A few years ago, Jared Franklin of Slave Lake came up with an unusual idea for a business: cabin rentals where you don’t go to the cabin, the cabin comes to you.
Or more precisely, to wherever you need it to be.
Franklin, whose other business is truck parts, says the idea came to him by way of his friend, real estate agent Jessie McCracken. He says McCracken said to him one day “I wish you had a cabin you could just deliver out here (to Marten Beach).” The notion of portable cabins had never occurred to Franklin, but he had experience with roll-off bins, and after McCracken’s remark, the wheels started turning.
“I hired a couple of engineers to design a skid system,” he says. As soon as that was figured out, he hired a carpenter and got busy building cabins in his shop off 14th Ave. NE in Slave Lake. The first one – handmade by Todd Houle – was finished in 2021. Two years later, Houle is working on cabin #4; cabins 1, 2 and 3 are rented out a lot, according to Travelling Timbers (that’s the name of the company) manager Nicole Ward.
“We were booked non-stop,” she says, referring to the “high season” of 2023.
It costs a bit. To get a Travelling Timbers cabin delivered for a summer weekend is $300 per night, for a three-night minimum. But what you get for that is pretty impressive. Pretty much all you need to bring is yourself and food; everything else is part of the package
“Much less stress,” than renting, say, an RV, says Ward.
The rental requests are coming from all over the place. A typical one would be for a weekend at the Widewater Complex for a wedding. Another example was for a Treaty Days weekend up north. Rodeos, music festivals…you name it.
The furthest customer was a hunting camp near Grimshaw, for a whole month. Outside of a 50-kilometre radius, there’s an extra charge for delivery, Ward says. Inside that radius, it’s included in the price.
“You just show up with your bag,” she says, “and everything waits for you.”
Houle might just have the best carpentry job in town. Each cabin is a unique creation, often using ‘re-purposed’ wood, built to whatever design ideas the boss (Franklin) comes up with. The one he’s working on now looks nothing like the finished one that was out in the yard last week. It’s about as far from the cookie-cutter approach as you can get.
Of course that method costs more money. Franklin admits that getting started, his other business is subsidizing Travelling Timbers. But the potential for profit seems to be there; according to Ward, all the signs are good. One of them is the burgeoning demand for off-season rentals.
“We’re getting calls all the time from the oilpatch,” she says. “There’s a big shortage in accommodations.”
Off-season rates are lower; typically they’re also for longer periods – by the week or month.
Ward says it’s quite likely the business will branch into two streams – one for the tourism market and the other for longer-term industrial type of accommodations. How far it could go in either direction is a good question. There is probably a sweet spot somewhere, and the business will keep expanding, hoping to find out where it is. The goal at the moment is to get to six cabins and see how that works.
“That was the original goal,” says Franklin. But business was so strong this past summer, he’s thinking bigger already.
“I’d like to have a cookhouse and a bath house too,” he says.
As noted in our M.D. council report last week, Travelling Timbers has another idea on the go, which is to establish cabin ‘villages’ at one or two spots. One is near the Widewater Complex; the other is proposed for Old Town Slave Lake. If that goes ahead, presumably many more cabins would be needed, and some help would have to be found for the construction team of one.
“We can get the manpower if we need it,” Ward says.