TWIN FALLS — An earlier decision to diversify its business is probably what saved Charmac Trailers during the recession.
“We really had to buckle our belts,” said Trudy Sheen, an employee of 17 years. “Those that were just in horse trailers didn’t make it. Those who were just in cargo didn’t make it.”
But Charmac Trailers had been manufacturing both horse and cargo trailers since the early ‘90s. Although the company had to stop making trailers with living quarters in 2008, Sheen said it was the diversification that made the difference.
Despite the challenges along the way, Charmac Trailers is now celebrating 40 years in Twin Falls — and the main thing holding it back from more growth is a limited workforce.
“We have a great workforce, but the low unemployment rate is a tough deal,” President and CEO Lloyd Casperson said in late November. “We’d hire 15 more today if we could find ‘em.”
Today, the company has 70 employees — far shy of the 120 or so it had before the recession. Production, however, has remained steady as the company manufactures between 1,200 and 1,500 trailers a year, sales representative Clark Pierson said.
In September, the company completed its 40,000th trailer.
“We do a lot of custom options,” Pierson said. “With a lot of our competition, you get what you get.”
Charmac Trailers was opened in 1977 on Blue Lakes Boulevard by Max and Charlene Casperson — the company name is a combination of their first names. The manufacturer moved to its facility on South Park Avenue West two years later.
Charmac does not sell directly to consumers, but through distributors in the Western U.S. and Canada. The local dealership is Riverside Trailers in Jerome.
Lloyd Casperson is the son of Max Casperson and has been in the business for 35 years. He said his father had owned a farm supply store selling trailers from Oklahoma before he decided to open his own manufacturing business.
Since taking over operations, Casperson has changed processes to make the product’s construction simpler for workers. He’s also watched as the company’s grown from a horse trailer manufacturer to a horse, cargo and motorsport trailer manufacturer.
“Now, cargo and motorsport are a big part of our business,” Pierson said.
It’s where the company has seen its biggest growth.
“We’re backlogged over three months right now,” Casperson said in late November.
Each Charmac trailer begins on the Twin Falls lot as individual bars of aluminum and sheets of steel. The company’s workers weld, assemble and paint the trailers on site — a process that takes several weeks. About half of the employees are welders, but Charmac also hires people to handle the electrical work, such as LED lighting and heating systems.
The most popular trailer, Pierson said, is the tri-sport trailer that people use for snowmobiles, ATVs and cars. More recently, it’s also been used to haul side-by-sides.
The price for a trailer from Charmac can range from $8,000 to $35,000, depending on what you order. The trailers are a lot different from 40 years ago, Casperson said, and are built to be more ergonomically workable for more people.
While growth is hindered by workforce availability, Pierson said the company has a high retention for employees, and many have been with the company for more than 20 years.
So what’s the key to keeping workers?
Pierson said the company has quotas for most employees, but gives them the freedom to work with their own time constraints.
“We try to make it a little more like family,” he said.
But some employees choose to stay on for other reasons.
“They let me wear Levis,” Sheen said. “I liked the idea that it was casual because most offices are very professional.”