Intermountain RV Reaches New Truck Camper Heights
In the business world, success often rises from adversity. So it was for Intermountain RV Inc., LaGrande, Ore., which sprang to life in 2000 from the vestiges of a small company that had been supplying wiring harnesses to RV industry OEMs.
“Basically, the main manufacturer they were selling to did some restructuring and took the product they were supplying in-house,” said Joe Garoutte, Intermountain sales and marketing director.
“Rather than sit back and lick their wounds, they decided to manufacture truck campers. And they decided that an all-aluminum truck camper was the way to go. At the time, nobody had an aluminum-frame camper. It was a niche, and it wasn’t such a big piece of the pie to bite into.”
Today, Intermountain is steadily producing two Eagle Cap truck campers a day in the northeastern Oregon community of LaGrande, population 12,000, in a mountain valley. Two founders – Eric Kilpatrick, who previously worked for Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., and engineer Matt Johnson – hold executive and operating positions with Intermountain.
Eagle Caps are sold by 29 dealers in 11 states primarily located in the western half of the country with the highest concentration in Washington and Oregon.
A key to the company’s early success has been Intermountain’s signature all-aluminum welded frames. “Aluminum is more difficult to work with, so you need a higher set of work skills than is required to just nail wood together,” Garoutte said. “We are not the first company to use aluminum in a truck camper, but we were the first with an all-aluminum frame.”
Because Intermountain is about 2,000 miles from the core of the RV industry’s supplier companies in Northern Indiana, Intermountain has fostered a culture of independence. “There is a lot of homegrown mentality around here because we are in such a small community,” Garoutte said. “Even though we are innovators, in many ways we believe in doing things the way they should be done. We do a lot of things right here that other companies ship out to suppliers.
“That allows us to monitor quality from the start. We have never wanted to build the most expensive camper out there. We’ve always wanted to build the best camper we can for the best value.”
In August, Intermountain began making its own gelcoat fiberglass panels, having built the vacu-bonding machine that converts them into sidewalls. “We shoot it, roll it and coat it,” Garoutte said. “We made our own vacuum machine and our own glue applicator.” Intermountain also designed the molds for Eagle Cap’s front and rear caps that it manufacturers in its local fiberglass shop.
The change from hung fiberglass to vacu-bonded panels cut as much as 400 pounds from the weight of some models for 2005.
“We have dropped a whole bunch of weight,” Garoutte said. “The vacu-bonding allows us to use thinner materials but also gives us greater strength.
“And we found small ways inside and outside of the camper to save weight, using a solid cabinet door instead of a raised panel door, for example. Those are things that add up.”
For the sake of quality, Intermountain does not intend to put pressure on its two-a-day line run anytime soon. “Last spring we were up to three and four units a day, but we were not happy with the level of quality when we were pushing them out that fast,” Garoutte said. “We decided to refocus, and since then, we have pulled back.”
Intermountain also intends to keep Eagle Cap simple by limiting floorplans to those that are more popular. “The fewer choices that we have, the lower our overhead is,” he said.
Also to keep costs in line, Intermountain delivers its units with a fleet of three trucks that haul trailers carrying up to three campers at a time.
“We are currently prospecting for new dealers,” Garoutte said, “but we are going to continue to emphasize quality before quantity, and we don’t want to do too much.”