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Former teachers, Breanne Acio and Lacey Mayer, decided to leave academia to pursue a life of adventure and travel. These backpackers loved to explore, but they hated how cumbersome RVs were to drive. Following the minimalist trend and lifestyle, they set their eyes on something smaller and more gas efficient. Together with Breanne’s stepfather, Alan Hidy, Breanne and Lacey began SD Campervans. This van conversion business specialized in converting standard vans into fully customizable campers. The campervan renovations are done by gutting a van and retrofitting it to have a living area, sleeping space, composting toilet, and outdoor shower.

In addition to the campervan business model, Breanne and Lacey have taken their extensive knowledge about the van lifestyle and created an app, Van Life, that allows other campers to connect with each other and map where they can camp for free. Technology is a very important tool for RVers and campers alike. Marcus Lemonis is very interested in learning more about their van conversion business, but also in understanding their technology better so that they can combine their expertise in a way that is mutually beneficial for them and his companies, Camping World and Good Sam. In order to do this, Marcus must dig deeper into the business to determine if there is partnership potential with SD Campervans.

Because the van customization part of their business is so labor-intensive and unique to each build, SD Campervans is only able to complete two conversions a month. They are unable to keep up with the demand for their services and are turning business down because they do not have the efficiency, skill, and manpower to complete conversions in a timely and cost-effective manner. Marcus immediately recognizes that the problems on this side of the business do not stem from not having enough staff, it stems from not having enough cash flow to pay their employees. Because this is a family-owned and operated business, they have everything on the line including their money and credit and it has caused family tensions to rise, adding to the negative dynamics already happening in the business.

Upon looking at their financials, Marcus realizes that SD Campervans is simply breaking even each month. In order for their company to actually make money, they would need to convert eight vans per month, not two. They would also need to make their processes more efficient by taking advantage of pre-fabricated components that can be used during the conversion. Marcus is shocked that within the time period where they were filming this episode and evaluating this business, SD Campervans decided to shut down the van conversion side of their business. They were $200,000 in debt, behind in their rent, and had people working for free. They could not sustain their company using their existing model.

Although Marcus was shocked, he also saw tremendous value in their Van Life app and they decided to continue exploring that as a viable business option. Marcus would like them to come to Camping World and make a list of what products and services they think people need for their van life–both inside and outside of the van. They can then use the app to market these products while this comprehensive service will attract people to the app. By partnering with Camping World, they will get a piece of the revenue and advertising by using their knowledge of Van Life. This would be a win-win for Marcus because it would allow him to understand this market segment better, and it would help SD Campervans to get the traffic and exposure they need to make considerable money off of their app technology. Breanne and Lacey are concerned about this because they are not willing to give out the knowledge that they have compiled in their head.

While they are considering Marcus’ offer to partner on the app, Van Life is sponsoring a van meetup. Marcus agrees to sponsor the event with one of his companies, Good Sam. Because Good Sam offers roadside assistance, it would be a great opportunity for him to integrate with the 600 campers expected at the meetup event. He is disappointed to see that for his $5,000 sponsorship, there is very little promotion of his company or brand. He doesn’t know what he actually got in return for his investment.

When Marcus pulled Breanne and Lacey aside to discuss what happened, they explained that they feel like fundraising for the Van Life app is their top priority and they don’t want to partner with Marcus right now. Although they chose not to pursue this opportunity with Marcus, he is going to continue to explore the Van Life community without them. Marcus feels confident that Camping World will be able to do the work into understanding this part of the market even without Van Life, but wishes they would have seized the opportunity to partner together.

What do you think about this episode of “The Profit?” If you were Marcus, would you have continued to pursue Van Life even after SD Campervans went out of business? Do you think that Breanne and Lacey made a wise decision not to partner with Marcus Lemonis? Start the conversation in the comments below.

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