Space Craft Carves Out Specialty Trailer Niche
Tapping into unconventional RV markets isn’t unusual for Space Craft Manufacturing Inc., a custom manufacturer in Concordia, Mo., which lays claim to having patented the first automatic slideout room in 1984.
“We designed it as the request of a customer,” said Space Craft President Marsha Trautman. “He wanted a three-bedroom trailer. He was in the carnival industry and he felt there was a need for them. He was exactly right.”
Trautman’s 41-year-old company, which annually builds 15 to 20 customized fully equipped travel trailers, fifth-wheels and semi-trailers, originated in 1962 as a manufacturer of hard-sided truck campers. The company expanded into travel trailers and fifth wheels in 1971, and into semi-trailers in 1997. Additionally, Space Craft manufactures Light House “Sleeping Quarters” that feature a semi-trailer partitioned into as many as six rooms with individual entryways, each equipped with a bed, wardrobe and place for a TV. Light House trailers are used primarily by the carnival industry.
Besides the carnival business, Space Craft has tapped into the East Coast movie industry with extra long, specially made fifth-wheels and semi-trailers that are used as dressing rooms. Russell Crowe used a Space Craft RV as a dressing room in the making of “A Beautiful Mind,” and Eddie Murphy and Al Pacino also have utilized Space Craft trailers on location.
Space Craft sells the dressing room trailers to a Pennsylvania company, which has an inventory of 40 to 50 fifth-wheels. The company then rents them for movie productions.
“The advantage for him (the Pennsylvania buyer) is that before we hooked up with him, he was not able to have a 53-foot trailer made from start to finish by one company,” Trautman said. “One company would build the frame. One company would build the box, and another would complete the interior. We do the whole thing from start to finish.”
Trautman, after working as Space Craft’s bookkeeper and purchasing agent for eight years, bought the company in 1994 when the previous owners retired.
Space Craft sells factory-direct, and does little advertising.
“The best means of advertising for me is word-of-mouth,” said Trautman, who displays Space Craft units at the Tampa SuperShow, the Kansas City RV Show and a handful of other retail venues each year.
“Before my time, they tried dealers,” she said. “It didn’t work very well because we build custom trailers. Most often a dealer will tell somebody that we can’t do something, when we can. Dealers are usually not very well versed on how trailers are built and what can be done with them.”
Selling direct, Trautman said, generally allows Space Craft to retail units for $20,000 to $30,000 less than a traditional manufacturer that makes similar RVs. “Plus, theirs are not custom built,” she noted.
Space Craft manufactures its own slideout mechanism, which employs a 12-volt electric ball-bearing screw rod. For 2003, the company developed a flush-floor slideout that drops 3 inches into place in a controlled movement. “Our first slideout was a true (manual) push-in and pull-out type,” Trautman said. “It evolved from there.”
Although Space Craft has 10 basic travel trailers in lengths of 26 to 40 feet and 19 fifth-wheel floorplans in lengths of 28 to 47 feet, individual units – conventional or otherwise – are fully customizable.
“Each individual has their own wants and needs,” Trautman said. “They can accomplish what they want through us. Along with their being able to design the floorplan, they also do the interior decorating – fabrics, wall coverings, cabinetry colors and flooring. It’s all their choice.”
Similar to an industrywide trend, Trautman said, she has noticed that her retail customers are opting for smaller units more and more.
“We are seeing more full-time retirees, and they are backing off on the lengths a little. Couples are looking for something that can be handled by a smaller truck that they both can drive.
“Retirees are becoming more educated before they make a purchase, which I love,” Trautman said. “They usually are starting about two years before they make their purchase, and they are not just buying a trailer and later buying a truck. They are coordinating them to assure that the truck can handle the trailer they are going to buy.”