There probably aren’t many business owners who can boast that one of their employees was on the Little League baseball team they coached almost 20 years ago.
But Tim Zaehler, owner of Erhardt’s Trailer Sales, can.
For 43 years, Erhardt’s Trailer Sales, located at 776 West Oakton St., has depended on family members and friends as customers and employees. The company, which sells trailers and RVs, has been in Des Plaines since 1969.
Zaehler’s grandfather loved to camp and the business developed as an offshoot of his hobby. Zaehler began working at the company in 1973, where his first job was cleaning customers’ trailers. He eventually took over and now the business is much more service-oriented, specializing in RV and trailer repairs and maintenance.
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Zaehler, his wife Cathy, and their seven or so employees are a part of business that is one of a few in the area. Zaehler said there were once many similar shops close-by but high property taxes drove many out.
“We are kind of a lone fish” in Des Plaines, he said.
The uniqueness of the business doesn’t stop there. Upon entering the store, customers are transported to My Mother’s Attic, Cathy Zaehler’s eclectic shop with antiques, camping keepsakes, scented candles, and even salsa.
“We fill a special niche,” Cathy Zaehler said. “This part is for me.”
With the upcoming holidays, Cathy said she expects more customers looking for hard-to-find gifts to stop by.
Most of the RVs on sale at Erhardt’s Trailer Sales are used but they sell many new utility trailers to area landscapers and construction companies, Zaehler said. He added that the company’s longevity has helped them develop a reputation in the area.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, most of Erhardt’s Trailer Sales business was buying and selling RVs and trailers, Zaehler said. Once the recession hit and loans became harder to get, the company focused on repairs and helping its customers maintain their older vehicles and equipment.
Zaehler said he and his wife learned the importance of diversifying in hard times.
“When one area is not good, another picks up,” he said.
The company has been selling snowplows and snow removal equipment for 25 years. Zaehler said he plows Des Plaines churches and the Walgreens at the intersection of River Road and Oakton Street after storms.
While last year’s unusually warm winter did hurt the business, Zaehler said he is gearing up for this year’s winter.
“The more, the better,” Zaehler said of snow.
When Zaehler and his family aren’t working, they enjoy taking their own RV out to camp in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.