TORONTO — A Toronto couple who started a van conversion company during the COVID-19 pandemic says business is booming as more and more people are choosing to explore a nomadic lifestyle.
Partners in both life and business, Gui Figueiredo and Jeremy Vandermeij were struck with anxiety last year amidst the rolling lockdowns in Ontario.
“We were feeling anxious with the idea of likely another winter of being trapped indoors due to COVID-19,” Vandermeij told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday. “So, like a lot of people, we started looking at the hashtags on Instagram for van life, which we hadn’t seen before.”
Right away, the couple says they knew the trend was within their wheelhouse.
“Gui has travelled to over 40 countries — he’s a travel nut — and I studied interior design … and I had practiced interior design professionally,” Vandermeij said.
“So, when we saw the hashtag, we were like, ‘Oh, we should do this.’”
Within four weeks of discovering the trend, the couple purchased their first van, converted the inside and launched what would soon become The Van Dads.
Now, almost a year later, they’re offering their service to anyone else who wants a converted van.
“We only launched our actual website about a month ago and within a week, we’ve had over 180 requests from people,” he said.
The process of having a van converted can be lengthy, but only because Figueiredo and Vandermeij work to ensure that each customer gets the customizations they’re seeking.
“First, we essentially do a kind of screening call to chat about what they want,” Vandermeij said.
“Then we meet — they come and see [our prototype] van and we have a discussion about features. That’s a multi-meeting discussion usually because some people have lived in vans or lived in RVs or lived in boats before, but for others, they’re making decisions they’ve never made before so we kind of guide them through.”
Right now, the ‘basic build’ package offered by the company starts at $46,000, while a custom build starts at $60,000. They also offer a ‘Van Life cost calculator’ to help customers gauge how much their conversion will cost.
The Van Dads also offers rental options for those who just want a taste of the van life.
Currently, the company is not including the purchase of vans in its offerings. Instead, customers need to come already equipped with the van they want transformed — Vandermeij says that this has a lot to do with current global supply chain issues.
“In the future, we may have vans. The biggest problem right now is that there’s a shortage of superconductors and a shortage of vehicles, globally.”
When asked what has sparked the recent fascination with van life, Vandermeij points to the changes that the pandemic has made in both our home and professional lives.
“I think living or working in a van is going to become more common as we don’t have to work from one place anymore,” he said.
With many workers granted the ability to work remotely, Vandermeij says he doesn’t see why you wouldn’t travel while you work.
“My partner and I worked from the van for almost two months [in the] summer,” he said
“I worked full time in the van. It had great Wi-Fi and it was an amazing way to travel and see the world.”