If you had told Tom Hanagan in 1999 that he would own not one, but two truck camper manufacturing companies in 2007, he might of thought you were nuts. Now in 2007, Tom would be the first to tell you that owning Four Wheel and Six-Pac Campers is his dream job. How did this happen? And why? Well, that’s a story better told by the man himself.
TCM: How did you get into the RV business?
Tom: After leaving the service in 1971, I went back to finish my education at UC Davis. I followed a path to veterinary school and took pre-med courses. I also hedged my bet and took food science and animal management classes. When veterinary school didn’t work out for me, I went to work for food production companies including Carnation. Then my wife and I started a carpet cleaning business and ran that company for fourteen years. The whole time I wanted to get back into manufacturing. So in 2000, we sold the carpet cleaning business and I took a year to develop a landscape lighting manufacturing company. When I realized that the idea was not going to work well, I started looking for a business to acquire. That’s when Four Wheel Campers came to my attention. It was a perfect fit for my background in manufacturing. This is my dream job, what I worked my whole life towards. I get to make a product that people enjoy.
TCM: Had you been camping or RVing before buying Four Wheel Campers?
Tom: I’ve been going camping, mostly tent camping, since I was a small child. In 1969, I came back from my first cruise in Vietnam and my parents had bought a tent trailer. Later they bought a travel trailer and I enjoyed that during infrequent visits. But I always tent camped. In the summer of 1963, I took my senior trip with three other guys exploring then American west. We traveled for a whole summer and it was the experience of a lifetime.
TCM: How about truck campers?
Tom: I hadn’t been in a truck camper until we purchased Four Wheel Campers. Now my wife and I take what ever truck camper is available and go camping. We don’t have our own camper per say. We just take a demo unit or one off the show room. Our favorite place to camp is Napa Valley in California. It has a fabulous state park in an idyllic setting with a stream bed and red woods. It’s called Napa Bothe and it’s a historic site. You’d never know you were so close to the vineyards.
TCM: How did your experience in Vietnam shape your outlook on life?
Tom: There’s a lot more guys out there that had it a lot tougher than I did, and deserve a lot more credit. The military was good for me. It gave me a better sense of responsibility and discipline. We should all feel fortunate to be alive. There are two things that are particularly important to me in life. One is waking up every morning. The other is to wake up and see. Vision is an incredible privilege. We just had a fellow purchase a Four Wheel Camper who’s blind. His wife does the driving. It was a very rewarding experience.
TCM: How did you come to own both Four Wheel and Six-Pac Campers?
Tom: We were approached in September of 2002 by the owner of Six-Pac to acquire the company. They were in dire straights and were closing their doors. Six-Pac has always been the natural alternative to Four Wheel Campers. The Four Wheel concept is light-weight, durable, and minimalist. Six-Pac’s concept was the same thing but with hard-wall designs. So we acquired the company.
TCM: What’s the history behind Four Wheel Campers?
Tom: Four Wheel Campers started in 1972 by a brilliant fellow named Dave Rowe. He is still manufacturing RV products on the east coast. He came up with the lift system and the basic construction ideas. In the 1980’s, he sold the company to Jack Billings. Jack kept the company alive for a number of years and then sold it to Ben Burnett. Ben owned the company for five years, built up the sales, and then sold the company to us.
TCM: Why not just have one company with pop-up and hard-side products?
Tom: Each company has it’s own identity and niche. Now we have the benefit of experience from both companies. We have two factories and are readying a new Four Wheel production line in Riverside. That’s a big challenge. The beauty of this challenge is that we get to tap into the experience of the Six-Pac production folks to build Four Wheel Campers. They’re talented, well seasoned, and have thirty years of experience. We are very fortunate. We’re also working on product improvements at both factories that will really benefit our customers. I can’t tell you exactly what we’re going to be doing, but basically we’re working on a stronger, more weatherproof camper exterior.
TCM: Talk to us about the unique nature of Four Wheel Campers. What’s the sales pitch?
Tom: Four Wheel Campers are super light, very compact, and durable for off road use. And they go on ½ ton trucks. Our base camper is 700 to 800 pounds. With all options it’s 1,150 pounds. Our flexible frame also makes the camper have a very low impact on vehicle drive-ability.
TCM: Who buys a Four Wheel Camper?
Tom: It’s amazing. This is so fascinating. I’ve read some of your other interviews when you ask what the most enjoyable part of their job is. The two really fun parts of my job are building campers and working with people from incredibly different spectrums. This company started thirty-five years ago selling to hunters and fisherman. Now the baby boomers have the means and they have a diverse set of interests. We sell lots of campers to outdoor photographers, naturalists, retirees, surfers, divers, and just plain people. It’s so fun. We sell to Pulitzer winning photographers and to world-class surfers. We just delivered a camper to the #10 surfer in the world. We’re actually getting more and more exposure in the surfing business. The people who buy Four Wheel Campers want to enjoy the outdoors with minimal impact on their travel.