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Edmonton Journal, November 2007

Revived Trillium trailer attracts buyers from across North America

Published in the Edmonton Journal and written by Dave Halliday, Friday, November 30, 2007

When Joe Thoen began building Outback travel trailers, he had one floor plan.

Now Thoen has expanded to four for the moulded fibreglass trailer, an updated version of the Trillium that was built for decades in southern Ontario. A stylized trillium flower still graces the trailer entrance door.

The additional floor plans include a layout with a bathroom and another with a front dinette. The two-seat front dinette gives campers the option of leaving the rear dinette made into a bed all the time.

The basic floor plan offers a rear dinette with bunk beds at the front of the unit – enough space to sleep four. The other variations sleep two or three people.

But Team Trillium Manufacturing has undergone other changes.

The business has moved from northeast Calgary to a new business park in the city’s southeast. Thoen has ended sales through recreational vehicle dealerships, instead opting for factory direct sales – the sales model chosen by most manufacturers of lightweight, moulded fibreglass trailers.

Reaching the new location involves driving past grain fields. But the rapidly expanding City of Calgary could soon fill those empty spaces.

While Team Trillium is already in its new 48,000-square-foot building on Wrangler Way S.E., the problem of finding tradespeople in Alberta’s white-hot economy is delaying finishing touches on the structure.

Thoen said he’s had to wait months to have lights, ceilings, floor coverings and other items installed.

Once the combination office/showroom is finished, “we’ll have a trailer on display,” Thoen said.

The display model will be an important part of the factory-direct sales approach.

The shop area also needs some finishing touches. At the moment, there is space to work on two trailers, but that will expand to four or five, allowing trailer building to be handled in more of an assembly-line process than before.

The trailers are essentially custom built to the customer’s order. After the customer chooses the floor plan, he can specify items such as the type of wood for the cabinet doors and the cushion fabric.

During a recent visit to Team Trillium, two trailers were being loaded on a truck for shipment to the United States Air Force.

Trailers under construction included a unit for Ikea which will be used as a mobile sales office when the retailer has parking lot sales. This trailer won’t have a full range of appliances or propane system. An electric heater will provide warmth for Ikea staff.

Concerns about warranty issues led Thoen to switch to factory direct sales.

After making the switch, “warranty repairs dropped 90 per cent,” he said.

Since every trailer is given “a pre-delivery inspection before it leaves the shop, there should be no warranty issues.”

All appliances are tested and the trailer is leak checked before leaving Team Trillium.

Other moulded fibreglass trailer manufacturers such as Escape in Chilliwack, B.C., Scamp in Minnesota and Casita in Texas also bypass dealers and sell their trailers direct from the factory.

Selling direct from the factory allows Thoen to sell the trailers at a lower price – $13,800 for the basic model. Options would raise the price form there.

Buyers who pick up their new Outback trailer in Calgary can also save on shipping costs. For example, Thoen points out that it costs $1,600 to ship a trailer to Ontario.

The Internet plays a vital role in selling Outback trailers. “Eighty per cent of sales are internet related,” Thoen said.

Thoen began building the trailers as a way of filling in lulls in his RV service business called International R.V. Much of that business is repairing RV refrigerators.

But the Trillium manufacturing and parts business has grown, so the RV service and repair operation will be scaled back to provide more space for trailer manufacturing. In the course of building the trailers, Thoen watches for the opportunity to make improvements.

For example, the original heavy table has been replaced by a fibreglass unit with a moulded lip to prevent spills from running onto the floor.

The fibreglass cabinets are glued into place in the Outback trailer, in contrast to other fibreglass trailers where they are riveted or bolted to the unit’s shell. That provides greater structural rigidity and there’s no concern about parts working loose.

A change to a new “cutting-edge technology glue” has speeded up the assembly process since it dries much faster, Thoen said. This glue sets in a few minutes compared to the previous adhesive that had to be left overnight.

In addition to building new trailers, the business has become a parts supplier to owners of old Trilliums and Boers across North America.

Thoen is considering expanding his parts inventory with items such as a kit to make a new frame for Boler trailers and a gravel shield for the front window on the Boler.

Team Trillium will have to design and manufacture those parts before they’re available.

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