Today we’re diving into the other side of RV Entrepreneurism, the renovation and building side of Vintage RV Trailers with Nate Stover, the Owner, Head Builder & Designer at Innovative Spaces.
From an early age, Nate became involved in the trades from building furniture to eventually building entire homes. His work has taken him through a myriad of crafts which have constantly been stretched to new limits in the small spaces and vintage trailer world.
The trailers he works on at Innovative Spaces give him the opportunity to stretch all that he has learned and acquired through his years of experience to their full potential.
Along with his previous building skills, he is also able to exercise his creative skills to produce something truly unique and functional. Every project that leaves the Innovative Spaces yard represents their ingenuity and years of craftsmanship, but most importantly YOU the customer!
In this episode, Nate describes the process of renovating vintage Airstreams, the challenges of budling in small spaces and how he creatively scaled his super niched business!
We also discuss the importance of embracing community, collaborating with the customer, and for the DIYers, the importance of getting professional help when installing electric!
Tune in to learn more about Nate’s entrepreneurial journey!
Turning Vintage Trailers Into Innovative Spaces for RV Life
With Nate Stover
Your Host: Rose Willard
Learn more about Innovative Spaces: https://innovsb.com/
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The RV Entrepreneur #314 Full Episode Transcript:
Turning Vintage Trailers Into Innovative Spaces for RV Life With Nate Stover
RV LIFE: Welcome to the RV entrepreneur podcast. The weekly show for nomads, work campers, RV ers and entrepreneurs looking to earn a living or build a business while enjoying the RV lifestyle. This week’s host is Rose Willard. Let’s settle in and enjoy the RV entrepreneur podcast brought to you by RV life.
ROSE: Hey there entrepreneurs. Rose Willard here, your host this week and I am really excited to bring you this episode today. In this interview, we’re taking a different approach to entrepreneurship than what we normally do. We usually interview entrepreneurs that are using their RVs to get out and travel and work remotely, or start their own businesses from the road. But today, we’re coming from the other side of the world. The renovation and building side of vintage RVs, specifically Airstreams and some camper vans. So today I’m speaking with Nate Stover, founder, owner, and head builder and designer at Innovative Spaces, and he’ll talk us through his entrepreneurial journey, how he got into the business, how his story has progressed, things he’s learned along the way, and some really good advice to where he is today. Now being the go to custom mobile space design builder in the vintage trailer world, and from what I’ve seen on the website and social media, these trailers are absolutely gorgeous. Their transformations are amazing, and they’re truly built with the customer in mind. So this is a cool glimpse into the other side of RV entrepreneurism that I think we’ve only touched on about once in the past. Josh did an interview with Micah Staley of Brinkley RV about the manufacturing side of RVs. So this will be a really cool story to hear, a different perspective. And the other side in the vintage RV renovation world. But before we get into this episode, we’ll take a short break to hear from the sponsors who make this show possible.
RV LIFE: This episode is sponsored by Wholesale Warranties.
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ROSE: Hi, Nate, welcome to the Entrepreneur Podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today. I am so excited to be here with you. How are you?
NATE: I am great, thank you. I’m excited to be here as well. Rose, listen to a few of your podcasts and really enjoy them. So it’s great to be on the show.
ROSE: On this podcast, we typically interview those who use their RVs to travel and create businesses from the road. And to my knowledge, I don’t think we’ve interviewed many entrepreneurs. Coming from your aspect of the world, the other side, the building or the renovation of RVs. So this should be a really great conversation and I can’t wait to learn more about this side, what you do, and how you’re enhancing the RV lifestyle. So before we get into all those details, just tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, what you do, and where you’re located.
NATE: Sounds good. My name is Nate Stover. We are located in Ventura, California, so very coastal, which is nice. We don’t have to have air conditioning in our warehouse so we don’t die from heat and as in some places, or freeze during the winter. So we have that nice temperate weather. Nice. Do you want me to go into a little bit about the business?
ROSE: Briefly tell us a little bit more about how you got started.
