Switching gears: Reno startup rolls out ultra-light camping trailer trailer
RENO, Nev. — For decades, Jon Whipple and Darrel Weaver spent their professional lives climbing the corporate ladder into executive roles, where their work settings ranged from big offices to bigger conference rooms.
These days, however, if you’re looking for Whipple and Weaver, you won’t find them in any office — at home or otherwise — or wearing any business attire.
Since July, the duo can be found in tees and jeans, hunkered inside a 2,200-square-foot manufacturing facility in South Reno, working on a startup company they hope can help revolutionize the motorsports industry.
“We both were going through transitions in our career, deciding whether we wanted to ramp back up in the corporate life or do something different,” said Whipple, a longtime financial executive in the gaming industry, while Weaver was a sales and marketing director in the sporting goods sector. “And I had an idea (for a business) that came from a personal need.”
‘I WANT TO RECREATE RECREATING’
An outdoor enthusiast, Whipple spent much of his downtime roving across Nevada’s vast landscape and mountainous terrain in side-by-side UTVs on lengthy hunting trips with his father and friends.
Over the years, by the end of the week-long, 500-plus-mile excursions, Whipple and his hunting crew always echoed the same complaint.
“When we do seven-day rides on these things, you get sick and tired of pitching your tent every night,” said Whipple, patting his side-by-side parked next to him. “You’d rather be mobile. You’d rather pull up to Black Rock Hot Springs, stay the night, get up the next morning and go.”
If only, Whipple thought, there was a lightweight camping trailer on the market that he could hitch to his side-by-side, with the suspension able to handle the Silver State’s rugged terrain.
Since there wasn’t such a thing, Whipple decided he’d try to build one, channeling a phrase that popped into his head one day.
“I said, ‘I want to recreate recreating,’” Whipple said. “I felt there was a massive void in the recreating world.”
Since 2018, Whipple, while working full-time in the corporate world as CEO of Las Vegas-based Gaming Technology Group, has spent his nights and weekends blueprinting, designing, testing — and retesting — a product to fill that void: an ultra-light camping trailer designed specifically to be towed by side-by-sides over steep mountain terrain at top speeds.
“I set out knowing three things,” Whipple explained. “It has to be light enough; it has to ride smooth enough; and … most important, it absolutely in no way can affect the riders’ ride. If everybody else is going by me at 60 miles-per-hour and I have to go 30 (mph) because I’m pulling a trailer, that’s just a deal stopper.”
Two years later, after “lots of trial and error,” Whipple was able to check all of those boxes and earlier this year launched Sunnyside OffRoad, putting the finishing touches on his innovative camping trailer, the Boony Stomper.
In the process, Whipple invented a patent-pending trailer hitching system, the Road Tamer.
With a product ready to roll out, Whipple knew he needed a business partner to get into the UTV market. Enter Weaver, a Reno-based friend who was in his 15th year overseeing U.S. sales and marketing for Oakley when Whipple approached him.
“I spent many hours researching, and I just looked at my wife and said, ‘he’s got something; there’s nothing like it on the market,’” Weaver said. “No one out there is making a product where you can go really fast behind a side-by-side with an incredible suspension system. There’s a million teardrop trailer companies, there’s a bunch of off-road trailer companies, but nothing that’s full speed for a side-by-side.”
NOT LOOKING BACK
In July, Whipple and Weaver set up shop in their manufacturing facility in South Reno. There, the Sunnyside OffRoad co-owners have been clocking in long days and weeks building the trailers. To date, the duo has built four trailers from the ground up, and recently signed with its first dealer, 5th Gear Powersports in Elko.
“Our goal from a distribution perspective is we’re focused on the motorsports industry to become dealers,” Whipple said. “We have no intention of selling these through an RV dealership or car dealer. We’re focused on the motorsports and the side-by-side industry.”
Listed at a starting price of $8,394, the Boony Stomper has an interior length of 6 feet, 7 inches and width of 46 inches, with carpeted walls, a headboard, linoleum floors, and storage cabinets with self-latching doors. Upgradeable options include a mattress and/or a flat screen TV, Weaver said.
Perhaps most importantly, the Boony Stomper weighs only 586 pounds. Other off-road trailers currently on the market typically range between 1,200 and 2,600 pounds, according to a report by Trailer Life magazine.
“We are just so excited because we believe the motorsports industry is so hungry for a product like this,” said Whipple, noting the Department of Transportation (DOT) has even approved the product — meaning, along with being used off-road, the trailer has the green light to be pulled along the highway.
“You can go to your elk hunt, you unhook the trailer and your tent is pitched,” he continued. “The next morning, you get up, crawl out of bed, brush your teeth, and you’re gone. This trailer’s going to go 60 miles-per-hour on rough road, and you literally have no idea it’s behind you.”
Looking ahead, Whipple said by next spring Sunnyside OffRoad is planning to hire at least eight full-time skilled laborers to build the camping trailers, with the goal of manufacturing between 80 and 100 of them by June 2021.
He added that the company hopes to hire its first two employees within the next two months.
Needless to say, since Whipple and Weaver left the corporate world, they haven’t looked back.
“We’re just having a blast,” Whipple said. “I could’ve gone out and got another executive position, but you get to be 54 years old and you get to the point where it’s about satisfying your heart rather than satisfying some stockholder.”
On Sept. 8, Reno startup Hibear launched a Kickstarter with a funding goal of $10,000. Within 45 minutes, the company surpassed it. Now, it’s up to almost $100,000 and more than 1,250 financial backers.