While the COVID pandemic has affected many manufacturers in different ways, Minnesota Teardrop Trailers — whose signature product is the Vistabule line of teardrop-shaped campers — has watched its already-expanding customer base grow even larger. Had the company not been forced to shut down for a month, it likely would have posted another record sales year.
The St. Paul-based company is poised for even more growth. If you want a Vistabule camper today you better have plenty of time and disposable income; the waiting list is long and the trailer’s base price is around $20,000.
“Orders have gone through the roof during COVID,” says Owner Bert Taylor. “People are reacting to cabin fever. They’re really dying to get out there and experience nature before they’re taken down by COVID. And while a waiting list can say a lot about demand, Taylor says he wants to get trailers into customers’ hands much quicker. He’s hoping a new facility with a key parts supplier on site will reduce customer wait times.
That’s why we’re kind of desperate to increase our productivity,” he says.
Customers who want a Vistabule trailer must wait up to 18 months once they place an order. And the COVID pandemic may have heated up the public’s demand even more for modes of escape.
Taylor is also pondering how a new facility might simultaneously maximize profits and cut down on customer wait times. Taylor transitioned into the trailer business after spending his career building furniture and working for various small manufacturers. He wanted to try something new and so, when he heard about teardrop-style trailers from a friend, he started researching. Being familiar with design tools and seeing a niche he thought he could fill, he built his first teardrop trailer in his garage. After it was done, he and his wife drove it to the Grand Canyon. That maiden voyage convinced Taylor to create Minnesota Teardrop Trailer and launch the Vistabule line.
You can read about Taylor’s strategies in the upcoming issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine.
At any given time, the company may have 10 trailers on its shop floor in varying states of completion. Taylor described the company’s assembly approach as sort of a “super market” process. The trailer is moved around the shop where workers perform specific production tasks.
In one area they may be mounting wheels, in another they may be undergoing water testing in the “hurricane room,” in another the trailers get put on a lift where a sealant is applied to the underside. Production includes six phases: wheels, axle, frame, sides, and finally, the skin. Teardrops, which came into popularity in the 1930s and 40s, are typically 1,200 pounds, which makes them easily haulable with a regular-sized car.
The approach works for Minnesota Teardrop Trailer, but Taylor still hopes Enterprise Minnesota can help him lean up the company’s production process to maximize efficiency. Having said that, Taylor concedes the area where they’d like to make their biggest improvement might be one of their parts suppliers.
“I’d like to know more about how the lean processes can be incorporated into this type of model, rather than us forcing this into a different type of model that might not work as well,” Taylor says. “So I’m open to that and we’re learning more about that.”
May 6 – Strategically Navigating an Uncertain Future
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June 9 – Continuous Improvement for Your Business
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