NATE: Gotcha. So a little bit just to let you aware I’m a little beat. We had a really late event last night and was cleaning up from it till quite late, but innovative spaces. I kind of fell into the RV world. I mean, I grew up loving camping and getting out on the road. Road trips were always my favorite. I was back in school, midlife crisis, deciding to become a marine geochemist and instead went to full time fatherhood, which didn’t allow me to travel for work. And I used to be a general contractor, and a friend of mine was renovating an RV, an Airstream, so I helped him out and it just kind of grew from there. I’ve always loved design and building and just the ability to more of the challenge, to take something that has a defined space and create something that really works for whatever specific need you want for it, is what’s really challenging about it and kind of what drew me into it. I’ve always had that issue of I get bored quickly, and so far this tiny space and how every customer’s needs are so different has really kind of kept me really involved. So I started Innovative Spaces a little over ten years ago, and we started off slow, mostly doing, you know, one off renovations. Typically in Airstreams we have done other vintage trailers, Spartans and all, you know, a wide variety of them. But Airstreams always seems to be what always comes back to. And, you know, we’ve gone from individuals who are out using them to live in and work while their kids are young, to people who just want a little guest cottage on their property that want it to be different, as well as corporations that use them for brand launches and everything else. It’s been more of like you kind of just hold on and it kind of takes you where the demand is. You know, it’s not like I’m going to specialize in building a camper trailer. It’s like, no, I’m going to do what comes to me.
ROSE: Right? I just love that creativeness that you get to have with that. I mean, you can listen to that customer and be like, all right, I can do this because I’ve been building and I love the challenge and this tiny space. So it’s awesome. And I recently saw on your Instagram this tour of your workshop, and I thought it was just it was so neat. It brought up some cool memories for me because my dad, he was a woodworker, an entrepreneur, had his own little business where he built luxury kitchens and bathrooms, custom for his clients and celebrities in New York City. And so I kind of grew up in that woodworking shop that he had. And so to see all that in your video and I could just literally smell the sawdust, it was awesome.
ROSE: That was great.
NATE: Yeah. There’s just something about for me especially, there’s just I’m right there with you. There’s always something about walking in and that sawdust and that commercial space. And the warehouse where we have now was built back in 1939. Wow. It has the original gantry crane in it that we use to pull shells off of trailers. It’s really cool. And it’s it’s such a craft. Yeah, yeah, it’s just it’s funky and it’s. So eclectic and it just ties in so perfectly to what we do. I mean, we’ve worked on trailers from 1939, you know, that’s amazing. Yeah, you kind of feel like you’ve stepped back in time a little bit when you’re going through there, as long as you don’t pay attention to the newer tools.
ROSE: Right, right.
ROSE: They make things a little easier. But yeah.
NATE: They do a lot.
ROSE: You’re still working in this confined space. What are some of the challenges that you face when you’re doing this?
NATE: So probably the biggest challenge that I’ve faced with retrofitting or rebuilding vintage trailers is there was no guidebook, you know? So when I first started doing it, it’s been a constant evolution. When I first started doing it with this other guy, he was basically just gutting the inside and rebuilding the inside, you know, and you’re trying to run electrical and everything else. And it was quickly became clear to me that it doesn’t work that way. We got to tear this thing all the way down and basically start from the ground up.
NATE: And so the evolution of how renovation process goes along has just kept evolving from the time I started now. And we’re still changing things, you know, as you do something, you come along and you’re like, oh, you know, it’d be so much better if we do this or if we did this. One of the things that we’re kind of famous for is we do modifications to these airstreams, where you push a button and the whole side opens.
ROSE: And wow, you.
NATE: Know, or they open up like a clam shell or all these gull wings that we call them, which are basically large sections of curved opening.
ROSE: Yeah. Saw a part of a video on there and that is so innovative. Is that kind of where that name comes from? The innovative spaces.
NATE: You know, innovative spaces kind of to me felt like more of a description of what we do. And that’s kind of why I picked that name is we have a space. We have to be innovative in how we can make this work for a customer. Right. And so it just kind of made sense to me. And I never really had a question about the name. It was just like instantly popped in. That’s what it’s got to be, you know, very cool.
ROSE: So can you share with us kind of like that renovation or build process? Kind of like from start to finish when someone comes to you, what do you start with? They say, hey, I want to do this or I’m interested.
NATE: So most of our clients come to us without a trailer, without really any idea of what they want. They just know they want one. So we start off by basically just doing some discovery. We sit down, we have a meeting with them. We talk about what they envision, how they plan on using it, who all is going to be in the trailer? Is it just going to be them? Is it going to be family? We have to get to know the person in order to even start determining what size trailer they need. So it’s all discovery. And so we have a few conversations where we talk about those things, and then we kind of start narrowing it down. Okay. I think with what you’re looking at here, we can get a 27 footer. You like to go to national parks. That’s our max length for really being have full access to any parking spot, you know, and we start developing the plan on the layout. We, you know, we have them put all their wish list together and prioritize those numerically. So because if we put all of them in there, we’d have a trailer that’s 100ft long, you know?
