The Impact of an Entrepreneurial Business in Rural Oklahoma
Mike D. Woods and Tom Seth Smith
Sundowner Trailers, Inc., located in Coleman, in rural southeast Oklahoma, was founded in 1976 to produce and sell quality livestock trailers. The firm is family owned, and employed more than 700 in 1998. Topics discussed in this case study include the firm's growth history and interaction with local economy, innovation in products and services, use of SBA (Small Business Administration) assistance, and contributions to community projects.
Sundowner Trailers, Inc. was founded in 1976 by the Shipman family of Coleman, Oklahoma. The company produced custom horse and livestock trailers. Three brothers, Larry, John, and Gary, began the company and were joined by another brother, Jerry, in 1980. They operated out of a hay barn in Coleman on the property of their father, Wayne Shipman.
In the early years, the brothers often found themselves working well into the night to meet production deadlines and fill orders, hence, the name "Sundowner." The brothers handled every stage of production, from welding construction, to painting, to trim and finishing. The early commitment to quality has been a driving force of the company.
When Sundowner Trailers, Inc. was founded, the three brothers were its sole employees. Employment grew slowly at first and reached 165 by 1992. By 1994, there were already 410 employees, and three years later, in 1997,