Thor California Taps Hot Western U.S. Market
A small group of RV executives who approached Thor Industries Inc. Chairman Wade Thompson in the mid-1990s – Thor California Inc.’s current president, Tom Powell, among them – had a vision for the establishment of a West Coast startup company that would be a strong competitor in the U.S. towable RV market.
At the time, Thompson, a New York entrepreneur, was in the midst of an acquisition spree that turned Thor Industries into the largest towable manufacturer in the country. All of those RV companies, in fact, were acquired, not started from the drawing board.
“We are one of the few Thor companies that was a startup under the Thor name,” said Marketing Manager Brandon Alexander. “It makes us a little bit different. Because we were a startup, we got to design the products with a market in mind. The idea was to build two quality brands with popular floorplans for an affordable price. It was as simple as that.”
Thor California was launched in January 1996 with 108 employees and two towable product lines: Tahoe and Wanderer.
The company’s plant, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles in Moreno Valley, was quickly outfitted and product began coming off the line 25 days later. Since then, Thor California’s production facilities have expanded from 130,000 square feet to 280,000 square feet, and the company shipped its 50,000th unit in December.
Thor California expanded into the midsized luxury fifth-wheel market with the debut of the Jazz product line in late 2002.
“Simplicity is our key focus,” Alexander said. “The management team always has had their fingers on the pulse of the customer. Every company strives to meet customer needs, but our key management is very well versed and is able to read the industry very well. We give the customers what they want. “When a customer says, ‘I want more room,’ we know how to interpret that and translate it into floorplans that make sense.”
As with other Thor Industries subsidiaries, Thor California operates independently from the mother company. Revenue for 2004 is anticipated to increase to $140 million, up from $90 million in 2003.
“We seem to get extremely popular when we redesigned the Wanderer and Tahoe last year,” Alexander said.
Teams consisting of representatives from the sales, production and operations departments continually monitor sales performance of Thor California’s brands, which lead to product upgrades that are quickly implemented. “We make running changes and running improvements on a continual basis,” Alexander said. “As soon as we have an improvement, we implement it.”
The same is true of floorplans and brands, which are phased in and out. “When you look at your numbers and you sell 500 of one floorplan and 200 of another, it’s really important to focus on what got you to the point that you are at,” Alexander said.
An example is the stripped-down, entry-level Pak Rat SURV released in 2003 as part of the 2004 floorplan lineup that didn’t remain in production for the full model year.
“The Pak Rat was doing well, but our other toybox business was doing better,” Alexander said. “We chose to focus on them instead of being distracted by a different product line.”
In the same vein, the Tahoe series has evolved from travel trailers and fifth-wheels to travel trailers only. “There has been an evolution in the Tahoe line,” Alexander said. “We’ve had production limitations, and travel trailers have become so popular that we are challenged to keep up with the demand.”
Additionally, the Vortex SURV, which started out with fifth-wheel floorplans, has become an all-travel trailer series.
The company isn’t hesitant to experiment with unusual floorplans. Wanderer’s “Rocket” hybrid floorplan features unique opposing, soft-sided, rear-bedroom foldowns while the Super Rocket floorplan features opposing, soft-sided bedroom foldowns in the rear and a third soft-side queen bed extension that slides out from the front of the unit. An optional hard-sided sofa slide is available in the “Super Rocket” floorplan.
Geographically, as might be imagined, Thor California products are particularly popular in the western United States. “That was one of the reasons for the formation of the company,” Alexander said. “We wanted to build a company that would dominate in the western United States. When the plan was taken to Wade Thompson, that was their design.”