ROSE: Yeah, probably weighs a ton.
ROSE: Yeah, yeah.
NATE: So we really narrow it down into what are their top priorities. We use conversion space to get them more out of it. Then as we get into starting to block out and do our design, we start Pinterest board with them where they start putting all of their architectural design elements they like. So one of the things about us, like a lot of builders, you’ll you can always tell their trailers because they all have the same kind of look. We take a lot of pride in the fact that our trailers don’t represent us. They represent the clients. So you’ll have one that’s shabby chic. You’ll have one that’s Ralph Lauren inspired. You’ll you know, we don’t want our preferences to come out. We want the clients to come out. So a lot of it is really just a discovery process of getting to know the client. Then we help them source a trailer, then we do 3D designs throughout the whole thing, put in finishes so they really see what it’s going to look like. One of the other things that we do that wasn’t common in the industry at all, but I think is becoming more so now, is we do fixed cost on our builds. They’re not cheap, but I’d much rather have people have that shock value up front and then be happy at the end of the project. One of the things I saw in the industry when I first got into it was. So many projects that people are working on never got completed. They would start with a builder and go, oh yeah, you know, give us 40 grand, we’ll start building this trailer.
NATE: And the money just keeps piling up and piling up until finally the customer loses all faith and they pull the project. And I didn’t want to ever be in that situation. I wanted to always be, hey, this isn’t cheap. There’s a lot of work that goes into these. This is what it’s going to cost. And, you know, full disclosure here. Our books are open. You can see every hour that we’ve put in, you know, and then when we go into the build project process, you know, it depends kind of on the unit. So there’s newer units that have much more stable bones there. They haven’t been on the road for 60 years. And we’re able to do what we call not a shell off renovation, where we pull the shell off the chassis. A lot of the old vintage trailers, we have to pull the shell off of the chassis. Wow. And rebuild the trailer from the ground up. Oftentimes the chassis shot, we have to build a whole new aluminum chassis. You know, the tanks, everything from the ground up. So these trailers, when we’re done with them, are going to last another 50, 60 years if if they’re maintained, you know, and we go through the process all the way through designing as we go for little finishes, make sure their aesthetic is into it. And then then we have the delivery day. You know.
ROSE: I love it. I love that personal touch, that collaborative approach to it. Yeah, it really makes it their own, you know, not just like every other manufacturer out there. This is this is really great for the customer. That’s awesome.
NATE: Yeah. And everything we do is a one off, which is kind of hard as a business model, but it keeps me engaged. You know, if I was to manufacture, I’m going to build 20 of these trailers. I could get the cost down and we can turn them out quickly. But we don’t do that. Everyone is different.
ROSE: That is true. So now more than ever, like you said, there’s a lot of people that are working remotely and they can be location independent. So what are some things that you and your team design into your builds that is super helpful for that mobile work life?
NATE: So back in the discovery stage with our clients, when we’re talking about how they plan to use their trailer, one of the big important questions is what type of places are they going to want to be when they’re mobile? So a lot of people now aren’t wanting to be confined to an RV park. You know, they want to be on BLM land. There are so many places you can camp but doesn’t have any infrastructure. There’s no there’s no plug ins. There’s no Wi-Fi. And so we need to understand that early on in the process so we can design that in. And so we’ve gone a lot more to more off grid trailers to provide the battery power. You know, the biggest kind of restricting factor now is actually water and wastewater. You know, we can build battery systems and solar that can give you enough power to run indefinitely on a trailer. What we can’t do is create water out of nowhere. And so that always becomes the challenge. We’ve done some things. We were working with a company called OAS who designed the shower system initially for NASA that recirculates your shower water, it scans, it determines whether or not to dump it or to recirculate it. Wow. We’re working with another company right now too, called Rainstick, that also recirculates shower water. So we’re, you know, we’re looking at ways of solving that kind of last issue. But then the big thing for anybody working remotely is usually connectivity. Yeah.
ROSE: Yeah. Of course.
NATE: A couple of years ago it was hotspots and weboost. Now we’re starting to move towards Starlink, you know, which gives people great connectivity no matter where they are, as long as you’ve got open sky.
