Travel Supreme, Once Limited to Trailers, Thrives in Diesels
High-end fifth-wheel manufacturer Travel Supreme Inc. made an abrupt yet successful change in direction in 1999 when the company began producing diesel-pusher motorhomes.
Although the the Wakarusa, Ind., company was founded in 1989 to build fifth-wheels, its chic, high-end diesel motorhomes have come to account for more than three-quarters of its annual production over the past six years.
"At the time, the market was tight in really high-end fifth-wheels, and we didn't want to build something that was of lesser quality," recalled Travel Supreme Chairman and President Glenn Troyer. "We felt we were capable of building a very high-end motorhome and it turned out great."
Did Troyer suspect motorized products would become the company's primary product?
"To be honest, we didn't," he said. "I totally credit the people that we have here who were able to build a motorhome for the high-end market and have it recognized as such. That's a difficult market to penetrate."
Troyer got into the RV industry in 1975 in the customer service department at Newmar Corp., Goshen, Ind. When he left in 1989 to form Travel Supreme, he was Newmar's vice president of sales and marketing.
"One advantage I brought with me when we formed Travel Supreme was that I knew how a high-end product was built from inception," he said. "And working in customer service, I had a broad perspective about the service and marketing end of it. It was OJT (on-the-job training) for 14 years."
Troyer figures Travel Supreme has gained its reputation for quality and high design by not cutting corners.
"The biggest thing that I wanted to do when we formed Travel Supreme was to take the way units were put together to a new level, especially inside," he said. "And if you are going to sell a guy something for $600,000, you'd better have a coach that he identifies with. He needs to know that his unit is of the same quality level as his expensive home. We've never used any gimp molding or trim to hide a problem or a mistake. We put the interior together like it's the inside of a home."
Travel Supreme has remained focused on the high end.
"Even though the Envoy (diesel pusher) is our entry-level motorhome, it's highline for some companies," Troyer said. "The same goes for River Canyon, our entry-level fifth-wheel. They need to be of high quality because most people are going to be living in them or being somewhere for an extended stay as opposed to going camping in them."
Regarding motorized products, Troyer's goal is for consumers to consider Travel Supreme's Spartan-based motorhomes — they have power plants ranging up to 600 hp — in the same class as the industry's ultrahigh-end manufacturers.
"We are trying to take a conventional motorhome and penetrate the Prevost bus market," Troyer said. "Horsepower is a huge thing for us. A lot of people like to pull matching trailers and some of them will have lift systems that allow them to carry two vehicles.
"People might say, 'Why do you need that?' But there are a lot more people out there these days who want to take everything with them." Giving high-line customers what they want means granite countertops, ceramic tile, multiple slideouts and large refrigerators and freezers and heavy, residential-style furnishings in decors fashioned by Troyer's wife, Connie, Travel Supreme's chief interior designer. All of this has been made possible, Troyer said, by the advent of heavier chassis — both in the motorhome and fifth-wheel segments.
"All the amenities that we put into a coach come at the cost of more weight," Troyer said.
Travel Supreme motorized products are built exclusively on Spartan chassis. "Eighty percent of our production is done on tag axles, and that is what Spartan is known for," he noted. "And as we get into the bigger units, Spartan is the only one that offers some of the features that we want in our high-end motorhomes. For the high-end buyer, the chassis is a huge thing for them." Using Spartan's tag axles can add 10,000 to 13,000 pounds to a coach's GVWR, he explained.
In fact, Troyer declares Spartan's 600-hp (Cummins) K-3 chassis, with a GVWR rating of 51,600 pounds, as the best nonbus chassis in the RV industry for a variety of reasons.
"It has monocoque construction with zero camber," he said. "When it comes in here and we put it on the lift, it has absolutely no sway."
With 75 dealers in the United States, Travel Supreme also sells both motorhomes and towables through a handful of retailers in England and Europe. Though he didn't disclose revenue, Troyer said Travel Supreme weathered the 12% decline in overall Class A motorhome sales from 2004 to 2005. "Sales were up a fraction in 2005, with motorhomes right where they were the year before," he said.
Troyer said the softness in the motorhome market over the last year or so has been creating pent-up demand that will turn around when gas prices and interest rates stabilize.
"High-end motorhomes are not necessity purchases and buyers are still totally involved with where fuel prices are," Troyer said. "Even if he can afford it, there's a sense in the back of people's minds that fuel prices are going to have a big impact on how he uses the coach. That has the result of delaying the purchase.
"I don't think that we've lost those people. They are still there. But right now they are being influenced by what is going on with fuel prices and the like. They just aren't as confident about the future as they need to be."