Celeste Hanagan of Four Wheel and Six-Pac Campers might just be the most powerful woman in the truck camper industry. Here’s her story.
We met Celeste Hanagan two years ago at Four Wheel Camper’s factory in Woodland, California. At the time, Celeste was running Four Wheel Campers in Woodland and Tom, her husband, was running Six-Pac in Riverside, California. Now Four Wheel and Six-Pac share a roof in Woodland and the Hanagans run the companies side-by-side.
As our final installment for Ladies’ Week, we talk to Celeste Hanagan to learn more about her role at the two companies, the history of Four Wheel and Six-Pac Campers, and get an update on the forthcoming aluminum Six-Pac line.
TCM: What did you do before joining Tom at Four Wheel and Six-Pac Campers?
Celeste: Tom and I ran a carpet cleaning business as a husband and wife team for fourteen years. That business was quite successful and we learned how to run a business and deal with employees. Then Tom took a year off and decided to look for a new career. During that time, I went to work for the University of California, Berkeley.
While I was working at the university, Tom found Four Wheel Campers, fell in love with the business, and bought the company. About a year after purchasing Four Wheel Campers, Tom bought Six-Pac campers. Tom ran both companies for about three years before I came on board. We knew we would work well together because we had worked well together before.
TCM: Were you and Tom into camping before acquiring Four Wheel and Six-Pac?
Celeste: Yes. We used to have a pop-up tent trailer and went camping once a month. It was our getaway during our carpet cleaning days. Our camping has slowed down since we bought Four Wheel. We just don’t have the time anymore. Now we usually go camping within an hour or two of our home in Woodland and relax over a weekend.
Our favorite camping spot is Bothe in Napa Valley State Park. It’s great because there’s a stream and Redwoods. For us, it’s quick to get there and back. We also go to a place in Southern California called Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. That’s near the Pacific Ocean and it’s a great place for stress relief.
TCM: When you came on board with Tom, you went to run Six-Pac in Riverside. Tell us about that experience.
Celeste: It was fun. I was still learning, so I learned a lot. In about three to four months, I was able to turn things around. After those first few months, we were building four to five campers a week, which was a significant improvement.
The secret for me was that I went to each individual team member at Six-Pac and asked him/her what he/she needed to get the job done. I went to the plant manager, the guys on the floor, the office staff, and the sales guys and listened to their requests.
I discovered that big things were missing on the manufacturing floor including inventory, organization, and supplies. I found that the sales team needed a program to help them keep in contact with sales leads. I got the manufacturing team what they needed, put a program together for the sales guys, and trained the office staff to be more efficient. I wanted the Six-Pac team to know what they needed to do on their own. Once I had accomplished that, they became very helpful to us.
I ran Six-Pac for a good year on my own. During the second year, Tom and I divided it up. By that time, Tom’s expertise was needed at Six-Pac. We would spend half our week at Four Wheel and half at Six-Pac. We would switch companies on Wednesdays. Tom and I would meet at the airport and have dinner. He would then fly back to Riverside and I would come home to Woodland.
TCM: That’s quite the grueling schedule. What’s it like to run Four Wheel and Six-Pac as a husband and wife team?
Celeste: We decided we needed to each have a job description. Basically, who is the Indian and who is the Chief?
TCM: So who is the Chief?
Celeste: Tom is the Chief, but we help each other. Tom and I are fortunate. We’ve always worked together well. With the carpet cleaning business we could read off of each other. We saw what needed to be done and got it done and did it efficiently. It’s easy to work with Tom.
TCM: What does your typical day look like?
Celeste: Each morning I come in and check with out customer service person to see if they need help. I do the same with accounting. I may help with filing or with anything to help a team member not feel bogged down. I don’t want my employees to feel bogged down so I’ll help them catch up. I’ll also walk out back and talk to the plant manager to see if there are any human resource issues. Basically, I go around to see what everyone is doing. Then, I go to my desk and there’s always a pile of work waiting for me. I do the payroll and help with sales. I help Tom. I back up the phone. Lots of stuff like that. I call myself the, “this and that” person.
TCM: I can relate to that. Running a business means you’re always a, “this or that” person. You recently moved Six-Pac manufacturing from Riverside into the Four Wheel Camper facility in Woodland. How’s it going with two camper production lines in one factory?
Celeste: It’s very positive that Four Wheel and Six-Pac are now together. Four of the Six-Pac people came up from Riverside to work for us. It’s nice that everything under one roof. There’s no more traveling back and forth. There’s a lot of savings having the two companies together. We can push the campers down the same line. We would have made the decision sooner, but we care about the people at Six-Pac their families and what happened to them.
TCM: How are things going with the new aluminum framed Six-Pacs?
Celeste: We have the first aluminum Six-Pac framed. Right now we’re talking with our top electricians to see how to streamline the wiring. The wiring and the frame are almost complete at this point. We don’t want to fully introduce them until we can crank them out.
The new Six-Pacs are going to have the looks of the old Six-Pac, they’ll just be lighter. We’re really trying to lighten the Six-Pac.
TCM: Being factory direct, you must meet quite a lot of people who buy your campers. Are there any camper stories that stick out in your mind?
Celeste: I met one woman who was eighty-three years-old who travels with her cat. She travels on the basis of what she wants to see at the time. She’s gone around the United States several times. She wanted to see waterways, so she mapped it all out.
During her trip she was in Vermont or New Hampshire when lightening struck her camper and blew out the electrical system. So, she called us and contacted the insurance company. This was not going to stop her travels with her cat. She just used her flashlight until she got back. She drove all the way back to California and met with the insurance agent. When she brought us her camper, she took her cat out, asked how long it was going to be, left for about a week while we worked on her camper, came back, picked it up, and was ready to go with her cat. She has a Four Wheel Camper.
TCM: What are some of the most common questions customers ask you?
Celeste: They ask, “Why would I take your camper over another one?” It goes right back to lightweight, convenience, and off-road capabilities. We have people who live in their campers 300 days a year and love it! If you are a hard core camper, this is the camper for you! It will get you anywhere. It goes into Mexico deep in the desert or off into the mountains.
TCM: Is there anything that you would like to add to your interview?
Celeste: We listen to our customers. Once a customer came in and said that they would love to own one of our campers but couldn’t lift the roof. So Tom made this lift assist that you plug in and lift up the roof. Then we saw someone with a hydraulic lift that installs inside the camper. Tom researched them and now we only use hydraulic lifts. It really helps you push the roof up.
A funny story is from when we were learning about the lift. The lifts come in different pounds so we tried a 100-pound model. The roof went up easy, but then it wouldn’t come down. That was quite funny as we all tried to get our camper roof down. Often times it comes down to trial and error. Now we have it at like sixty pounds and it works great.
TCM: Thank you for the interview Celeste. Please keep us up to date on those new aluminum Six-Pacs.
Celeste: I certainly will. And you’re welcome.