NATE: So there’s a lot of areas where we’re working to create the ability for people to do business from anywhere. And then the other aspect of that is within the design itself and the functionality of the space. Right. So one of the things we found when you’re working in a small space is oftentimes you need to have a space that serves more than one purpose. A dining room that becomes a bed or, you know, a convertible desk space. You know, we’ve had clients who want standing desks. We have clients that want sitting desks. We have clients that want to be able to zoom and have their meetings just like we are now. And one of the things I kind of realized really early is it’s easy to make a space that can convert for multiple uses. It’s hard to make a space that does that seamlessly and easily where you’re not moving a bunch of stuff, and it takes time to set up because what happens when you do that? People end up not using it, and then they’re working in a space that isn’t comfortable for their body or isn’t great for their posture or whatever else. So really taking the time to get creative on how you set up the conversion of a space is really important. And that is another thing that’s just so unique to each client. I mean, we have a director who wants to have a standing desk. Great. So we built a standing desk, but that drops down and not always wants to stand, so sometimes wants to sit. So how do you convert all that with the connectivity and their screens for their meeting and everything else. And so that’s where the challenge comes in, is how to do all of that and make it look intentional, easy and still look classy.
ROSE: Right? Yeah.
ROSE: Pleasing to the eye. Yeah. So you mentioned fixed costs. Like you get to tell them kind of upfront what the base kind of is. Can you go over that a little bit curious. You know, like for us kind of listening what is this fixed cost. And I know the rest kind of is based on kind of what they need in their style.
NATE: So yeah. So the way the fixed costs kind of works is the labor aspect of it is always fixed. Okay. This is what it’s going to cost. Oftentimes by the time we start on a project, not all the materials and finishes are picked. So we’re able to give for materials. We’re able to give a cost estimate saying, okay, this is where like projects have come in on materials, but we build those at cost plus a markup for handling and everything. But we’re able to do that. And we started doing that during Covid because there was so much fluctuation in material cost that we found that if we locked it in at the when it was high and then the prices dropped, we. Or overcharging the clients or vice versa. We were eating it too because we had those fixed, so we found with materials it was a little easier to give flexibility throughout the build to keep that as the only variable in there with the range of what we were working towards. And it also allowed the client the ability to go, oh yeah, well, let’s go with this tile. It’s cheaper. Or you know what, I really want to spend the extra money on this. So let’s. And doesn’t create that big confusion of cross back and forth. Well is this covered in the bid or is this not so what we do is we fix our labor cost so and we break it down task by task. Okay, here’s a full shell off renovation. Here’s what it costs to demo it. Pull the shell off the chassis. Here’s what it costs to fix the chassis. Here’s what it cost to set the tanks. And we really break it down so people can see step by step. And it also gives people a better idea of what it actually takes to renovate an Airstream, because renovating an Airstream is kind of like restoring a vintage car, then building a house inside of it. So it’s true, it’s not uncommon to have 2000 hours into renovating an Airstream.
ROSE: Yeah, I was going to ask, how long do these typically take as well?
NATE: So that depends on the project. It can take anywhere from three months to over a year, depending on how complicated a project is. Right? I mean, we have projects that there’s so much subsystems that go into it. We use a lot of these Aldi systems, which is a radiant heating system. So you have radiant heat in the floor and.
ROSE: Nice convection.
NATE: Heat. So you don’t have that forced air. So it’s that nice heating system that you would expect, like a house that doesn’t have forced air. And you know, we’re going more towards a lot of the smarter systems on the trailers. Now. We’re developing one right now where you can control your whole trailer from your phone. So.
NATE: Before you go on a trip, you can go, oh, let me check what my tank levels are. Let me see if I have enough propane.
ROSE: That is pretty.
NATE: My battery level at and you can control that off your phone or off a off a pad right as you walk into the trailer.
ROSE: Yeah. That’s awesome.
NATE: Just the way of the future. I mean, everything’s going smart, you know?
ROSE: So very true.
ROSE: Got to keep.
NATE: Up with the.
ROSE: Times. Yeah.
ROSE: You do. So if someone comes to you and they’ve gone kind of through the process of like, okay, the fixed costs and this is my budget and maybe they can’t afford what you offer. Maybe it’s just not the right fit. Are there other ways that you can help or that you do help the RVers in this world, that you can point them in a different direction, or you just say, nope, sorry, no.
NATE: Absolutely. So one of the things that we do during the design process is we talk a lot about budget. I mean, none of our full builds are ever under 150,000, right?
