As the weather heats up, one Houston entrepreneur is preparing to market a cool little trailer that will make enjoying the great outdoors a bit more comfortable.
Garrett Finney is the architect behind the adorably minimalist Cricket Trailer, an "un-RV" designed and manufactured in Houston, in a factory just south of the Galleria. The Cricket, which was on display at the 2010 Lawndale Design Fair, was named one of Art Attack's Top 5 that year in architecture and design. But only in the last couple of months has it been available for purchase.
Finney, a former space architect with NASA, said he wanted to make a camper trailer that took the outdoor and recreation vehicle industry in a new direction. He said his experience working on the International Space Station helped.
"I had this expertise in living in small spaces, and I had this history of interest in the outdoors," he said. "People are buying the biggest thing they can afford instead of buying the thing that best suits their needs. People are not buying a house on wheels. The whole point is to have an adventure."
The Cricket is a kind of hybrid tent and trailer, made of aluminum, wood and steel, with a pop-up style roof. The basic model starts at $14,330 and features a plethora of add-ons, from roof racks to a fridge to a portable toilet. The trailer shell is also available. The name Cricket was inspired by an early design sketch, in which the lifts on the pop-up looked like the legs of the insect.
Finney said most of the people who are buying Cricket trailers have never bought a trailer before. In describing the company's philosophy, he harkened back to the old 7-Up ads from the 1970s. "We thought to ourselves, 'What kind of camping trailer would an REI customer buy?' The RV industry is big and bloated in a way. We're trying to be an un-RV. We have fewer amenities, but we like to think they're the right amenities. You can leave your house at home.
"We want to be the thing that's coming at this industry from left field. We can build a better mousetrap. There are all these systems that we didn't build into Cricket because you already own the gear. But that doesn't mean the form needs to be generic."
In January, Cricket found its first distributor, Princess Craft, a woman-owned business out of Pflugerville, TX, that specializes in smaller, unique campers, trailers and RVs. Finney said Texas law prevents Cricket from selling the trailers directly, but since partnering with Princess Craft they sold out of trailers two months in advance and are now trying to catch up to orders.
The first Cricket was sold to friends of Finney, a couple with three children, who took the trailer to Canada and back.
PJ Buerger, owner of Princess Craft, said Cricket fills a need she's seen develop over the past few years.
"I think the lightweight trailers have become a much broader market in the past five years. There are RVs that have everything and do everything -- Cricket is not one of those. It's made to give you all the basic things you need. It really appeals to people who don't want a set of nice curtains and a granite-looking countertop," she said. "(Cricket) is another piece of gear."
Buerger said about half of Princess Craft's sales are to people out of state, but that working with a Texas company had a lot of appeal.
"Just the fact of working with someone creative, being able to meet. They're part of this market interested in making something new, not just making the same old thing a little cheaper."
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It's not entirely coincidental that Finney quotes a famous ad campaign from the '70s in describing his product. While he claims he's not nostalgic, much of what inspired the Cricket trailer is. From its minimalistic design, which brings to mind the shiny silver teardrop trailers of yesteryear, to the idea of the American Dream. He said his own dream for the Cricket is that it eventually becomes the official trailer for the National Parks Service."
"I think that designing a small trailer evokes this naive side of America," he said. "I'm not patriotic like that but it's always exciting and fun to be in a national park. It's the ideal of the American road trip. Part of it comes from having young kids of my own. We want to be in nature, not looking through the windshield at nature."
Take a tour inside a Cricket trailer with the video below.