Boho Camper Vans co-owner David Sodemann was inspired to start his business after a trip to Maui when he realized traveling could become expensive quickly due to lodging. Fast forward to the pandemic, Boho Vans blew up when camper vans became the ideal way to travel while socially distanced. Hear how David uses communication with his customers to make them feel comfortable and cared for even while on the road. Also hear what drove reviewer David A. to leave Boho Vans a five-star review.
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EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. On Behind the Review I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions.
Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.
DAVID A.: My wife and I were planning this huge wedding and then we started looking at venues and then we realized, “Oh my gosh, this is so expensive. Getting married is highly expensive.” We found this beautiful spot over in New Mexico, where we finally got married, but then came our decision of “Okay, well what do we do for our honeymoon?”
My wife and I came up with a decision since I’m from New Mexico that we start our journey in New Mexico and we get a van or some sort of transportation and then we travel. So my wife found Boho Vans. And she was like, “Oh my gosh, this place is so cute. Look at this. And it was still fairly new so we were like on a wait-list and they were in contact with us, trying to find a good fit, and we had a great time with it. And when we went to actually rent the van, they had a little banner saying “Congratulations with our name on it, Mr. And Mrs. A and it was just all around a great experience.”
EMILY: That’s David A, a Yelp reviewer, telling me about his experience with Boho Camper Vans, a rental van company based in Arizona that was established in 2018. After deciding to go the more non-traditional route for his and his wife’s honeymoon in order to save money, they stumbled upon Boho Vans and were impressed with the van’s useful capabilities as well as how personable and understanding the team was. Let’s give his review a listen.
DAVID A.: My wife and I arranged our entire wedding and honeymoon around Boho Camper Vans. We would not have had our wedding any other way.
Let me start by saying that Harvey, the van we rented, was great fun and had all your needs for camping! Our experience was great. We had the van for 2 weeks which is the longest Boho said they have ever rented out. We traveled over 4000 miles in that van and gave us no problems. We were able to stop at campgrounds, RV parks, anywhere you wanted to stay. The bed in the van – comfortable. Has your cooler which is solar powered (no I’ve needed). Outlets for charging any of the devices you might carry. running water shower in the back. I’ll tell you it’s what you want to have on wheels and compact so you can get wherever you need to.
The downside is that it does eat up a lot of gas. So if you’re planning on traveling make sure you budget extra money for gas. Also not much hanging room for clothes and such for when you are on the road. Has plenty of storage for the van that we have. Maybe you should add a shower curtain to the back. And some straps for things that are inside the van.
The guys are fun to work with… we had a little bit of an issue but the owner David (great guy) was able to find us a resolution without having our concerns unheard or felt like we were getting taken advantage of.
EMILY: I spoke with David Sodemann, who owns Boho Vans along with his partner Brett Ellenson. He was inspired to start the business after taking a trip to Maui and realizing how expensive lodging can get. Instead of spending most of his budget on hotels, he decided to travel around the island with his fiancée in a rental van and fell in love with the experience. Let’s hear from David in more detail on how Boho Vans was born.
DAVID: The story began when I wanted to take a trip to Hawaii. My girlfriend at the time and now fiance bought these cheap tickets to Maui and said, “Oh, we’re going to have this great vacation”, started looking at hotels on the beach and all the lodging there and discovered that, wow, cheap plane tickets, but a very expensive place to vacation.
So we ended up renting a camper van and we spent five days traveling throughout the island in the camper van, and just realized this was a really cool way to vacation. Everything felt more real, the experiences felt longer, the trip felt longer. We were able to connect with each other because it was a very minimal way to travel.
We came back to Arizona and said, “Hey, we want to do this again.” So the idea was we were going to build our own camper van and see if we can rent it out when we’re not using it.