NATE: But if you tell me you have $150,000 budget, I’m not going to design a $200,000 trailer. Right? Right. We’re going to design to your budget. And, you know, we aren’t always a match for everybody, you know, and I do have some other builders that are more like one man operations, but because of that, they can build a bit cheaper. The quality may not quite be the same as ours, but we do have some other options that we try to help customers with if they aren’t a match, you know? And I also try to really educate people too. So the secondary market on Airstreams is pretty affordable. And so if someone doesn’t have a budget for a full renovation build, I tell them the secret on how to get it in their budget. Okay, well, here’s what you do. You know, you look for this year, you know, these models that would fit what we’ve talked about. This is the price you should pay for that. Then if you want to do some upgrades in it, you can do it this way. And it’s pretty reasonable. So we really try to my goal is to help everybody who calls us. I spend a way too much time actually, even just free advice to the DIYers out there. We get calls and comments all the time. Oh my God, I’m trying to renovate my Airstream. I’ve ran into this problem. I don’t know what to do. Can you give me any advice? And I’ll sit down and I’ll spend time with them, and I’ll walk them through things that have worked for us, things we’ve learned. And, you know, that’s to me it’s important to embrace kind of the community as a whole. The Airstream and vintage trailer community is a small community. They all talk, they all follow each other. It’s, you know, and so it’s not it’s not even just that I also like to help people. It’s just it’s my nature. The one thing I would recommend to all the DIYers out there, though, is get some help on your electrical systems.
ROSE: Oh yeah, I’m sure. Yeah.
NATE: People don’t realize, you know, like. 12 volt systems can seem very benign. You can hold both sides of a battery terminal and not get shocked, but you can take a lead off of those two battery terminals and weld with it, and it creates a lot of heat and can create fires. And so that’s the one area where I recommend to people. Make sure you get some professional help on that if you’re not already very familiar with it. That’s the area where I’ve seen the most screw ups is with the electrical systems on there. You know, we’ve also helped people to like we’ve done the first phase of building for a lot of people who are contractors or do cabinets, and they want to do their own build outs, but they don’t know the metalwork side of like an Airstream. So we’ll help them do their design work and then do the shell off, set the tanks, run all the the rough electrical skin, the whole inside. So it’s beautiful starting ground to where they can do their build out on the inside. So we try to kind of work with anybody who comes to us. On getting them the most we can for whatever their budget is, to get them on their way to having a nice, safe trailer that speaks about them.
ROSE: Oh, that is great. You’re definitely looking after that consumer and that goes such a long way. Gosh, and that community, you said it. Community is everything and you are definitely building that community by helping and talking and just looking out for them. That’s great.
NATE: I hope so. I’d like, you know, one of the things I’ve been pushing for is trying to get more regulation in the industry.
ROSE: Oh, I agree, definitely needs to be more of that.
NATE: There’s none. If you take it to the DMV and your lights work and you have a breakaway on it. Yeah, you’re good to go.
ROSE: I don’t care.
NATE: What’s inside of it, you know?
ROSE: But it’s not just them. It’s everyone else on the road to, like, very dangerous, right?
NATE: You know, I mean, and the DIY ers that are out there do your research because weights and balances are critical in a trailer. I’ve seen people try to do builds where they put way too much weight in the back, and they can’t go over 55 miles an hour without the thing starting to go like this and fishtail down the road. So yeah, there’s so many things you have to pay attention to in the build. It’s right. It’s kind of what’s kept me really interested in this is there are so many things to consider in this. I’ve hired carpenters and builders from the home industry, you know, residential and a lot of them, they just can’t get it. It’s so different, especially in, like, the Airstream. Everything’s curved. Yeah.
ROSE: I was going to ask about that. That must be very challenging.
NATE: So you never have a straight walled cabinet, you know, in the back or a wall that’s straight. So everything is scribed in and it’s so much more time to build anything, because everything is curved, you know.
ROSE: So yeah.
NATE: It takes, it takes some special tradesmen to really be good at it.
ROSE: No that’s great. So like behind the business scene now business wise, how many people do you employ? Like you said, it’s a very special craft. So that’s a little tricky. What’s your team look like? Do you have a sales team talk about that.
NATE: Well you’re talking to the sales team.
NATE: I have about 12 employees.
NATE: I would grow that more. But the challenge is finding people and that is kind of our limiting factor in in this business. It’s hard to find good people and it’s hard to find young, good people.
NATE: I’ve got two guys in their 20s that I’ve looked long and hard for, and they’re great workers and they’re not your typical millennials. I’m sorry.
ROSE: That’s okay.
NATE: You know, that are like, okay, well, I’m just moving on. Give me more money or I’m out of here. They actually wanted to learn the trade and and love what they do. And so that’s that’s a challenge to find because a lot of my other guys are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. You know, they’re the old tradesmen who, you know, shipwrights and boat builders, which is a lot of what like what we do.
