher sidewalls, plus the 10-foot 10 RT offroad foldout, the styling of which is similar to an SUV with higher ground clearance, knobby tires and a black steel frame.
“We wanted to create a camping trailer that had the eye appeal of an SUV,” Walter said. “That’s not to say this camping trailer is going to spend its life in the desert, but it looks like it will.”
Continued expansion of camping trailer brands is necessary, Walter said, even as Starcraft seeks to make its mark in towables. “We recognize with the expandables and towables that we have cannibalized sales for camping trailers,” Walter said. “We still want to be a leader and offer new product to show there are ways to grow in the camping-trailer market.”
In the expandable market, Starcraft for 2003 introduced the Antigua, a companion of the TravelStar expandable line that Starcraft pioneered in 1999.
Antigua, in five floorplans, shares design aspects with Starcraft’s popular Aruba’s white interiors and fabrics and light-wood floors.
“We saw quick success and acceptance of the expandables,” Walter said.
“An expandable is not an easy product to build. When you are folding stuff into a unit, that takes skills. We know how to make an RV that folds.”