Oak Creek company expands as RV sales skyrocket
By Steve Jagler, SBT Executive Editor
Fueled by the growing popularity of recreational vehicles since 9-11, Hanna Trailers Inc. will expand and move to a new 19,000-square-foot building at 7571 S. Howell Ave. in Oak Creek this fall.
The company has outgrown its current site at 8511 S. Howell Ave., according to Al Downs, president of the firm.
"We never thought we’d outgrow this spot when we moved in here in 1990," Downs said. "I think what’s happened is that people are not wanting to fly as much since 9-11. They’re doing more of the shorter trips, staying closer to home, and they’re buying RVs."
Hanna Trailers provides recreational vehicle repairs and parts, in addition to selling and repairing utility trailers, four-wheel carts and gas-powered scooters.
Hanna Trailers grew to $1.8 million in annual revenues last year, Downs said.
US ownership of recreational vehicles is at its highest level ever, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. The study estimated that 6.9 million households owned recreational vehicles in 2001, up 7.8% since the previous survey in 1997 and 19% since 1993.
"The strong and enduring appeal of the RV lifestyle is clearly confirmed by these ownership data," said Richard Curin, consumer surveys director of the research center.
"Because RVs provide travelers with greater freedom, flexibility and control, they have demonstrated appeal to Americans in times of national emergency," Curin said in a prepared statement when the study was released in May. "Domestic by its very nature, RV travel is less affected by international crisis and relies less on foreign visitor traffic for support. In spite of uncertainties in the months leading up to the war, RV shipments remained strong. The RV industry is currently in a growth cycle, and the long-term prospects for RV sales remain quite bright."
Today’s typical recreational vehicle owner is 49 years old and married, with an annual income of $56,000, according to the study.
As sales have grown, so to have the needs for repairs and parts, Downs said.
"Things have been pretty strong," he said.
Downs sold his interests in W.J. Kuhn Automotive Center Inc. April 1 to Matt Merschdorf and Scott Brooks. Hanna Trailers had shared space with Kuhn.
About 10,000 square feet of the new building will be devoted to shop and repair space, and the remaining 9,000 will serve as retail space, Downs said.
Downs estimated the value of the new development at $1.25 million, including his purchase of the eight-acre site.
To save costs, Downs is serving as his own general contractor for the pre-cast concrete structure and is hiring several subcontractors for construction.
The building was designed by Torke/Wirth/Pujara, a Wauwatosa-based architectural firm.
Although he has no background in construction, Downs said he has not had any problems dealing with city officials while serving as the general contractor.
When Hanna Trailers, which also operates the Hanna Motor Sports subsidiary, moves into the new building in October, Downs plans to double his current staff of eight employees.
Sept. 5, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee