Co-founder Matt Felser says the company is preparing for massive growth — but the current lack of vans is an obstacle.
The namesake co-founders went to college together but went on separate paths after that. Felser became a teacher and co-founder Dave Ramsay worked at Bridgewater Associates. Both found van life separately. “I wanted a vehicle that fit my lifestyle and the mountains to travel and bring bikes and skis and gave, wanting to get out of New York City and chose a class B RV as his means to escape the city and reduce overhead,” explains Felser.
Ramsay subsequently reconnected with Felser to start Dave & Matt Vans in 2019. “The two of us kinda meshed over our appreciation and newfound love for living van life,” says Felser.
Felser explains that he chose the roomy Ram ProMaster for his first buildout in 2017 on a teacher’s budget. “The Ram ProMaster is the most economical cargo van on the market, so that jumped out at me,” he says. “The front-wheel drive was very important. Being in the mountains, I wanted something that was capable of getting over mountain passes and obviously comfortable in snow and sand and dirt, and the front wheel-drive checked that box.”
Now the company builds its RVs — which start at about $65,000 — exclusively on the Ram ProMaster in all three sizes of the vehicle, and that’s worked out well. “We are RVIA-compliant as of a couple of weeks ago, which means that our vehicles will hold a Kelley Blue Book value,” says Felser. “They will be certified by the RV industry for safety and they will also be compliant in terms of RV financing and RV insurance, giving our consumer that peace of mind.”
However, only working on one type of vehicle also has its issues in a market deeply impacted by COVID-19 in an ancillary, but critical way — the microchip shortage. “There have been massive supply chain issues in the entire automotive industry that stems from the microchip shortage,” Felser says. The Ram faculty that produces the ProMaster vans made about 20,000 vehicles last year, but its target was more than 50,000. That severely limited the ability for the company to get ProMasters in 2022.
“We were fortunate to have the dealership license, so we’re able to pull vehicles from dealerships around the country to produce, as well as a partnership directly with Ram trucks,” Felser explains. “So between the two, we were able to fulfill demand the best we could. I would say better than most, but we certainly faced a lot of sticky issues along the way in solving those supply chain issues.”
Regardless, it’s having an impact on the company’s ability to produce adventure vans. Last year the company produced 180 vans, which Felser says was up 50 percent from 2020. “This year it’s tough because we’ve hit the supply chain limit, and we won’t see a van on our lot between essentially February and June,” he says.
Dave & Matt Vans was allotted 100 model year 2022 vans that will show up in June. The company has a much larger order for 2023, which will put it on course to produce 1,600 adventure vans over the next few years. This year, though, Felser anticipates it will produce somewhere between 100 and 200 vehicles.
However, the company is still moving forward: Dave & Matt Vans recently opened two new facilities; a 5,000-square-foot dealership in Gypsum and a 39,000-square-foot production facility in Rifle. “We have essentially used this time to expand into our new production facility to hit the ground running once these vehicles show up,” says Felser. “The goal is to be producing about 10 vans a week by the end of the year. Next year, when the supply chain rate normalizes, that’s when we’ll start to hit that 1,600 vehicles target over the next few years.”
To meet those growth projections, Felser anticipates expanding Dave & Matt Van’s workforce by at least 10 more people by the end of the year.
The company isn’t just expanding the number of vehicles it offers for sale, it’s also increasing the number of vehicles in its rental fleet. “We went from two to eight [rentals] over the last year. . . . I think the goal is to expand [the rental fleet] by 5X over the next three years,” Felser notes. “We expect to book more than 150 rental reservations this year with the potential to increase that by nearly 500 percent by the end of 2024.”
“The rental program is a great way for people to try out van life for the first time,” he adds. “Beyond that, it is an incredible sales tool for us as well. I think 36 percent of our renters over the last three years have turned into buyers.”
Looking ahead, Felser says he plans to expand Dave & Matt Vans’ rental services to different states. “Currently 70 percent of our sales are outside of Colorado. Our demand is pretty robust in places like the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, the Northeast where there is no RV supply, and we’ve seen a lot of popularity down in the Southeast as well.”
Regardless, the Colorado location is good for business. “Our consumer base loves coming out here for ‘new van day,’ as we call it, for pickups,” says Felser. While the company can ship its vans to customers, he adds, “It’s amazing how few people have actually requested that.”
With the current supply constraints, Dave & Matt Vans isn’t currently taking new reservations for sales, but a new line of vehicles is launching in June 2022 with an updated interior. “A lot of that interior redesign was improving our processes of building these and providing the highest-quality vehicle for the best price in the industry, but it also has to do with function and form as well,” Felser says. “We will start taking deposits for this new vehicle on June 14th. Then we’re actually going to launch our 2023 vehicle in July, so there’s a lot happening over the next few months.”
Challenges: Felser says, “The biggest one has been the supply chain of the vehicles. The microchip shortage shut down essentially the automotive industry across the world. We have felt that very directly and we’ve been fortunate in managing it, but it’s certainly impeded our growth over the last 12 to 18 months.”
Opportunities: “First and foremost, it’s meeting our mission of making van life accessible to everyone,” says Felser, noting that the new production facility will allow it to rapidly ramp up production to help meet the mission.
Needs: “A regular cadence of van deliveries first and foremost and that has us exploring other vehicles and platforms,” Felser says. “As great as the Ram ProMaster has been, it’s obviously shown its constraints when the supply chain takes a hit to be tied to just one platform to build on.”