Rancho Cordova, California
Shiyanenko started his manufacturer with a simple premise: Regardless of economic fluxes and consumer fads, people must eat. His professional life is now devoted to satisfying that basic need -- or at least, providing the means that make preparing good food possible.
Shiyanenko left Portland State University in Oregon a few years ago with a business degree, and promptly went to work consulting for a local company that manufactures food trailers -- those restaurants-on-wheels that are increasingly ubiquitous on city streets and at public events. For the next three years, he helped the firm draft and implement plans for optimum trailer production. But as he worked, he started to formulate some plans of his own.
"I've always wanted to go my own way," Shiyanenko says, "and manufacturing especially appealed to me. The idea of taking raw materials and creating something out of them, something new and useful, was tremendously compelling. I knew from my consulting that I could do a number of things better than other food trailer companies were doing -- so I talked to my wife, and we decided to give it a shot."
In 2017, Shiyanenko moved south to Rancho Cordova, California, to launch Golden State Trailers. It's strictly a family affair: The principals are Shiyanenko, his wife, and his father-in-law, and the initial capital came out of their own pockets.
"We maxed out our credit cards," Shiyanenko recalls. "We decided if we were going to do this, we had to go all in. And it's been hard, physically and mentally. Lots of times I don't even come home -- I just sleep at the shop, so I can get back at it the first thing in the morning. It's especially difficult because we have two little kids, and there have been times when I've barely seen them for days on end."
Then came the COVID-19 epidemic, which gave the fledgling company a debilitating blow just as it was starting to stretch its wings. But the Shiyanenko family gutted it out, and Golden State Trailers has emerged from the last year battered -- but strong.
"We moved 26 units in 2019, and we were expanding for 2020," Shiyanenko says. "COVID set us back, just like it set everybody back. But demand has been really picking up in the past few months. Brick-and-mortar restaurants have taken a massive hit, but people still want to eat out and restaurateurs still want to sell. So food trailers and trucks are a logical option. You aren't anchored to one locale, and your overhead is much lower. For food trailers, this is their time."
Golden State produces two basic models: one 16 feet long, the second 20 feet. Customers outfit their trailers as their menus and preferences require, choosing from a range of stoves, grills, griddles, refrigerators, and food prep tables. Prices range between $60,000 to $70,000 a unit.
"We design our trailers so the serving side -- where the window, cabinets, sinks, and plumbing systems are located -- are all the same," says Shiyanenko. "The preparation side can be customized to your specific needs. Setups and equipment are going to vary. What you need for burritos and tacos isn't going to be the same if you're serving burgers or gyros."
That hybrid approach -- combining standardization with bespoke options -- allows Golden State to both maximize value while keeping costs under control, Shiyanenko says. "It was never our goal to compete in the low end of the market," he explains. "We don't use cheap import stoves and other components, for example. All our materials and all our equipment are the highest quality. At the same time, we're determined to offer value for price."
Shiyanenko anticipates his orders will almost double this year, and he's moving to a new and larger production facility in the town of Olivehurst in May. "That makes me feel good, of course," he says, "but my greatest satisfaction is the feedback we get from our customers. They've been uniformly happy with our trailers, and they've used them to open their own businesses to support their own families. That's incredibly gratifying."
Challenges: The cost of doing business in California. Everything from real estate to taxes can make even the most experienced and hard-bitten entrepreneur blanch.
"Labor is particularly tough," Shiyanenko. "California wage and salary scales are extremely high. And a food trailer isn't just a single thing, like a metal fitting or even a computer component. It's a construction of water and gas lines, sheet metal, electrical and fire suppression systems. It's a mini-building on wheels, and each one is different depending on customer needs. So that makes it all the more demanding from a production perspective. I'm still working at all hours, doing everything from welding to advertising. But I really believe you can overcome any challenge if you're determined to manufacture in this country -- and I am."
Opportunities: Increasing interest in mobile eateries, catalyzed by COVID-19. "Some restaurateurs either abandoned their fixed locations and went with food trucks and trailers, or they used trailers to augment their revenues," says Shiyanenko. "So our orders are up and we think that will continue, barring anything unexpected."
Needs: Employees. "We plan to hire two to four additional people when we move to our new facility this spring, and hire up to 10 within two years," says Shiyanenko.