Canada'sWest Coast Leisure Homes Grows
Chris Epp, president of West Coast Leisure Homes Ltd., Penticton, B.C., manufacturer of Okanagan truck campers and towables, traces the origin of the brand to a pile of potential mill scrap that remained after a local company went bankrupt.
“A local mill’s woodworking shop was producing parts for a customer, but they didn’t know what they were building,” Epp said. “They were just building parts that someone had ordered. The company ordering the parts went broke and the millwork shop was left with all these parts. The owners told one of their employees to see what he could make out of the wood.”
Wolfgang Karnine, who is still employed by the company, fit the pieces together and ended up with a truck cap frame.
As a sideline, the mill began manufacturing pickup caps and then truck campers and eventually travel trailers and fifth-wheels. The company was later purchased by Thor Industries Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio.
Meanwhile, a year or so before Karnine fashioned the first Okanagan truck cap, Epp’s father, Erdman Epp, founded Fraiserway Camper Manufacturers Inc. and later purchased rival RV builder Trav-L-Mate Industries Inc. to manufacture truck campers and fifth-wheels.
Nearing retirement in 1984, he sold Fraiserway to brother James Epp and Trav-L-Mate to Chris Epp.
In 1991, son Chris Epp purchased Okanagan from Thor Industries as the Canadian dollar surged in comparison to the U.S. dollar, making Okanagan’s products less competitive in the American market.
With the acquisition, Trav-L-Mate was renamed West Coast Leisure Homes Ltd., which produced both Trav-L-Mate and Okanagan brands until 1995, when Trav-L-Mate was discontinued. “As we continued to develop new product and the product looked more and more alike, it became clear to us that our dealer network would be served better by a single brand name,” Epp said.
West Coast Leisure currently builds about 700 units a year and has a goal of reaching 1,000 by the end of 2006.
Representatives in December attended the company’s first Louisville RV trade show since 1996 in what Epp says was a successful effort to find new U.S. dealers. Previously selling in the U.S. at five dealerships in Washington, Montana and Oregon, West Coast added seven dealers at Louisville from states as far away as Colorado and Tennessee, and now has about 30 dealers in the U.S. and Canada.
“We feel confident that we have a product that will appeal to people in the United States, and our reputation of servicing our dealers and customers is second to none,” Epp said.
Although West Coast also makes conventional towables, truck campers have been the company’s hallmark in recent years. West Coast is producing its first double-slide truck camper for the 2005 model year.
“Truck campers in the last few years really have surged for us,” Epp said. He attributes the increase in sales to the B.C. government dispelling a rumor begun in the early 2000s that police were ticketing many truck campers for being overweight.
“In 1999, we had our best-selling year as far as truck campers,” Epp recalled. “We were close to producing 200, and then the next year we were down to only 40 units. Rumors can sometimes be more dangerous than reality.”