A focus on building high-end products made it simple for this fifth-wheel manufacturer to take on the type A diesel motorhome market seven years ago.
By Pamela Selbert
Glenn Troyer said he had never worked on an RV production line when he made the bold decision to form his own fifth-wheel travel trailer manufacturing firm. With RV production expert Paul Miller, Mr. Troyer started Travel Supreme on 24 acres at the east edge of Wakarusa, Indiana, in 1989.
Mr. Troyer had spent 14 years at Newmar Corporation in nearby Nappanee, first in the customer service department “learning what the customers’ needs were,” as he said, and then in sales. Eventually he became vice president of sales and marketing. When Newmar changed hands in 1989, he felt it was time to strike out on his own.
Today Travel Supreme’s fifth-wheel travel trailers are available in five elegant models, all built in a 41,600-square-foot factory, dubbed Plant No. 1. And Travel Supreme now also makes six models of motorhomes. The company employs 375 workers.
The transition to motorhome manufacturing was not difficult. By 1999, the company was ready to diversify.
“Demographics in the industry were changing,” Mr. Troyer explained. “We were suited to and accustomed to building a high-end product, and the mentality of “˜no shortcuts allowed’ was instilled in our workers. So, the logical next step was to begin building high-end motorhomes.”
Today Travel Supreme turns out seven motorhomes a week, or about 300 a year. All are type A diesels. The company’s entry-level coach is the Envoy, which carries a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $254,000. Next up the line is the Mid Engine, followed by the Insignia, the Alante, and the Select. The top-of-the-line Select Limited is the most recent addition to the Travel Supreme stable, and is offered at a manufacturer’s base suggested retail price of $630,000.
Mr. Troyer noted that the company works directly with its dealers when building coaches. Travel Supreme has approximately 50 dealers around the United States and Canada, with another two or three in Europe. Customers can order a Travel Supreme coach with their options of choice, and the transaction is handled through the dealer.
On our recent visit to the factory, we toured Plant No. 1 and Plant No. 2, a 61,000-square-foot facility dedicated to motorhome manufacturing. (Public tours are offered at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.)
Regional sales manager Todd Hahn said that all Travel Supreme motorhomes are built on Spartan chassis. The Envoy and Insignia use Spartan’s Mountain Master. The Mid Engine toy-hauler-style motorhome uses the Me2. The K2 chassis is used for Alante and Select models, and the Select Limited is built on the K3 “zero camber” foundation. All come with Cummins diesel engines in various sizes.
The typical chassis arrives at the factory with an upward bow or “camber” in the rails, which straightens to flat as the load is added. The K3, a six-rail chassis “” four box rails up, two below “” is heavier, stronger, and has no camber, which yields a “high-line bus ride and low center of gravity,” Mr. Hahn said. It also has independent front suspension, which will be standard for all 2007 Travel Supreme-built coaches.
In addition to the cavernous Plant No. 1 and Plant No. 2, the Travel Supreme manufacturing complex includes several support buildings, among them the shop where aluminum welding and chassis undercoating are completed and floor tile and carpet are laid. The complex also includes a service center, as well as a building for research and development, and parts storage for fifth-wheel and motorhome production.
Mr. Hahn noted that about half of the Plant No. 1 production building is devoted to a cabinet shop, where 15 to 20 cabinet craftspeople focus on building “the best cabinets in the industry,” as he said. All wood is solid; “No wrapped wood here,” he added.
Each worker has his or her own specialty. For instance, Lee Helmuth, who has been with Travel Supreme for 7 years, builds only nightstands, bedroom cabinets, and valances. Owen Borkholder, who joined the company at its inception 17 years ago, constructs kitchen cabinets and bases. Mr. Borkholder proudly noted that he built all the kitchen cabinets for the first 700 coaches.
A customer may choose oak or walnut cabinetry, Mr. Hahn said, but, generally, Travel Supreme uses the harder maple, with a variety of glazes. The wood is glazed and stained at an Amish shop in nearby Nappanee. Another Amish shop builds the cabinet doors. Amish and Mennonite employees make up much of the workforce at Travel Supreme.
Motorhomes in the works are moved sideways through the various stages of production via a clever air-slide system, which enables a half-dozen men to easily push each weighty vehicle. A “build sheet” follows each coach throughout the building process. All specifications (color, floor plan, and more) are determined before any work is begun.
While we toured the factories, to a background screech of table saws and the staccato crack of nail guns, Mr. Hahn explained some of the company’s attention to detail “” the “no shortcuts allowed” philosophy. For instance, the walls of the vehicles “could simply be screwed to the frame, but instead we mount them with screws, then bolt them down.” He noted, too, that at Travel Supreme the slide mechanisms are welded to the frame, rather than modifying the frame (cutting through or into it), which could compromise its integrity. He added that the company was among the first to offer motorhomes with four slideouts. All Travel Supreme motorhomes now are available with quad slides.
Another company policy is to never set cabinets directly on the coaches’ plywood flooring, which is 9 ply. Rather, they are placed on sheets of linoleum, which is then trimmed off at the cabinets’ outside edges.
In addition, 3-inch valves are used for both gray water and black water dump lines.
Also unique to Travel Supreme Inc. are the floors of the units, which measure 4-1/4 inches thick, the “thickest and best insulated in the industry,” Mr. Hahn said. First, a sturdy network of floor joists is assembled on a table. Next, sheets of marine-grade 5/8-inch plywood are glued, nailed, and screwed onto the joists.
The assembly is then flipped upside down with an overhead crane, and slabs of cushiony white R-19 fiberglass insulation are cut to fit between the joists. Finally, sheets of thin plywood, or lauan, are nailed to the bottom of the floor, which is then sealed with a black nylon moisture barrier stapled over the plywood. The floor is then ready to be bolted to the frame superstructure.
Walls, each built separately, are double-insulated, then screwed and bolted to the frame. R-7 fiberglass that is 1-1/2 inches thick and sheets of 1/2-inch foam are used in the sidewalls, while R-19 fiberglass insulates the floor, roof, and rear cap. Cabinets are not screwed just to the walls but also into wood plates or “backer-boards” behind the walls. Carpeting is continuous-filament, residential-quality nylon secured with tack strips.
The Select Limited differs from the other Travel Supreme coaches in a variety of ways, but none more obvious than the fact that there are no seams between the roof, front cap, and sidewall panels. It’s all one molded piece, designed by Mr. Troyer and Ted Cook, vice president of operations.
Mr. Cook, a 16-year company veteran, has played a significant role in the design and mechanics of Travel Supreme motorhomes. For instance, he also envisioned an automotive look, with no screws on the trim, and was determined to build a slideout mechanism that would be flush with the floor, all the while keeping the baggage doors full-size. Thanks to some clever engineering, this was accomplished. The slides drop level with the floor, and have no exterior locks that coach owners must set into place. The weight of the room holds the slides in.
Mr. Troyer and his wife, Connie, design the coach interiors, aided by Frank Forsythe of the research and development team, who came up with the idea for a full valance on the street side, which is in the Limited. The ornate wood valance does much to enhance a coach’s appearance.
“We pay close attention to detail, especially on the woodwork,” Mr. Cook said. “Our object is to produce an elegant coach, not one that’s gaudy or cluttered.”
Mr. Troyer noted that few layers of delegation or management exist within the company. As he explained it, this makes it easy for a customer to get quickly to the top. “Our success comes from being sensitive and attentive to the ever-changing needs of the consumer.”
Travel Supreme Inc., 66149 State Road 19, Wakarusa, IN 46573; (800) 626-0563, (574) 862-4484; www.travelsupreme.com