Problem being I’m not a builder. But I ended up having a conversation with Brett and he was really great at working with his hands. We said, “Hey, I’ll buy the van. You help me build it. We can go on this together. We can both use the van. Let’s see if we can rent it out and make our money back.” At the time, we didn’t have much money at all. We funded the materials basically on credit and said, “Hey, we got 15 months, no APR to get this business off the ground.”
And as we were building the van, we were simultaneously building out the marketing, the website, the rental platform. And as we were building it, we saw rentals starting to come in before the van was even complete. And we knew we were onto something. Fast forward a few months, the van’s being rented out, we see steady income coming in, we decided to purchase another rental another van, and it just took off from there.
It moved more into people wanting to purchase camper vans, not just rent. So we started offering that as well. That was six years ago and now we have a full fledged business where we manufacture, sell, and rent camper vans.
EMILY: The pandemic has forced lots of small businesses to pivot the way they operate. For most businesses, it was an obstacle they had to overcome, but David said there were some blessings COVID brought to his business. The pandemic encouraged everyone at home to get more creative with how they chose to travel. Because of this, camper vans started blowing up on social media especially since it was a safe way to travel while being socially distant. Let’s hear from David on the more unexpected positive things the pandemic brought his business.
DAVID: The pandemic was very bittersweet for Boho camper vans. It initially started off with complete terror. When all the lockdowns started happening, we kept getting calls for cancellations. We weren’t sure what we were going to do. But more and more people started realizing, “Hey, we can travel this way. It’s safer. We can go explore our backyard rather than taking flights to go visit a new city.” And so everything started picking up, especially on the purchase side.
People weren’t sure how long it was going to take to be able to travel again. And they said, “Hey. I want to travel. This is part of my lifestyle. A camper van is a really great way to do it.” And so you don’t have to be around a lot of people. It’s just you and yourself and your loved ones. Inside the van it was hard to judge because we were on Shark Tank. We aired the first week of lockdowns.
And we were nervous when we were like, “Oh man, this is going to be the first Shark Tank company that has a drop in sales after they air.” Because again, it was such a confusing time for everyone, including ourselves. We didn’t know where the business would go, but looking back, it was really great and fulfilling to know that we were able to provide travel opportunities for people when they’re unsure if they can ever fly again, and in the end it worked out for us.
EMILY: I think it’s really great that David’s business became a way that people could do what they love with people that they love in the midst of a very scary and uncertain time. In the case of David, our reviewer, Boho Vans was part of an extremely important life event aka his honeymoon. I asked David, the owner, to share how he connects with his customers to make sure they feel cared for even while on the road especially when he has customers using his vans for special moments like a wedding or a honeymoon.
DAVID: It’s an honor to be involved in huge life events like, David and his wife went through a wedding, using our vehicle as a way to get married and to honeymoon.
You can’t get a bigger compliment than that. And it’s very cool to see and to be involved in these events. We’ve seen baby showers. We’ve seen engagements, obviously weddings, honeymoons. Bachelorette parties, it’s all really cool to be involved in those moments because those are once in a lifetime.
But when we get word and sometimes we’ll get notification when people are reaching out, inquiring about renting with us, mentioning there’s a big life event such as a wedding, we’ll do what we can prior to make it a little extra special. And it doesn’t have to be a lot, but just a small touch, like putting balloons in the van or a card or a bottle of champagne.
The renters appreciate that and it gets everything off to just an exceptional start, I don’t know if anyone’s ever taken a perfect vacation, but when you start off with that trust and that excitement. With a renter when they’re going on something special and then an issue does arise, they’re going to feel more comfortable talking to you about it, being honest, and ultimately it’s like renting to a friend rather than renting to a customer.
So it’s been a great way to connect with renters. We always like to ask if there’s something going on in their life, if there’s a reason for their trip. And people are usually generally very excited to share that and we’re going to do whatever we can to make it a little bit more special than you would if you were just going to rent a standard hotel room or stay at a resort.
