As previously reported, the revered Coleman brand name is back in the RV business as a result of the May acquisition by Blackstreet Capital Management LLC of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s folding camping trailer division in Somerset, Pa. Blackstreet obtained rights from The Coleman Co. Inc., Wichita, Kan., to again license the Coleman name on folding camping trailers, and the Coleman name began to resurface in September on popups from Blackstreet’s renamed FTCA Inc. subsidiary in Somerset. Coleman itself built popups in Somerset from 1967 to 1989, when Fleetwood purchased the company. California-based Fleetwood continued using the name until 2003, when Fleetwood and Coleman parted ways. RVBusiness recently spoke with FTCA national sales manager Allan Reeping.
RVB: What was the advantage, in your view, of reintroducing the Coleman brand into the recreational vehicle arena?
It’s our heritage. We were Coleman all those years. Sheldon Coleman put the facility in Somerset back in 1966. They used to do a lot of Coleman products there. They did the sleeping bags there. They made Coleman minibikes and a lot of other products in Somerset.
Even when Fleetwood purchased us and we kept the Coleman name and after we lost the Coleman name, everybody still referred to us as Coleman. It’s just a very well known outdoors name and it’s been very good for us. It’s amazing to me since we’ve gotten the name back, the number of dealers that have called us and want to pick up the product. They like that name on their lots.
RVB: Are you introducing any significantly new models yet?
Mostly it’s the same product. The Switchback is new but right now most of the trailers are the same. They just have the Coleman name. Dealers know that the Coleman name attracts the consumer. The tent campers out there are extremely familiar with it. Their tents are Coleman, their coolers and lanterns are Coleman. It’s just a perfect fit.
RVB: What’s the Switchback?
It’s a camping trailer with one model right now, although we plan to have three different models. The box length is six feet, and it has two beds to sleep four people with a front (exterior) storage deck on it.
On the inside you have plenty of areas to set things up and there are private bedrooms on each bunk end. It also has flaps that go over the top of the bed and the roof zippers so you can roll up the fly so that you can lay in the bed and it’s all screened above you. When Switchback is down (in the travel mode) you will be able to haul kayaks, bikes. We are planning in the future to be able to remove the beds so you can use it strictly as a utility trailer. We aren’t doing that yet.
RVB: Going forward, where do you see the folding camping trailer market headed?
It’s definitely been a difficult market for us. Dealer organizations lost their focus with our product, partly because there are a lot less expensive lightweight travel trailers out there. It’s easier for a dealer to sell a travel trailer. Business was very good for a long time, and dealers were making a lot of money on travel trailers and motorhomes. I think folding trailers got pushed to the back end of the lot.
It also kind of hurt the folding trailer industry that everybody had big tow vehicles. I really see that turning around. When people are buying their next vehicle, they are downsizing. And they can’t tow a lot. We are in a very good position to take advantage of the new economic conditions and high gas prices and smaller tow vehicles.
RVB: How do you characterize your product these days vs. the Coleman camper of yesteryear?
It’s still an easy, inexpensive way to get into the outdoors. It’s the easiest product to tow and it’s the easiest product to store. The ease of use is much better than it was in years past. They have power lifts now that you can put on them so that you don’t even have to crank them up. It’s a very quick set up, easy to tow and easy to store.
RVB: How are your product lines structured?
Prices are from $4,000 (retail) up to about $20,000. If you go by box size, they go from an 8-foot box to 16-foot box. We have four different series: Destiny, which is our entry level; America, which is our more expensive, low-sidewall product; Highlander, which is our high-sidewall product; and Evolution, our off-road toy hauler. The Evolution has been our fastest growing series.
RVB: What is on the product horizon?
We have a product we are coming out with that is basically a tent on wheels. It’s a four-sleeper under 600 pounds. It’s going to be a separate line. We intend to be selling that by the time we get to Louisville (RVIA’s National RV Trade Show in early December) with a retail price of under $4,000.
RVB: Are you are looking to develop more lightweight campers?
One of the things that we are realizing is that we need to get smaller and lighter. I think everybody is focusing on that. There are a tremendous amount of tow vehicles that can’t even tow 1,000 pounds.
The industry will always be here and it will always be strong. But I do believe the younger generation coming up is not necessarily looking at our products. We’ve talked to a lot of younger consumers and they definitely think differently. They are just not interested in our product. They are interested in camping, they are interested in being in the outdoors. But the RV industry just doesn’t turn them on. That’s where we need to turn our focus.
RVB: And banking on the Coleman name will remain part of those plans, as you cater to a younger consumer?
We are doing promotional programs with the Coleman company and our dealers will be selling (other) Coleman products in the future, although we are not distributing them.