ROSE: It’s true.
ROSE: Yeah. They are curved a lot of the. Yep. The inside of the boats.
NATE: And so that is one of the challenges. But you know, we are branching out into other areas that have just kind of naturally occurred. Like we had an event last night launched a sister company called Halon I Event Rentals where we build Airstream event trailers. So they’ll be like a full bar. We have one that’s like a barbecue trailer, you know, we have another one that’s more for brand launches, and we’re going to continue building that fleet. It was kind of the natural progression. We’ve built a lot of event trailers over. The years, corporations will come to us and say, hey, we want to do a launch of this new brand. Do you have a trailer we can rent? We’re like, no, but we can build you one. So we build them one, right? Yeah. And eventually it was like, okay, we probably should have some to rent.
ROSE: No, that’s a great way to kind of scale your business.
ROSE: That’s awesome. Yeah.
NATE: So it’s kind of fun. And yeah, we just had a kind of a launch of Halo nine last night.
ROSE: How’d that go?
NATE: It was great. We had, you know, we put really cool lighting in the trailers, you know, and we got one with the, you know, a five foot barbecue on the front. It’s an old 1950s whale tail that had a tree that had crashed in the front and panel. And so me, I’m like, okay, what can we do with this? All right, let’s cut the whole front of this trailer off, put a barbecue on it, make a kitchen and a gull wing out the side. You know.
ROSE: That is.
NATE: You know? And then, you know, pretty much all of those trailers, all have that half height gull wing that opens up and kind of like a service.
ROSE: Makes sense.
NATE: And so it’s a lot of fun. You know we one of them we got rented out for six months and we just launched. So for a brand launch you know. And then so we had the mixer was kind of with a bunch of event companies and wineries that do events and stuff. It’s a great option. People are loving the Airstreams everybody wants to have like an Airstream bar or this or that, you know, at their wedding or event. So it’s kind of fun. It was kind of a natural progression of the business. Yeah. So it’ll be fun to see where it goes.
ROSE: No, I’m excited to hear that’s awesome. So I’ve spoken with many entrepreneurs about what it means to be an entrepreneur or why they became an entrepreneur. And it’s amazing all the different reasons they each gave. But it all kind of came down to a type of freedom that they were initially after, like freedom of time, freedom of, you know, their location, freedom of money, etcetera. So did you have a specific freedom? I mean, you kind of fell into all this, but kind of tell us. Yeah, I would.
NATE: Say I had a specific freedom and that is more of the freedom of my ideas.
ROSE: Nice. Yeah.
NATE: You know, I get a vision of what I want and want to create, and I don’t want somebody else telling me I can’t do that. No. You know, but along with that comes a lot of responsibility as an entrepreneur, especially when you have employees and people that rely on you. You know, the weight can be heavy sometimes when, you know, I’ve got 12 families that rely on making sure I make the right decisions. You know, I don’t think there’s really freedom in being an entrepreneur. I think for me it is more the freedom to pursue your vision, right?
ROSE: You’re not answering to someone else, maybe the customer. But yeah.
NATE: You know, you have the you have the call on the direction and where you move things.
NATE: But it’s like having a kid. It’s the best thing you’ve ever done. But you give up so much for it.
ROSE: Yes. You know a.
NATE: Business is the same way.
ROSE: I agree, my husband and I had our own small business that we started up, and we had it for over 20 years and it was our baby. It was brick and mortar. We were, you know, before our RV life and that freedom and how much we we helped others. But yeah, you still you have your time. You got to be there for them. You got to be consistent. So it was.
ROSE: Great. Yeah.
NATE: And I think I’ve never felt like I am the owner of my business. Right. I’ve always felt like I’m the steward of it. That.
ROSE: Good point.
NATE: This business is for all the people that work for me and rely on this business, and it’s my responsibility to make sure I manage it correctly and keep the their needs and their goals in mind to make sure that their families are supported. And so not a lot of freedom in that. The idea side is where that comes in.
ROSE: Yes. Okay. Yes, definitely. So you’ve been an entrepreneur for quite some time now. What have you learned about yourself as an entrepreneur? Any strengths, weaknesses and how have you overcome them?
NATE: Yeah, so probably the biggest thing you learn quickly is your weaknesses.
NATE: You know, and realizing that you can’t do everything and you shouldn’t try. I am a horrible bookkeeper. First thing I did was get a really good bookkeeper, you know.
