Travelaire name lives on

Of all the recreation vehicles on display at the Red Deer RV Exposition and Sale this weekend, two could create the biggest buzz.

Pacific Coachworks regional sales manager Ernie Kish

Pacific Coachworks regional sales manager Ernie Kish

Of all the recreation vehicles on display at the Red Deer RV Exposition and Sale this weekend, two could create the biggest buzz.

Emblazoned on a 24-foot and a 29-foot trailer in the southwest corner of the Stockmen’s Pavilion at Westerner Park is the name Travelaire, a brand that disappeared with the closure of Travelaire Canada’s Red Deer plant last January. At least the name might have disappeared, had Barry Bateman — a former general manager at Travelaire who retired in 2008 — not stepped forward.

Bateman purchased the rights to the Travelaire name from the receiver for Glendale International Corp., the parent company of Travelaire Canada, and licensed it to Pacific Coachworks Inc. of Riverside, Calif.

“I picked them because they build a very high-quality unit,” he said, explaining that Travelaire had a strong reputation he doesn’t want to see eroded.

Seven RV dealers in British Columbia and Alberta have been signed to carry the new Travelaire product, said Ernie Kish, regional sales manager with Pacific Coachworks. And the network is expected to expand into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Locally, it’s being sold by Vellner Leisure Products, which is showcasing the first two models at the Red Deer RV show.

“I would guess that the majority of the people who walk through the doors this weekend won’t know that it’s back,” said Marty Vellner, president of Vellner Leisure Products.

Vellner, who first saw the new Travelaires a week ago, is happy the name has survived.

“It was an institution in Red Deer, and certainly in Western Canada a brand that was well-recognized and well-respected by the RVing community.”

A desire to continue that legacy, which dates back to 1963, was a big reason Bateman stepped forward. He joined Travelaire in 1967, the year after it relocated to Red Deer from Edmonton.

Starting as a janitor, Bateman worked his way up through the ranks — experiencing the company’s ups and downs along the way.

“In our heyday, we peaked out at close to $50 million in sales and our payroll was $7 million to $8 million,” he said, adding that as many as 270 people worked at the Red Deer plant.

Ultimately, Travelaire and Glendale fell victim to the rising loonie, which brought a flood of cheaper American-made RVs into the country. But Travelaire’s quality was never an issue, particularly when it came to the RV’s suitability for Western Canadian climatic and driving conditions.

Pacific Coachworks kept this in mind when reviving the Travelaire brand, said Vellner. It brought together an “advisory group” of Canadian dealers — including him — to help with the new design.

“We wanted to make sure it was going to meet the expectations of the person who was going to see that name and knows what Travelaire was.”

He and Bateman think Pacific Coachworks has succeeded.

Kish can rattle off a long list of features incorporated into the new RVs to address extreme weather and rough roads — from heavy insulation and double-glazed thermal pane windows to reinforced construction inside and out. The units also boast residential-quality materials and components throughout.

“They’re a little more money at the start, but all the features and the construction and insulation is going to give you that much more at the end,” he said, adding that the price is still less than what Travelaires used to sell for — the consequence of lower manufacturing costs at the Pacific Coachworks plant.

In addition to the Travelaire brand, Bateman obtained the rights to a number of other names that Travelaire sold products under — including Kustom Koach. He also acquired the design for office trailers that Travelaire was producing prior to its demise — primarily for the energy sector.

These are now being manufactured by Triple E Recreational Vehicles of Winkler, Man., and sold by Red Deer RV Parts & Service.

“They build a very good quality product at Triple E — it’s equal to or better than what Travelaire built,” said Bateman, who’s operating as B & L Enterprises.

Travelaire was also building heavy-duty Roughneck trailers for industrial customers. Bateman has the rights to this name as well, and expects to have a manufacturer producing them by summer.

The retired RV manager isn’t sure how long he’ll remain in the business. But he’s optimistic the Travelaire name and others associated with the former Red Deer RV plant will still be used by other manufacturers long after he’s gone.

“I’m hoping that they continue on with them and the names get going, and they live for another 40 years.”

The Red Deer RV Exposition and Sale continues through to Monday, with its hours 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday and Monday.