From the moment you pick up the phone to call Owen Trailers, Inc., and are then greeted with delightful carousel music, it's easy to get a sense of this company's amazing creativity.
Theirs is a family business, for sure. Current "patriarch" Ross Owen explains: "The company was started in 1946 by my father. He got into the amusement industry about 1950. I began in 1972 and worked with my dad for a few years until he retired. This gave me the opportunity to learn a whole lot from him."
"Then about 1990, I decided to do something a bit different - although within the same industry. I saw a need for the type of equipment that we build now - the mirror mazes, fun houses, dark rides, and equipment like that. It's worked out well, and we've stayed in that arena for the past 25 years or so."
"I had already built some back-end pieces, as we call them, in the 80s - but they needed to be stepped up a notch. I mostly saw a need, an opening, for larger and more portable equipment. We built our first back-end piece of the new generation for RCS [Ray Cammack Shows]."
The "we" in this family team very much includes Ross' wife and two sons Jeff and David.
The overall team's "extended family" includes on-site welders, electricians, painters, steel benders/cutters - as well as off-site consultants.
Ross Owen also mentioned Greg Duncan, who "owns Duncan Design, Inc. out of Santa Rosa, California." Owen explained, "Duncan does most of the graphics out front and in the interiors of our equipment. We usually give Greg an idea of what we're looking for, and then his company comes up with a great match for it."
"One time, Greg came through our front door with a terrific idea that he wanted us to take a look at. This became our Magic Maze, which we've probably sold six to eight of already. Reithoffer is getting one - he's trading in a 14-year-old glass house."
Ross added, "We don't have engineers on staff, but we have access to two or three that we can run ideas by to make sure that everything's safe. In fact, we learn so much from so many folks throughout the industry."
He continued, "At one point in the 80s, I had two gentlemen who were friends of mine. One had been on the road for 25 years, and the other for 10 years. They both came to work for me. They were smart, and they really helped us to put it all together."
"You can tinker with things forever and keep on improving them. If someone can 'build a better mousetrap,' I'll listen. The people that I build for are running the equipment on a daily basis. So I also listen very carefully to their feedback."
Ross Owen explained that the cost of a new Mirror Maze is approximately $285,000, and the cost of a used one is about $150,000. One quick look at the Magic Maze video on the company's website will convince the viewer that there's a whole lot of "bang" for those bucks. Featuring a "mystical, wizard theme," this newest of glass houses is awash with "spectacular LED lighting."
The Mirror Mazes - which also include Mardi Gras, Wild-West, disco and jungle themes - have trailer sizes of 48 feet each, transport on one trailer each, and can be individually "set up in less than an hour." Glasshouses are at the core of these phantasmagorical creations. Spiral slides, top decks and hidden staircases are also part of the fun.
The company website also features Bunkhouses (standard size includes seven rooms, each for two people), Funhouses (with names such as Wacky Shack and Looney Belle, and components such as trick mirrors, spiral slides, rotating barrels and moving walkways), Dark Rides (ghostly and haunted), Novelty and Ticket Booths (souvenir booths, too), and Special Purpose Trailers (serving as restrooms, offices, classrooms, you name it...).
When asked about particularly unique customer requests, Ross explained, "Our team custom-designed a small glass house for Debby and Dave Helm about a year and a half ago. Their company, Helm & Sons Amusements, has a bear cub as a mascot so we called this glass house Cub Country. It has a real cute front which lends itself to their overall theme."
Ross added that Owen Trailers has also sold a number of employee lounges. He explained, "In certain locations, it gets quite cold at night - so the employees need a place where they can relax, have a snack, and get out of the weather."
Funhouses and the like are most fun when lots of people know about them. That's where expert marketing comes into play. Ross stated, "We do our normal circuit to places like the Las Vegas Convention, IAAPA, and Gibtown, and might make another few shows during the course of the year such as the Western Fairs Association in California or the Texas Convention." Next month, Owen Trailers will be displaying a new Wacky Shack built for Roger Swyear of Swyear Amusements at the trade show in Gibtown. Roger traded in his Mardi Gras for the Wacky Shack this past fall.
"We usually try to make it to three or four of the larger state fairs such as Texas, Minnesota and Florida. We do our normal advertising with Midway Marquee, and our website is handled by Matt's Web Design."
"We deal all over the mainland U.S. and Canada. We also sent equipment over to EK Fernandez Shows in Hawaii this past summer. We'll do anywhere from six to ten jobs per year, depending on what the project is and who we're doing business with."
"This past year we've built some replacement pieces for the Jersey Shore because of damage incurred by Hurricane Sandy. We also built a piece for Frazier Shows out of Arizona, and for Danny and Sherry Brown of Brown's Amusements - just to name a few."
Ross Owen concluded, "We've built for most of the major carnivals. You can go right down the line - Powers, Strates, Fiesta... They all have our equipment."