At the Frogtown headquarters of Happier Camper, Derek Michael and his team have been working on the HC1. This is no ordinary trailer. It’s a patent-pending, modular homage to the fiberglass appendages of the mid–20th century. It has retro flare but serves modern purposes; you can hook it up to a Prius or a Fiat. So far, the Happier Camper crew has sold 25 of them, churning out one a week. They’re made by hand, and they start at $16,000.
Michael has been a DJ, a graphic and web designer and a record label owner — which means he’s gone from techno to trailers. He grew up in Windsor, Ontario, and lived everywhere from Japan to Germany to Australia before settling in Los Angeles more than a decade ago. When he arrived in L.A. in 2004, he befriended local promoters like Droid Behavior and fell into the city’s underground music scene.
Happier Camper’s small staff is composed of people Michael knew from the L.A. scene, including musicians, promoters and DJs. “I find most of those kind of people have a certain kind of mentality that I work well with, but they’re also my friends and are really great at what they do,” he says. “I would much rather work in an environment where we can also talk about the latest tunes or listen to good music and be happy together.”
He plans to eventually fuse his two loves in an HC1 mobile recording studio that Happier Camper can take to music schools.
The trailer itself stems from a previous invention of Michael’s, as well as from his love of California’s campgrounds. After the market crash and death of Flash left him with fewer projects, Michael decided to make physical products. The first was iBallz, protective iPad gear.
When Michael started promoting the product, his dad offered to send down his 1968 Boler trailer from Canada to use at trade shows. Michael fell for the trailer. In fact, he bought a second one to take on outdoor excursions.
When a couple rented one trailer from him and left a kind review on Yelp, a new business blossomed. Michael bought and refurbished more vintage trailers.
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Michael contemplated quitting the rental biz after his first lot was robbed, but he stuck with it. When the price of vintage trailers ballooned, limiting his ability to expand the business, he thought about making his own trailers.
Getting the HC1 off the ground has been a long and costly process. Michael is contemplating moving to a larger facility so that they can amp up production. He stays motivated by reminding himself that he’s helping people explore the great outdoors.
“California is honestly the greatest place in the world,” he says. “It’s a shame for people to live out here and not be seeing these wonderful things.”