EMILY: It’s the little things that David does to make his customers feel special like adding balloons in the van to start off the trip or making sure that his renters feel comfortable asking questions. And that doesn’t stop during the customer’s trip as well, especially since some of his renters have never gone traveling in a camper van before.
DAVID: We try to think of those things that people might want to use and we also take recommendations. We always ask people when they come back, “Did you have everything you needed? Is there anything else that you feel like would be nice to have.” And then we apply that accordingly. And then knowing, “Hey, you guys are super excited. If you forget any of this, we’re just a phone call away.” And that makes them feel comfortable. That’s the goal is to make it easy sometimes with RVs and that’s really the goal from the beginning. And what we’ve managed to do is make it easy for everyone so they feel very comfortable the moment they leave our spot in Phoenix.
EMILY: Making sure your customers feel comfortable enough with you to go to you when any issue or problems arise is an important part of customer satisfaction and this is one of the aspects of Boho Vans that David, our reviewer, was really impressed by. He says that something he really appreciated was the constant and accessible flow of communication that Boho Vans provided him during his entire journey.
DAVID A.: It always matters because this is, again, this is a business that it’s not just a one hour interaction or a 10 minute interaction. This was something that they stayed steady from the time that we called until the time that we finished, which in that whole process was two months, three months, you know, which in my eyes, they deserve a lot more than a five star review because in order to keep that open communication with a consumer for so long and make them feel like they’re valued is not an easy task as a business owner to do – to keep in constant contact, how are you doing phone calls, dealing with pricing, insurances, this, that and the other. It’s a lot to handle, especially when you’re doing it not only for one consumer, but you’re doing it for several vans. So I give them a lot of, you know, I guess you would say props, kudos, thumbs ups. That’s awesome.
EMILY: I asked David, the owner, how he keeps up consistent and open communication with his renters, especially since it might look a little different than what most businesses are used to considering that his customers are physically distant from him. Something specific he does is making sure that his customers feel like his team is always available to them – for him, that looks like providing his renters with multiple phone numbers that are reachable 24/7 that they could call should any problems arise.
DAVID: We’re lucky. We have such great personnel and we have a great team. Our rental team right now consists of three people and we give them, all renters, three different cell phone numbers, you know, say, call this one first, if you need to get ahold of someone, call this one. So we usually have layers of defense in case someone really needs to get a hold of someone.
We do have GPS trackers, which also comes with 24/7 roadside assistance. So there’s a special number in case for some reason you get a flat tire or you really need some, some help on the road that’s available 24 seven.
And renters are given that as part of their rental package when they do arrive. So do you pick up the phone immediately when someone calls? I hope so. And we try, but sometimes if it’s the middle of the night, renters are pretty understanding and there’s usually always someone to get a hold of, especially if there’s an emergency.
EMILY: To finish this episode, I always like to touch on the topic of reviews. David, the owner, spoke a little bit about going the extra mile to ask his renters if there were any inconveniences they experienced during their journey after they come back and then applying that feedback for the next group of renters. He carries this perspective when it comes to online reviews as well and says he considers constructive reviews as a helpful way to evolve his business into something better than it was before. I think that’s a great mindset to have when thinking about reviews—most reviewers are, hopefully, not writing more critical reviews to hurt your feelings but rather are trying to help you improve so someone else doesn’t have a negative experience.
DAVID: We love reviews and we’re not just saying that. We really stand behind our products and our service. Our reviews really showcase that. I think as a consumer myself, I am always diving into reviews before I make a purchase. I think hearing from real people is the best way to understand what you’re getting into. And reviews have been a really important part of our business. We stress them wholeheartedly. Obviously we’d love five stars and perfect reviews every time, but that’s just not the reality with how many people we experienced and how many rented rental trips we’ve had. But in the end, it’s the feedback that’s key. It’s that constructive criticism that we hope people will provide us so we can just be better. The goal is to be better each and every trip, and reviews help us get there.