NATE: I can be a bit opinionated. And what I think is the right direction to go. So I have another designer who’s very open to bending towards what the client needs. And, you know, knowing your weaknesses is probably your best strength and realizing that hiring someone to do that or finding a solution to that, you know, is, is key to working. I mean, I’m horrible at bookkeeping. If I did it, I would run the business into the ground just because I wouldn’t keep up on it, you know? Yeah, there’s just so much to do there. Right? My only regret is as the business grows, you get less and less time with your tools on, you know? I mean, because that’s where I always feel the strongest and happiest is when I’m out working.
ROSE: I understand.
NATE: You know, but that gets kind of just taken away from you without.
NATE: Without really wanting to, but it just does. So sometimes I’ll go in on a weekend and I’ll work and it’ll be like, oh, this was like such a nice relaxing day, you know.
ROSE: Oh that’s awesome. So is there any more advice that you can give for other entrepreneurs kind of building their own companies, like you said, you know, don’t don’t try and do it all yourself. You realize those weaknesses. Anything else?
NATE: Yeah, I’d say the biggest rule to keeping a company going is never be stuck on a fact that an idea has to work. So being fluid, being moldable, being able to look at what’s going on and adjust is huge. In business. If you’re like, oh, this is my business model and I’m going to stick to it, you’re probably going to fail what you’re going to find. And for me, what I found in business is you come in with a general idea of what you’re going to do, and then opportunities present or hiccups present themselves. And if you’re not flexible to be able to go, okay, I got to change and I got to meld and morph the way that I do things. If you’re too rigid, you’re going to fail. So you have to be flexible. And then you also have to always take the time to look at the big picture of things. You have to balance between the large overview of your business and the direction and the movement you’re going to, and then put on your other hat of fine tuning the minutia, making sure that your systems are set for success. You know that somebody else can replicate it. So you have to go between the large and the small, and if you get stuck in either one of those, you’re going to find yourself in a box canyon with no way out. So really important to be able to be flexible and just keep changing to work. Because my feeling on in business is, you know, you’ll have a lot of great ideas and you’ll go to implement some of them.
NATE: And it could be that the idea, there’s nothing wrong with the idea, but the timing was wrong, or it just wasn’t the right point to launch that. And it doesn’t mean you throw it away. You mean you put it on the back burner and you focus somewhere else, but you still have that in your pocket or arsenal. Like there’s areas like I have already created half of an educational program for the guys on how to do the DIY renovations, and I had to change focus because I was too drawn out and too thin, and I didn’t have the marketing in place to really launch it and these other areas. But it’s still something I’ll probably do down the road when I get a little time and I get other things set up, you know, the rental side of the business. I struggled with that for years because I was very concerned about I’m not going to build 100, $150,000 trailer and then rent it out to Joe Schmo, and he’s going to use it in his backyard and have a party where he’s drinking and drunk and the trailer gets trashed. And then it’s down for six months doing repairs. Right? So, you know, finally clicked me. Okay, well, I’m only going to rent to professionals. I’m only going to rent to event companies, event spaces. They have insurance, they’re covered. They’re going to have someone who’s not drunk manning the bar, you know.
NATE: You know, I wanted to do it for a long time, but I wanted to really think through what was the right approach to doing that. Yeah. So that’s the main thing I think is just being flexible and being able to shift and not be stuck on ideas. If they’re not working shift.
ROSE: Set them aside.
ROSE: Yeah. Set them.
NATE: Aside. Yeah. It doesn’t mean it was a bad idea.
ROSE: It’s just not the right time.
ROSE: No. That’s so smart. And to really. Think some things through and just get that feel. That is awesome. Now, one thing I forgot to ask you earlier as we were talking about, you know, the customers and all that, how do you acquire your leads? How do you acquire these customers?
NATE: So a fair amount is just mouth to mouth. But we also have Instagram and most people just find us online. You know, so people start searching about Airstream renovations and eventually come across us. And there’s only about 3 or 4 companies across the country that do what we do, that do it well. And what I think is kind of separated us from them is our willingness to really work with the clients to make it theirs. You know? And anytime anybody goes, I want to do something in Airstream that nobody’s done before. I get all excited where other companies I think are like, no, no, you can’t do that or we won’t do that. And me, I’m like, oh, that’s the one I want. You know, I want to lose some money, but make something really cool, right?
ROSE: That goes a long way too. I mean, the wow factor. Yeah. And that you really put the time into it.
