Grand Junction, Colorado
Founder Britton Purser makes handcrafted trailers that are wheeled works of art. Heading into year two, they've gone viral worldwide.
Britton built his first teardrop trailer to tow behind the family Land Rover in 2012. It turned into a business plan in 2013 and a business in 2015.
Vintage Overland is a Purser family business. Britton's wife, Ami, does the books and helps with artistic concepts, and his younger brothers, Cody and Cullen, help him make the trailers.
Growing up, the three brothers spent their summers on a ranch near Grand Junction. "We didn't have electricity, so we ended up riding motorcycles everywhere and building things," says Britton.
Each continued to hone his craftsmanship as an adult -- with Britton working in high-end carpentry and restoring classic motorcycles; Cullen building harps, mandolins, and guitars; and Cody making copper bathtubs -- so the collective skill set to make high-design trailers was already well-developed by Vintage Overland's founding. Working with one's hands "is just something we have always been able to do," says Britton.
The 600- to 800-pound trailers require about two weeks for the Purser brothers to turn out, start to finish, with anodized aluminum sheathing a Baltic Birch interior. "We kind of approach it like building a piece of cabinetry," Britton says. "I actually design the inside to look like a piece of Danish furniture."
Each panel is hand-formed with a hammer and a lot of hard work. Britton is moving to some CNC-driven processes in order to pre-cut panels and increase efficiency. "It's basically replacing my role and I can focus on manufacturing and design."
The company's supply chain is largely local. "Pretty much everything is sourced from Colorado," says Britton. The axles are from Longmont, the solar panels come from Utah, and the LED lights are IKEA, he notes, but most everything else is from the Grand Junction area. "We're trying to keep it as local as possible."
Less than a year after launch, business is brisk. "We just finished our 18th trailer," says Britton. "We have nine orders already for 2016."
Catalogs and magazines have fueled the company's growth. First, an appearance in the Mountain Khakis catalog "went nationwide," followed by coverage in Outside magazine in September 2015. "That launched us worldwide," says Britton. The first international order will ship to Australia in spring, and he's fielded inquiries from the U.K., Portugal, Canada, and Dubai.
The trailers sell for $10,500 to $18,500, with a new, larger, traditionally shaped model commanding the highest price. Most buyers are "newly retired or about to retire," says Britton. "They don't to sleep on the ground, they don't want to do the RV thing, and they still want to get out in the middle of nowhere."
Customers need not drive a Land Rover to tow a Vintage Overland trailer. One California couple hitched theirs to their Subaru and drove it 5,000 miles, from Grand Junction to Vermont and west again.
Then there's the nostalgic aesthetic. "I want the trailers to look like a postcard of Yosemite National Park in 1951," says Britton. He says he plans to develop Vintage Overland into a lifestyle brand that includes trailer accessories and apparel and sees the trailers as "a billboard for the brand."
"You get so much attention pulling them around town," Britton says. "Everyone smiles."
Challenges: Scaling with the right talent. The Purser brothers’ maximum manufacturing capacity is two trailers per month, but they need skilled people to maintain quality if the company scales. "We are perfectionists, and this is an extension of our art," says Britton. "We think of ourselves as artists, not manufacturers."
Opportunities: Exports, accessories, and branded beer and food trailers. "What Ami and I are focusing on is diversifying," says Britton. "If we had awnings, we would have sold a bunch already."
He also sees a perfect application for craft breweries to work outdoor events, with taps on the rear hatch and colorful art on the aluminum. "We think it would make a wonderful beer wagon."
Needs: More space. Vintage Overland currently operates out of a 2,250-square-foot facility on Britton's property, but it only has room for two trailers-in-progress at once. The company might move to Fruita, where Cullen is serving on the city council, Britton says. "They're striving to get outdoor manufacturing-type companies to move to Fruita."
He says the company also needs bank financing and more "nuts-and-bolts” advice from experienced business types, and is getting it through The Business Incubator in Grand Junction. "The challenge is getting the people who can get us to the next step."