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Going off-road to make sales go up

Published July 13, 2007 at midnight

EarthRoamer.com’s offices in Broomfield are a bit spartan, to say the least.

The conference room features a wood table and chairs more appropriate for a dinner gathering than a business meeting. A storage rack rests against one wall, stacked with various boxes, samples of different types of leather and an unopened cappuccino maker.

In fact, most of the company’s office furniture once resided in a townhome sold to fund the company.

"We really didn’t have a choice," Bill Swails, a co-founder and previous owner of the townhome, said about the sparse furnishings. "It was hard enough just (scraping) together enough money with personal funds to launch and grow our business."

The company’s headquarters contrasts noticeably with its main product: a $200,000-plus, four-wheel drive "exploration" vehicle complete with toilet, shower and refrigerator, not to mention a flat-screen TV, a seat-back entertainment system and solar panels.

But that’s about to change.

EarthRoamer.com is on a roll, having doubled its sales in each of the past three years. The company turned its first annual profit in 2006 and recently broke ground on a new 56,000-square-foot headquarters in Lafayette, which will nearly triple its space.

The move will allow EarthRoamer to quadruple its production capacity, enhance research and development, display its vehicles in a new showroom — even upgrade its office furniture a bit.

"Our new corporate office will much better reflect the EarthRoamer brand," Swails said. "Not necessarily luxurious, but definitely high quality and high function."

Earthroamer.com’s XV-LT vehicle is quickly carving a niche among the RV crowd and adventurers who want to trek off the beaten path for extended periods of time — with a few creature comforts. The XV-LT is a Ford F-550 cab chassis four-wheel drive truck outfitted with a compact camper, making it more flexible than a traditional RV that’s meant for paved roads.

The vehicle is versatile enough to cruise highways and plow through unpaved mountain roads. It uses solar-charged batteries to generate power for most of its on-board systems, while the engine and the kitchen stove use diesel fuel.

"This is really built to go out into rugged terrain and harsh environments, and you don’t need to hook it up at an RV park," Swails said. "It’s like an RV on steroids. It’s an entirely new class of vehicle, aimed at adventurers."

The majority of EarthRoamer.com’s customers are RV users "who want to be able to go more places," said Michele Connolly, company president and chief executive officer.

But it’s attracting a new clientele as well.

"Certainly some people who had never, ever considered owning an RV have bought our" vehicles, Connolly said.

Swails and Connolly think they can continue to grow that market with the introduction later this year of the EarthRoamer XV-JP, which uses a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited. The XV-JP, starting at $110,000, features a pop-up area on the roof that extends past the back of the vehicle and includes a bed, shower, toilet, and kitchen area, among other amenities. It’s smaller than the Ford model, giving it an even greater range.

EarthRoamer.com sold its first vehicle in 2003 and has churned out about 80 since then. It now does about $5.5 million in sales annually, a number that could skyrocket once the new production facilities come online.

Swails said its biggest competitor is "other ways to spend cash."

Industry insiders see a larger market for EarthRoamer’s vehicles but doubt it will significantly dent the $14 billion a year RV industry.

"There are 300 million people in the United States and the appetite for different kinds of recreation is extremely high," said Derrick Crandall, president and chief executive officer of the American Recreation Coalition. "So there is a market. But I don’t expect to see large numbers of these vehicles out there. I don’t think most people have that kind of financial capability to purchase a vehicle with relatively limited use."

EarthRoamer.com is trying to make it a bit more palatable: customers can opt for a 20-year financing plan to pay off the XV-LT.

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