NATE: Yeah, exactly. And that’s where we’ve gotten kind of a name and a reputation. And, you know, we’re very approachable. We’re very kind of down to earth and laid back. And we really make the clients understand and feel realize that it’s a collaboration between us and them. You know, that we’re partners in this build and we want their input. We you know, we’re not just going to put in stuff because we do that. We’re going to make sure it’s what they want. And so that’s where I think a lot of our success has come in once they’ve seen us. And and as I said before, the Airstream community is a small world. So pretty much anybody who likes Airstreams, you ask them, oh, do you know, innovative space is like, oh yeah, I love their stuff. You know.
ROSE: I mean.
NATE: We the other day we had on a regular basis we got some people in from somewhere in Europe. We’re like, oh, we were over here traveling. We had to stop by. We wanted to see your place. You know, we just had a client come by who’s been talking to us for a while, and they’re in New Zealand, and they want us to build a trailer to ship to New Zealand, you know? And.
ROSE: Oh, wow, we’ve.
NATE: Done that a couple times.
ROSE: Have you? I bet that’s not cheap, huh? But if they’re, you know, coming over here and want this done, they can definitely.
ROSE: Well yeah. That yeah.
NATE: We’ve done it before. And we understand how the kind of European electrical system works. So we’re able to build it to work over there.
ROSE: Yeah that’s smart. Yeah.
ROSE: So it’s awesome.
NATE: I think it’s just, you know, it’s a small community. So anybody who starts researching it comes across us sooner or later and looks through and usually gives us a call. And that’s how we get our clients.
ROSE: That’s great.
ROSE: So I love this quote that you posted on your Instagram. It says we are only as good as what we build. Our success can be measured in the reactions we get from our clients. That is so true. I absolutely love it and I think it definitely says what you guys are all about.
ROSE: So thank you.
ROSE: Yeah, this has been awesome. Is there anything else you would like to kind of tell us or we didn’t talk about?
ROSE: No, this.
NATE: Is pretty much up to you what you want to hear. So.
ROSE: Well, I think I think our audience got a good taste of it all. And so where can our audience find you and learn more about you online?
NATE: So you can just if you search up innovative spaces and airstreams will pop right up. It’s easier than typing in the web address which is enova.com.
NATE: But, you know, it’s harder to get all the exact URLs you want always. But.
ROSE: Right. That’s awesome.
NATE: Yeah, just look us up. We’re pretty easy to find and give us a call and have a conversation. That’s fun.
ROSE: That’s great Nate, this has been fantastic, I loved it. I loved talking with you. So I’m so glad you reached out and glad that we connected. And I’ll be sure to put all these links in the show notes. Thank you, Nate, for taking the time today to share your entrepreneurial journey with us.
ROSE: Take care.
NATE: Thank you. Thank you Rose. Have a great day.
ROSE: What a great guy. I hope you guys enjoyed my chat with Nate. He has so much love for the Airstream and vintage trailer community as well as the DIYers. He truly wants to help everyone, and you can really hear how much passion he has for his craft in everything he talks about. So it was really neat to hear this other side of the world and Innovative Spaces is doing some really creative things in this vintage RV space, and you got to hand it to this guy. He was having a hard time finding quality skilled workers to scale up his business. So what did he do? Thinking out of the box, he created these promotional trailers to rent to corporations for their events and boom, it’s doing awesome. So kudos to him. And I love the discovery process and collaboration he has with the customer, and how everything he does is with them in mind. And because of that, these trailers are truly one of a kind. It’s priceless. Nate also gave some really great entrepreneurial advice about being flexible in business and being able to shift ideas and not being stuck on those ideas. If it just doesn’t seem like the right time doesn’t mean to get rid of those ideas, just set them aside until it feels right.
ROSE: So this was a great reminder. Thank you Nate. So if you want to learn more about Nate and his work, be sure to check out his website at inova.com. Or you can Google innovative spaces that might be easier. And if you’re interested in talking more about RV entrepreneurism or looking for more info about it, make sure to jump on over to the Entrepreneur Facebook group or at entrepreneur.com. And we’re also having another AMA Ask Us Anything episode coming up with the three of us. So please jump over to that Facebook page again, send us a note or a voicemail on the website and share any questions that you might have, or share something that’s tripping you up. Please don’t hesitate to ask. No question is too small. And remember, we’re all here to help each other out and we’ll probably learn something from you all too. So we’d love to include all those questions in that episode, so let us know. All right guys, thanks for listening today and enjoy your journey.
The RV Entrepreneur is presented by RV Life – Tools that Make Camping Simple
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