Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Teardrop trailers
Founder Kevin Molick makes eye-catching, retro-inspired trailers that balance comfort and durability.
Timberleaf makes teardrop-shaped camping trailers in its shop in an industrial park in northeast Denver. Marketing mostly through social media, the internet, and word of mouth, the company has seen a dramatic increase in demand. Molick, with decades of custom woodworking and home remodeling construction experience, founded Timberleaf Trailers in late 2015 after he became interested in building his own teardrop trailer so he and his wife could camp comfortably.
Molick was surprised by how quickly Timberleaf's business took off. When he started making trailers, he told his four employees he expected to be building the trailers full-time in two years and that the construction company would be gradually phased out over that period. Instead of two years, the transition took just four months.
The immediate popularity of the trailers caught Molick off-guard. He also learned he wasn't making a profit, or even enough to pay off the loans he had taken out. "We were way underpriced," he says. "The bank account was dropping dramatically, although we continued to have work and orders were coming in."
Molick had designed Timberleaf Trailers to be among the best-made in the country using high-end materials. He was proud of the quality but knew something had to change. "I had to decide do we continue selling at this price or do we change the quality. We chose to bump the price up and keep the quality."
Timberleaf Trailers offers three models, each one built to order and customizable but using the same frame. The basic unit, called the Classic, sold initially for $15,500. After Molick discovered he was losing money at that price, it was raised to $19,750.
Molick designed the Classic after the first teardrop trailers to hit American roads almost a century ago. The first camping trailers and recreational vehicles emerged in 1910 and the teardrop shape (think the cross-section of an aircraft wing) became popular in the 1930s. A 1936 article in Mechanics and Handicrafts magazine showed how to make one for $50. By 2009, the price for a homemade teardrop trailer, albeit with more features, had risen to more than $4,200 in a Popular Mechanics guide.
"We took the classic shape built in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, refined it a lot with modern hardware and made a much nicer and more comfortable product," Molick says of the Timberleaf.
A few years ago, Molick, 64, says he shopped around for a teardrop camper for himself and his wife but couldn't find one he liked. He decided to use his woodworking and building skills to make his own. He showed his design to some friends, who encouraged him to build the trailers as a business. He created a business plan, incorporated Timberleaf Trailers and his sons helped him use social media for marketing. He showed off the trailers in the parking lot outside the REI store in Denver. An article in online buyers guide Uncrate resulted in several orders and led to more coverage.
All Timberleaf trailers are teardrop-shaped with rounded fenders and 15-inch wheels. They have a fully insulated cabin with aluminum siding in several colors. They weigh just 1,400 pounds, light enough for small cars to tow. The trailers have an integrated electrical system, running water, and an optional custom-built cooler made of Baltic birch. The galley is intended to be a full kitchen with plenty of counter space, built-in camp stove and handmade cabinets and drawers. They also have a large skylight and a "Colorado Queen" mattress custom-made by SleepNation of Denver.
In addition to the Classic, Timberleaf builds an All-Road model with beefed-up suspension, electric brakes and larger tires to be used on highways and rougher roads used by crossover SUVs and all-wheel-drive vehicles. The third model is the Off-Road, which has even more rugged features and is intended to be used by trucks, SUVs and off-road vehicles.
Timberleaf manufactured 22 trailers in 2016, its first full year, and Molick expects to turn out 35 in 2017 and 50 in 2018. The company is hiring more workers to keep up with the load. Total revenues reached $320,000 in 2016 and probably will be $550,000 in 2017, he says.
Molick says the company has to double the size of its shop so it can keep up with demand. The Denver shop is 2,000 square feet, room enough for six workers and their projects. He figures the company needs to double that space, so he's eyeing a move to the Grand Junction area to save on real estate costs.
Most of Timberleaf Trailers sales are outside of Colorado, Molick says, so the company doesn't need to be in the Denver area for sales.
Challenges: "Pricing the product correctly," Molick says.
Opportunities: "To grow so we're selling through distributors and to expand our geographic sales." Current sales are 60 percent outside Colorado but Molick expects to reach 90 percent out-of-state in early 2018.
Needs: "Sales are always a continuing issue" but Molick says the biggest need is to bring down the amount of interest the company pays on its debt. "We're weathering the storm and paying off the [loans]. It doesn't happen overnight." He says the company has about $150,000 in outstanding loans.