VanDoIt is no sideshow venture for Brent Kline and his son-in-law, Jared McCauslin. The duo’s custom van and restoration business has a partnership with Ford and customers motoring coast to coast.
“We have a couple out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they are actually a traveling circus act — like, they are actually a circus act — stilts, balloon tying, fire, juggle anything, throw each other through hoops, lifestyle and that’s what they use the van for,” said McCauslin, noting the couple keeps up to more than 80 costumes and all their props in the van which also provides them with a place to sleep. “They go on the road for about three to four months at a time.”
Starting at just under $50,000, a custom VanDoIt van takes an average of six months to build, but will evolve with its owner for a lifetime, he added.
“It’d be kind of like having [the] Adobe [Creative Suite] … Adobe values having all those tools. All the add ons. And that is what VanDoIt is as a whole,” McCaulsin explained. “It’s really what you do that brings it to life. You want cabinets? Great! One cabinet? That’s fine. If you want to [start] with one cabinet and you figure out later you want more, we’ll ship them to you.”
From extreme sports enthusiasts and caterers to retirees and nomads, VanDoIt has reached clients nationwide, said Kline, CEO, adding the company has had a significant impact on hospitals.
“I’ve learned that hospitals out west and even here in Kansas City, they pay their doctors to be able to stay on site. [One guy] figured out that he could buy a VanDoIt, make the payments, get rid of his car and he could actually make money off owning a van because he could sleep in it while he was in the parking lot, while he was on call,” Kline detailed.
Some hospitals are even willing to pay $150 a night for doctors to have access to a space to sleep in the parking lot outside, he added.
Beyond hospitals, VanDoIt is delivering an affordable housing solution, Kline said, noting that budget-minded consumers often can obtain a custom van for less than a typical motorhome.
Neither Kline nor McCaulsin initially realized the impact their venture could have on customers, they said.
“What I was doing before, it didn’t matter. It was just numbers,” McCaulsin said of his startup experience with VanDoIt. “This is different because when our people see we designed something a certain way, now they’re invested. And when you can invest in people, the return is so much greater. It makes the early mornings and late nights, honestly, well worth it.”
An unexpected detour
VanDoIt itself is a refurbished idea from the Kansas City-area family’s legacy company.
“About three-and-a-half, four years ago my previous COO suddenly passed away. I got a phone call and he was gone,” recalled Kline.
“That was devastating because he was just really good at running the company,” he said of his friend and partner who was responsible for day-to-day operations at Kline Van — an offshoot of Woody’s Automotive Group in Chillicothe and Kline’s multi-generation family business, which specializes in van rentals.
As Kline navigated the sale of a sizable chunk of the company in the days that followed, his phone rang with more unexpected news, he said.
“So after my guy died, Jared [McCaulsin], called and said, ‘Look, I don’t know the van business, but I can figure it out,’” Klein said, looking back on the conversation that ultimately shifted VanDoIt into drive and brought McCaulsin — who was managing and trading commodities in Valdosta, Georgia — back to Kansas City.
“He said, OK, I still would like to come, but I really don’t want to be limited to a rental leasing desk somewhere forever. I want to do something really big.’”
Figuring out what such a venture might look like was the newly paired duo’s next task, they recalled.
A mad scientist’s wood-be prototype
Years before, Klein and his sons bought two Westfalia Volkswagen vans with plans to restore them to their former glory, he said. But upon realizing the scope of the project, the idea stalled.
McCaulsin — a lifelong creative, dubbed “the mad scientist” — ultimately got his hands on the unfinished vans in between business hours.
“He starts sending me pictures and he said, ‘How would you like a van that looked like this?’” Kline said of the ideation phase for a custom adventure and lifestyle van manufacturer that ultimately would become VanDoIt.
From kitchen sinks to bunk beds, click here to see what’s possible with a fully customizable VanDoIt adventure van.
“It was a slower season for our rental business. I had to be in Chillicothe anyway. We had the facilities to gut a van, we had a van, it all kind of lined up,” McCaulsin said, describing the way VanDoIt naturally evolved
The business’ first prototype was 100-percent built out of wood, he noted.
“Not a spot of metal anywhere. It was all 2-by-4s and wood … just easy to mold,” McCaulsin explained, further elaborating the VanDoIt process which has remained nearly the same over the course of the company’s four-year history.
Though the family business has strong roots just outside the metro, McCaulsin was confident that parking VanDoIt operations in Kansas City would help the startup thrive, he said.
“I called Brent one morning and basically said, ‘Hey, we can make VanDoIt happen. We can make it a business,” McCaulsin said. “We can make it a business that makes sense for us and it can become a big deal, but it’s got to be Kansas City and it’s gotta be in Kansas City tomorrow.”
They loaded all their in-the-works projects into a trailer the next day, Klein recalled.
“I told Jared, ‘We’re coming’ and he says, ‘Where are we going?’ … I said, I have no idea,” Klein said, laughing.
“We’ve had a lot of roadblocks along the way and a lot of detours. But we’ve always been able to kind of stick with the core principles of really what we’re trying to tackle,” McCaulsin added.