By Rebecca Kanable
Special to RV Daily Report
ST. MATTHEWS, S.C. — “Lil Snoozy,” a fiberglass travel trailer is available directly from its manufacturer, Smoakin Concepts Composites, nationwide for less than $17,000. Smoakin Concepts Composites began selling the Lil Snoozy only in the Southeast. Based on customer input, changes were made in the past two years to ready the travel trailer for increased demand and increased production.
Last year, in a new 9,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, was “a great year,” reports company president Alan Smoak. Exactly how great? Call him “old-fashioned,” or “a man of privacy,” but he’s not saying.
Word about the Lil Snoozy is spreading via the company’s website, Internet forums and word of mouth. This year, Lil Snoozy also is making the rounds at several consumer shows and will be sold to dealers.
While Smoak is cautious about not building too many RVs in 2012, he acknowledges at the start of the year that he’s “very optimistic.” “I’ve been to trade shows all my life,” he explains. “Never have I had the positive response from customers that I’ve had with this little camper. It makes you feel good when you’ve designed something people just fall in love with.”
Customers have told him that they have just as much fun showing off the unique travel trailers at the campgrounds as they do using them.
What do customers love?
The Lil Snoozy is lil’ because it’s only 17 feet, 3 inches long; 7 feet, 11 inches wide; and 7 feet, 5 inches high. The interior space is 14 feet, 6 inches by 6 feet, 6 inches. There’s a bathroom with shower across from a kitchen area (with sink, refrigerator and microwave); a couch in front of an entertainment center; and a queen bed.
One feature that’s a standard favorite is an emergency escape window that folds out to give access to the kitchen from the outside.
“If you’re outside grilling steaks, you can reach through and stir the baked beans on the stove,” he says.
Above the couch, there’s a larger picture window, and other windows can be added to increase ventilation and visibility of the outside surrounding area.
Just 1,900 pounds, the Lil Snoozy can be pulled by vehicles with a V6 engine (or larger). With a rounded front top and bottom, there’s no buffeting as the RV goes down the road, Smoak points out. On average, he says the travel trailer decreases gas mileage only 3 to 4 miles per gallon.
Another benefit is the small travel trailer is easy to set up, he adds.
“When you pull into a campground, you simply plug it in, or crank up the generator,” he explains. “All appliances are low-amp draw so a small Honda or Yamaha generator on the tongue can power the entire camper.”
Maintenance also is easy, he says. The frame is galvanized, it can’t rust. To prevent leaks, there are no holes in the roof and there’s continuous PEX pipe plumbing, with no joints or fittings except for those under the sink. Appliances and A/C are off-the-shelf. If a warranty has expired, a replacement appliance or air conditioner can be found at a local home improvement store.
An innovative entrepreneur
Throughout his career, Smoak, age 60, has been an innovative entrepreneur. He’s worked with fiberglass since the mid-1960s when he started restoring Corvettes. He owned a fiberglass boat business before a torn vinyl pool liner got him thinking about fiberglass pools and opening a business called Alaglas Pools. He owned the fiberglass pool manufacturing business until 2001, when he sold it and retired.
Building a little fiberglass travel trailer was something Smoak had thought about for some time. In the mid-1980s, he put his idea on paper. Every so often, he’d look at the sketch and refine it. He started going to RV shows and doing research online.
As a boy, Smoak camped in the mountains and at the beach with his parents and brother. His dad had a camper body built to fit the back of a ’54 Chevy pickup. Smoak himself has owned various types of RVs over the years including travel trailers and motorhomes, and thought about how he could improve each one of them. Every time he bought a houseboat or a camper, he would change the floor plan.
“I can never leave anything alone,” he admits. “I’ve always got to fix it and make it better.”
His comments are reflected in his company motto: “Good Enough is Not Good Enough.”
He’s careful to say he means no disrespect when he says the RVs on the market didn’t suit him.
First and foremost, he wanted a travel trailer he could pull with a car and park relatively close to a restaurant. Remembering the 2-inch foam rubber and the sleeping bag he slept on as a child, he wanted an innerspring, queen-size mattress. Other amenities he sought were a comfortable couch, his own bathroom, shower and cooking facilities, and a large flat screen TV. Smoak comments, “It’s hard to believe you can get all that in just 14 .5 feet. You just have to see it to believe it.”
With some municipalities prohibiting RVs in front yards and driveways, Smoak also wanted an RV small enough to store in a standard one-car garage.
From an airplane hangar in the backyard, he built several wooden prototypes of his idea with his son Nicholas Smoak, 28, a former air traffic controller who now is the company’s vice president. Next, they made the tooling, frames and molds.
In January 2011, they built a new plant with a 900-square-foot showroom. At the start of 2012, Smoakin Concepts Composites had 11 employees working on the Lil Snoozy project.
Manufacturing the Lil Snoozy
Fiberglass is a good material for travel trailers Smoak says because it’s easy to maintain with a coat of wax every year or two, and it’s easy to repair.
“If somebody backs into your camper and cracks a spot, you fix just that spot like you do a boat,” he says. “Look at what fiberglass did to the marine industry. You don’t see many metal boats out there.”
Reminding not all fiberglass RVs are made the same, Smoak describes the Lil’ Snoozy has five layers of fiberglass with closed cell, high density foam laminated in between. The manufacturing process used by Smoakin Composite Concepts is called coring. Fiberglass with foam core insulation is used throughout the entire structure including the floor. There is no wood in the structure, he says so there is no chance of rot. Wood food inside the travel trailer is red oak used to make cabinets.
Often the company works with customers to make little changes here or there. Because the vehicle structure is self-supporting, customers can opt to have nothing added inside if they want to use the vehicle as a cargo hauler known as the “Lil Hauler.”
A big market
Initially, Smoakin Composite Concepts was looking to market its product to a younger, middle-age customer base interested in camping, tailgating and having a spare bedroom at home or on the go, but the company has learned seniors also enjoy the Lil Snoozy.
“Seniors love it because it’s easy for them to pull behind their car (or motorhome when traveling with another couple),” he says. “It’s easy to take care of, yet it’s very roomy inside. You have a comfortable bed, a nice couch. At 3 in the morning, you don’t have to walk across a dark campground to use the restroom.”
Smoak aims to grow his customer base slowly. Each time he starts a business, he says he’s been extremely blessed to be able to start it without borrowing money.
If and when he needs to expand Smoakin Concepts Composites, the plant, on 9 acres, has plenty of room.
In January, Smoak reported having customers on a waiting list and estimated delivery would take place in four to six weeks.