Pandemic Takes Custom Camper Van Couple on a Ride

7/20/2021

The national demand for RVs and camper vans exploded during the pandemic as social distancing drove people into the great outdoors, and one Durango business, Wanderful Wheels, has grown exponentially as a result. Sponsored by Tafoya Barrett & Associates and Serious Texas BBQ

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Durango area residents, Coleen O'Brien and her husband, Patrick Spainhower were just getting their custom camper van business on the road when the pandemic brought them to a screeching halt, but only for a month or two. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by Tafoya Barrett and Associates and Serious Texas Bar-B-Q. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. O'Brien and Spainhower had just started Wonderful Wheels, a company that converts cargo vans into custom built camper vans when the pandemic shutdown the country and their business last year. But when pandemic weary people realized they could escape the confines of their homes by heading into the great outdoors, orders for Wonderful Wheels started filling their inbox and business took off like a formula one race car on a test track. Just a little more than a year later, O'Brien and Spainhower now employ a staff of six, moved the operation from their home garage to a 4,000 square foot warehouse in Bodo and churn out five custom vans at a time in about 8 to 12 weeks. Their meteoric growth reflects a nationwide explosion in the recreational vehicle market. According to the RV Industry Association, wholesale orders of trailers and motor homes increased by 84% during the first five months of 2021, compared with the same period in 2020. And wholesale orders for camper vans jumped 152%. Wonderful Wheels built each van according to the customer specifications. Cost ranges from 40,000 to $70,000. Although, a new family van with a retractable bed, onboard bathroom, and dining area will accommodate four passengers. It's listed on the website for $120,000. But cost doesn't seem to be a factor for van fans. Orders are booked through summer 2022.

I think what makes us really unique is our craftsmanship and the materials that we use. So we try to use all natural materials. We don't use any vehicle pep fabric or vehicle plastic. When you get inside the van, you feel like you're in a little cottage, you feel more connected to nature versus you're sitting in the back of the vehicle. And that's what really makes us unique. Plus I think our ability to problem solve. All of our clients come to us with a huge list of things they want in a really tiny space. And our crew's super creative about making everything work and trying to meet everyone's needs.

In addition to the family van, O'Brien and Spainhower we'll begin a line of pre-built vans with standard interiors to increase efficiency and production. Customers will have options for finishes, additional lighting, or increased battery power. Standardized versions are expected to be ready by February 2022, just in time for spring camping season.

I think everyone just loving the lifestyle. It changes your whole lifestyle to have a van. So much easier, you have more freedom, you more flexibility. So I love what following all of our clients on Instagram, social media, and living vicariously through their adventures because we've been working pretty hard. So our ventures are more in the shop right now.

With a new baby girl in tow, do O'Brien and Spainhower expect to build a van for themselves in the near future?

Eventually, we'll build ourselves the family van. Right now, we're like the cobbler who doesn't have any shoes. We're too busy building everyone else vans that we haven't built one for ourselves yet.

You can learn more about Wonderful Wheels at wonderfulwheels.com. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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