Local business transforms camper vans for outdoor adventures

After selling his business in October 2020, Tom Smith was ready to pivot and pursue something he was really passionate about. He has always been an avid adventurer, enjoying the outdoors, especially during his time living out west in Colorado. Smith and his family moved to Grand Rapids in 2000 and in fall of 2020, he decided to take his passion and turn it into a business — Navigate Adventure Vans

“Although we've seen a lot of development in this camper van space in the western states, this upper Midwest region has been a lot slower to adopt it, which I saw as an opportunity to launch the business and try to bring it to this market in this region,” says Smith. 

Tom SmithSmith’s background is in business, with about 20 years in the automotive, manufacturing and engineering spaces, which also made this new business venture a natural fit. 

“I became very interested in the camper van space a number of years ago. t really was an interest of mine because it's just such a capable vehicle — the way they can be built and configured,” he says. “They're a great platform for a lot of that adventure activity.”

Navigate Adventure Vans focuses on two types of builds that can outfit a client’s van — Explorer and Custom. The Explorer builds utilize Adventure Wagon’s modular interior systems, which allow the customer to modify the layout depending on their needs, whether they need additional seating, room for gear or want to include a bed or galley kitchen. For custom builds, the team at Navigate Adventure Vans works closely with the customer to create a unique vehicle, from materials to finishes. 

The #vanlife movement, which has become popular on social media over the past few years, often depicts decked out vehicles with people traveling and living full time in their vans, but Smith says there are a lot of different segments to this movement. His business isn’t geared toward those living full time in their van, but rather those who want a customized vehicle to accommodate their extended trips or weekend adventures. The builds, equipment and layout are often much different for vehicles that will be lived in full time. 

While Smith’s business didn’t open until mid-pandemic, he says that he’s seen a growing interest in the camper vans market. “I think that the pandemic and just the shift in some of the business mindset and the employees’ mindset of wanting to be able to have some flexibility to work remotely, absolutely has increased the interest in these vehicles,” he says. 

Navigate Adventure Vans didn’t become public-facing until December 2021, about a year after Smith started the company. But, with the current environment, along with the overwhelming interest Smith experienced at the Grand Rapids Camper, Travel & RV Show in January 2022, he is already lining up a lot of builds. While the small team of three has been keeping the business going for the past two years, Smith says he’s now looking at growing the team. 

“We’re ramping up very quickly,” says Smith.

Photos by Samantha Denman and courtesy of Navigate Adventure Vans
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