Business

Living the Van Life...Even If You Only Rent Them Out

Jarom and Katie Walz started Discover Campervans together.
Jarom and Katie Walz started Discover Campervans together. Jarom Walz
Emerging service Outdoorsy allows owners to rent out their RVs and campers so that people can try the van life for a few days. During the pandemic, some Denver residents have turned the rental website into an economic engine for their families.

Around six years ago, Jarom and Katie Walz bought and restored a 1960s Airstream trailer because Jarom wanted to spend more time camping. “Katie was not a fan of tent camping at all, so in order for me to get her to go out with me, she had to have a real bed,” he recalls. Over the next few years, the couple redid the trailer several times, making improvements based on their traveling experiences.

Some of their friends went to Iceland in 2019 and rented a camper van. Talking over dinner with their friends, the Walzes decided to bring the idea to Colorado and registered their website, Discover Campervans, right there at the table even before they bought a camper van to restore and then rent. The couple decided to use Outdoorsy, which handles bookings and some business systems, to start the business.

Lance Bohannan and his extended family in the Denver area bought an RV together in 2017 because they knew no one family member would keep it busy, much less cover its cost. When Bohannan learned about Outdoorsy in 2019, the family decided to register the RV with the service and make some money on weekends when none of them were using it. “It also gave us a great platform to build to share something we enjoy and play a small role in significant memories that others would make utilizing our RV, so it was very gratifying and something we enjoyed,” Bohannan says.
click to enlarge Lance Bohannan owns Trailhead RV Rentals, which boasts five RVs and plans to add more. - LANCE BOHANNAN
Lance Bohannan owns Trailhead RV Rentals, which boasts five RVs and plans to add more.
Lance Bohannan
During the first six months, Bohannan estimates the family made between $20,000 and $30,000 renting the one RV, so they used that money for the down payment on a second RV and started Trailhead RV Rentals. Although the company has its own website where people can book directly, those bookings are supported by Outdoorsy; Bohannan credits that company with making Trailhead RV Rentals profitable so quickly because it helps with marketing, communication, insurance and taxes. Trailhead RV Rentals now has five RVs.

Bohannan still works in finance, so Trailhead RV Rentals employs other family members to help oversee the business. Bohannan estimates that this year Trailhead RV Rentals will make over $300,000 in profits.

Today Katie Walz works full-time for Discover Campervans, which now has six RVs, while Jarom splits his time between his pest-control business and the couple's company. According to Outdoorsy CEO Jeff Cavins, they've made over $175,000 during their time on the app.

“It’s really been a good income and a good living, and we didn't expect it to give us this much money so early,” says Jarom. “We kind of thought it would take a few years to get really established.”

The pandemic helped shorten the timeline. Bohannan says that he thought their customers would mainly be people from Denver traveling elsewhere, but it turned out that many renters would fly in from the East Coast, then drive from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park or the national parks in Utah. That trend helped to make Denver Outdoorsy’s top destination in 2020 and second-most-common destination in 2021, according to Cavins.

Outdoorsy has been booming during the pandemic, Cavins says, with a 4,500 percent growth rate from March to July 2020 and a 400 percent increase in rentals in 2020. The 2021 stats are on a similar course.

“We had a lot of people, especially over the winter last year when we would normally be less busy, where people rented an RV to go travel to be with their family for Thanksgiving or Christmas or something, and it allowed them to be socially distant while doing that,” Bohannan recalls.
click to enlarge Jarom Walz and his sister inside one of the vans that's ready to go. - JAROM WALZ
Jarom Walz and his sister inside one of the vans that's ready to go.
Jarom Walz
Others rent the vehicles for a test run, shelling out a few hundred dollars to rent an RV or camper rather than shelling out tens of thousands of dollars on a vehicle before they know if they like the van life, Bohannan notes.

Javom also thinks the services are popular because they offer more personalization than traditional rental companies. Customers who know that he and Katie are the owners treat the vehicles better, because they see that the company is invested in them.

“When you walk in, we're happy to see you. We know your name. We've been waiting for you. We're interested in where you're going,” he explains. “The people who own the cars and RVs, they sincerely want you to have a good experience with it.”
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Catie Cheshire is Westword's editorial fellow. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire