The Mastercraft Story
(Trial by Fire)
How We Changed an Industry
Remember when RV furniture came in just three colors: beige, burnt orange, and boring? So can we, because we’re the company that changed that reality forever. Keep reading to find out how it happened. And about the fire.
Dale Reynolds founded Mastercraft in 1971 in Shipshewana, Indiana, where one of our factories is still located. Then, as now, Northern Indiana was the center of RV manufacturing in the US, as well as great place to make furniture (the Amish living in this area know a thing or two about craftsmanship).
At the time, recreational vehicles were not the richly appointed palaces they are today. The quality of RV furniture was not very high, and its style, to say the least, did not make hearts palpitate.
Dale knew he could immediately make waves in the market by upping the quality level. From frame to fabric, he improved every aspect of standard RV furnishings and gained many customers that remain loyal to this day. He also started making furniture to be sold with manufactured housing. Our products were not yet thrilling to look at, but the quality was undeniable.
Our next innovator was Dale’s son Clif, who joined Mastercraft in 1981 and became president in 1985. Something of a rebel, Clif wondered why people couldn’t have mobile home interiors as exciting as those of their immobile homes.
At first the industry was skeptical. But RV makers tried out Clif’s ideas and found their own products sold better. Perceptions about RVs and the industry changed. And people became even more interested in value and innovation, creating a virtuous cycle.
The 1990s and early 2000s were good to Mastercraft. Clif improved quality even further, establishing a lifetime guarantee on furniture frames, which stands today. He rationalized manufacturing, making our facilities some of the most efficient in the US, perhaps the world. Mastercraft’s Heidelburg (high-end, traditional) and Allison’s Collection (cute, child-size) home furniture lines were also gaining traction in the marketplace.
It was 3:00 a.m., Saturday, July 5, 2003. The moon was a bright crescent in the black sky, and the pungent scent of fireworks lingered on the flatness of LaGrange County.
At the Mastercraft Factory, pyrotechnics of a less social type were being set off. The estranged husband of a loyal Mastercraft employee broke into the Shipshewana plant and set two fires: one in the office, and one in the main plant.
The results were devastating: Millions of dollars’ worth of finished goods and work in progress went up in smoke, and 75% of production capacity disappeared overnight. Patterns for making furniture, hard-to-find machinery, and most of the company’s records were destroyed.
Woken by an employee and arriving at the scene, Clif surveyed his charred plant through tears of despair: Surely this was the end of Mastercraft! But he soon realized that most of his employees were already there, doing what they could to help. For the next few months, Clif and his team would summon speed, harmony, and luck that many have called miraculous.
Workers immediately took apart remaining furniture to make patterns. They made mattresses and built furniture outdoors (and it didn’t rain for weeks). They located and ordered rare used machinery with unusual dispatch. And within just two weeks after the fire, Clif found a perfect building in LaGrange in which to establish the new plant. For July, Mastercraft shipped 90% of its orders, and the company was at full capacity within six months.
The new plant, now the company headquaters, gave the company an additional 100,000 ft2
in which to grow. Today, despite or because of its trial by fire, Mastercraft is stronger than ever—and is ready to revolutionize the world of furniture for many years to come!