By Eric Peterson | Sep 20, 2019
Fort Lupton, Colorado
Pop-up truck campers
Fort Lupton, Colorado
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Pop-up truck campers
The Ward family has been in the recreational vehicle business for more than 50 years.
It all started when Hubert Monroe Ward designed the Tortuga travel trailer in the late 1950s. "We started in Corpus Christi way back when," says Matt.
Hubert moved the Ward family to Colorado in 1960 and worked for Red Dale Manufacturing, a trailer manufacturer in Longmont. He left and started a pair of competing shops with partners before launching Hallmark with his son (and Matt's father), William, in 1969. Both Matt and his brother, Andy, joined the family business in the early 2000s; Matt spearheads sales and marketing and Andy runs service and truck setup.
A half-century after its launch, there are now almost 7,000 Hallmark Campers on the road.
"We are a longtime family-owned company that's been in Colorado for over 50 years," says Matt. "There have been other camper companies here that have come and gone, or they still exist but they're under different ownerships and in different locations in the country. We build pop-up campers that perform in cold weather and last in rugged environments."
After more than 30 years in Brighton, the company moved to a 30,000-square-foot facility in Fort Lupton 15 years ago. "We have an assembly line," says Matt. "We still use a lot of older techniques."
The operation is largely vertically integrated, he adds. "We build all the cabinetry in-house, we build all of the fabric in-house, all of the backbones in-house."
One key partner: C.F. Maier Composites in Golden manufactures Hallmark's fiberglass components. Matt and Andy spent two years at Maier perfecting the molds.
Every Hallmark camper is built to order and delivered in three to six months. The Hallmark catalog includes five base models that start at $19,995. The initial line was named after peaks in Colorado, and newer versions are named for Himalayas; the K2 is based off of the Guanella, for example. "The original branding was done by my grandmother," says Matt. "She named those campers and did the Hallmark logo."
The market is changing in several other ways. For some customers, basic is better. "People are going back to simple," says Matt.
The geography has expanded, he adds. "It used to be a very, very Colorado-centered customer base. We still appreciate that and we still value that, but it's interesting: Now we've had customers who have come from Russia and Chile to buy a Hallmark Camper." Exports have risen to 5 percent of sales in recent years.
Seasonality is another shift. "The camping season is different than it used to be," says Matt. "It's spring and fall. . . . Summer is not as big as it used to be."
Regardless of the season, the Wards keep the focus on stability and quality over growth, and that means making 100 to 150 campers a year. "We're maxed out," says Matt. "We want to build the highest quality camper we can and push the envelope as far as we can."
Challenges: "Education for our users," says Matt. "We're always doing cutting-edge things, but teaching people to get the most out of it is a challenge."
Opportunities: Hallmark sees potential in "a younger generation that wants a simple camper for adventures," says Matt. "They don't want a house. They want to be out and about on the road, adventuring."
Overlanding is a big buzzword in camping circles these days. "It's basically a fancy name for camping," says Matt. "It's done with campers and rooftop tents." Such off-grid camping is on the rise, and he sees Hallmark Campers as a great fit, with solar panels the norm on every delivery. "They're the original four-wheel-drive, off-road machine," he says.
New for 2017, Hallmark's flatbed trailers allow for a more flexible floor plan. "It's not a huge part of the market, but we're getting a ton of inquiries and interest right now," says Matt, noting that they might expand the selection to a second flatbed model.
Needs: "We have an aging workforce," says Matt. "We need younger workers."
He says a youth movement could catalyze a needed tech upgrade with knowledge of "newer techniques for designing and modeling."