SunnyBrook RV Focuses on Homegrown Hoosier Quality, Steady Growth
Planned, steady growth since startup 13 years ago has been the aim of the owners of SunnyBrook RV Inc., Middlebury, Ind.
“Our goal at that time – and we still have it – was to start a company and have it grow in a controlled way,” said Elvie J. Frey, who founded SunnyBrook in 1992 with partners David Fought, Susan Kalb Yoder and Tom Thornton. “The quality of the units you put out on the market is important. When you have planned growth, you can control the quality of the unit and you can control the quality of the dealerships that carry your product. When you push, push, push to build, sometimes you lose the focus that you need.”
Among SunnyBrook’s original core ownership group were former employees of Starcraft RV Inc., Topeka, Ind., which filed for bankruptcy in 1990 and later was acquired by Jayco Inc. “There was a group of us trying to buy it out of bankruptcy, but we were not successful,” Frey said.
The group bided its time and two years later bought a 14,000-square-foot building in Middlebury to strike out on their own building towables.
“It probably would be safe to say that our focus is geared more toward travel trailers and fifth-wheels than anyone out there,” Frey said. “We are not looking to get into the folding camper or truck campers or motorized markets.”
SunnyBrook RVs are marketed as the Mobile Scout brand in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and western Louisiana. The Mobile Scout brand was owned by W.D. Thornton, the father of SunnyBrook founder Tom Thornton.
“When we started, nobody had heard of SunnyBrook,” said Jim Wilson, executive vice president. “But there was a group of dealers in that area who wanted us to brand our RVs as Mobile Scout, which had gone out of business in 1978, but still had a good name. We thought we would start out with the Mobile Scout name down there and later change it to SunnyBrook.
“But even today, dealers in that area won’t let us change the name. It’s done very well for us in Texas where we sell more trailers than any other state. It’s the same trailer as SunnyBrook with different brand logos.”
Like its branding, SunnyBrook’s current marketing campaign is both successful and nontraditional.
SunnyBrook’s marketing agency, Fish Marketing Inc., South Bend, Ind., won the American Advertising Federation’s Gold Addie Award earlier this year for a whimsical campaign featuring a rural farm theme. Spotlighting roosters, hogs, chickens, rustic barns and farm field scenes and reflecting the company’s decidedly rural roots, the print campaign may be the industry’s most imaginative. For example, a press kit on CD with photos of SunnyBrook products features the giant head of a rooster keeping an eye on things with the SunnyBrook and Mobile Scout logos appearing to have been cut in a farm field in the background. The CD advises: “Don’t Be Chicken – Open It!”
“They would probably be more whimsical if we let them,” Wilson said. “They wanted to do something different for us. They didn’t want us to do just another brochure.”
According to President Randy Fish, the marketing campaign is designed to let both consumers and dealers know the people who run SunnyBrook.
“The essence of advertising is to capture who a company really is, both for end-users and for the dealers,” Fish said. “SunnyBrook has this buzz about them because they’re really down-home folks who apply the Golden Rule when they deal with people.”
According to Frey, about 50% of SunnyBrook’s production staff is comprised of Amish workers, who are known for their hard work and woodworking skills. SunnyBrook’s marketing will expand later this year when the company adds the Brookside, a medium-priced fifth-wheel, to its lineup for the 2006 model year. Details about the product weren’t available at presstime.
“It will be coming later this summer, and it will give us three different product lines, and allow us to take the next step in our growth,” Frey explained. “When you have only two price points – our entry-level Solanta and our top-end Titan series, there’s at least one price point in the middle that you are missing.”
The primary challenge SunnyBrook and other manufacturers face, according to Frey, is keeping up with the latest consumer demands, which make things more complicated. “People expect more from an RV than they ever have,” Frey said. “Ten years ago you never heard of surround-sound in an RV. Today, it’s almost standard.”
Even with that, Frey said, the RV industry in general today seems to be avoiding some of the pitfalls that it has run into in the past.
“The peaks and valleys aren’t as sharp. They are more rounded than they used to be,” he said.
Frey believes the series of hurricanes that struck Florida and the southeastern U.S. in the summer and early fall was partly responsible for last year’s increase in RV sales.
“I think it helped us,” he said. “People needed housing, and I think that’s why the numbers went higher than almost anyone expected.”