July 23, 2007 – An expanding market area

By Lisa Young
Editorial Assistant
Trailers to haul powersports products have been around for decades and recreational vehicles have been around much longer, but it hasn’t been until more recently that trailer and recreational vehicle companies have made the move to bring the two concepts together.
Sport utility trailers (SUT), which are also referred to as toy haulers, make up a growing segment of the trailer and recreational vehicle industries, according to industry insiders.
Featherlite Inc., one of a handful of SUT manufacturers, only has been in the SUT game for about two years but has been in the trailer business since 1973. The Iowa-based company makes trailers for everything from horses to NASCAR teams to Fortune 500 companies doing vending or displays.
“We made smaller [SUTs] starting out, but demand for larger ones grew as the toys became more popular,” said Randy Lewis, Featherlite’s national sales manager.
The company custom built the trailers for years before eventually developing a standard configuration. Details for Featherlite’s most recent SUTs, which the company refers to as Sport Utility Recreational Vehicles or SURVs, were revealed in mid-June.
Play-Mor Trailers is another company in the SUT business, although it started in 1964 as a camper company and gradually integrated powersports storage into its designs starting in the 1980s. Today, the company exclusively makes SUTs and considers itself a pioneer in the field.
“We’re just answering the need,” said Sandy Willibrand, who co-owns Play-Mor with her husband. “People with RVs want to travel and a lot of [RVers] enjoy all aspects of outdoor life. It’s a logical progression that they take their equipment with them.”
The SUT market is one of the fastest growing in the trailer industry.
Expanding SUT sales can be contributed to expanding powersports vehicles, Lewis said. Once a family has invested in a couple of motorcycles or ATVs, they are more willing to invest in a product to transport their products
with them safely.
It also helps that SUTs have a high resale value, Lewis said.
While popularity has grown, SUT sales don’t fare as well when fuel prices rise, Willibrand said. Whether the SUT is a stand-alone model or a fifth-wheel trailer that needs to be towed by a secondary vehicle, when gas prices go up, consumers are less likely to think about investing in a toy hauler.
Consumers have been able to find all sorts of applications for the living/storage spaces from the more everyday packing up the kids and toys to camping to transporting a motorcycle or two to Sturgis to eschewing the powersports aspect altogether and creating dog kennels in the back.
Regardless of what people are putting in the back, they want a modern front portion with all the amenities of home, or at least as many as they can get, Lewis said. Many SUTs now include wireless Internet, flat panel televisions and other high-tech items. At least one Featherlite model includes a stand-up bedroom, as opposed to bunk beds or an elevated bedroom, which its received good feedback from customers about. Users can even choose to have a motorcycle-themed interior. The trailers will likely get more luxurious as time goes on, Willibrand said.
“The possibilities are endless,” she said. “If someone can dream it, someone will probably do it.”
One advancement is that Featherlite’s and Play-Mor’s SUT models are constructed from aluminum. This makes them lighter, less susceptible to damage and easier to repair versus fiberglass or wood-based models, the companies say.
SUTs, which range in MSRP from $12,000-$100,000-plus, also include special provisions for the ATVs or motorcycles stored in the back. Most include space for helmets and other riding gear in the storage area. Some, including Play-Mor’s Racer model, have fuel fill stations for powersports vehicles, complete with its own sizeable fuel tank.
The convenience of such vehicles might lead a portion of the public to abandon their traditional RVs in favor of SUTs, Lewis and Willibrand agreed.
“If people with a traditional RV want to take their powersports with them, they only have one option: take another trailer with them,” Lewis said. “If you’re going on vacation, you don’t want mom driving one vehicle and dad driving another.”
Lewis and Willibrand concur that things are looking up for SUTs, given demand and continued innovations, technological and otherwise. While there is a plethora of low-end SUT offerings out there now, consumers are starting to look for more durability and longevity in SUTs, Lewis said.
As manufacturers continue to listen to customer wants and needs, companies like Featherlite and Play-Mor will continue to modify their product. “We’re always looking at new things, and other industries we can take ideas and thoughts from and maybe enhance,” Lewis said.

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