The following is a member spotlight profile by the RV Industry Association (RVIA).
As the CEO of Class B manufacturer DM Vans, Dave Ramsay is passionate about building high-quality campervans for a diverse range of consumer lifestyles. He has personally owned and extensively traveled in a Class B RV for more than eight years.
“We’re starting to see much more creative use cases for RVs given the rise of working remotely and the general desire for more exploration, connectivity, and freedom that people are seeking right now,” he says. “It’s opening up so many more opportunities.”
Ramsay describes his background and his path to the RV industry as “unique.” He attended Williams College in Massachusetts, where he studied economics and psychology. After graduating, he worked at a finance firm in New York City and later a hedge fund in Connecticut before accepting a position at an investment fund that was started by his best friend.
Ramsay, inspired by his experience at his friend’s company, then chose an entrepreneurial route as his next career move: “After a year of that, I actually spun off and started my own investment fund.”
This decision would ultimately drive Ramsay towards the RV world: “When I started that business, I had investors that were all over the country. Also, I wasn’t making much money because I was starting a new business. So, the most affordable way to travel to meet them was to buy an RV.”
But there was a lot of upfront work to starting his business that prevented him from using his RV as much as he wanted. His solution? To rent his Class B Roadtrek out on RVshare and Outdoorsy.
“I thought it might rent for a weekend, but it booked up solid for four months. It generated a fair amount of revenue and people seem really enthusiastic about getting out on the road. I hadn’t realized there are other people that thought like me,” he said.
Ultimately, the operation became so lucrative that he started renting out his campervan on a consistent basis to interested RVers. He later partnered with a friend who worked in commercial real estate and began building a small fleet of RVs. “I started a little Class B RV rental business out of Minneapolis, where I’m from originally. They were renting well.”
Eventually, Ramsay moved his small fleet to the warmer climates of California. “I ran the business there for a couple years before crossing paths with Matt, my business partner at my current company. He was actually living in Colorado, and he was going to build out a van for himself.”
After discovering that manufacturing the campervans was much more affordable than purchasing them, Ramsay moved to Colorado and assisted Matt and his friends with building their first custom campervan, which they finished in the spring of 2018. Afterward, Matt took the campervan on a coast-to-coast road trip before officially putting it on the market.
“It sold for substantially more than it had cost to build it, even after driving it all around the country,” Ramsay said. “We realized there was clearly a need in the RV market for an RV with a simpler build.”
“We had constructed a van that was everything that you need and nothing that you don’t. It was a very simple and efficient buildout. So that’s how the business started. We were selling them all over and we found there truly was this need for a simpler build that was less intimidating and very reliable. And it was put together by people who have traveled in them so extensively and who have seen how they can be used for different lifestyles. That’s the philosophy of the business – that was the core of what we started with.”
Dave emphasizes that they are building RVs for demographics that have traditionally not been thought of as RV users, ranging from professional Cross-fitters to mountain bikers, golfers, programmers, travel nurses and more.
“It’s been really cool to tap into those markets. We’re reaching people from all walks of life – people that I hadn’t even realized could benefit from RVing.”
Throughout the past few years, DM Vans have increased their staff, moved to a new facility, and determined the company’s long-term strategic vision.
“Our mission statement is to make van life accessible to everyone. I’ve been working with the team to strategize on what the next one, three, and ten years should look like. We’re hoping for more positive years for the RV market, and it does look like that should happen so we’re ready to take the opportunities as they come. In the meantime, we’re focusing on what we can do internally to make ourselves a better business.”
Another key to the team’s success is that of the 22 staff members, over half of them have traveled extensively in a DM Vans LV product. In fact, the entire management team has spent months at a time traveling in their vans, making them personal experts on the products and how to people use them.
As van life continues to grow in popularity, DM Vans is growing with it. “Our goal is to be a voice for RVers across all different use cases who have embraced this lifestyle,” Ramsay said. “We want to bring a different perspective to the industry.”
One way that the company plans on spreading the word to the wider RV industry about its unique position and consumer base is through attending RV Industry Association events, especially the Leadership Conference. “We want to make sure the industry knows that some RV consumers are doing things differently. It needs to be acknowledged that there’s a lot of possibility and opportunity to improve people’s lives. Sharing that message is a huge part of what we’re trying to do.”
Ramsay noted that the Leadership Conference has also made possible some remarkable industry networking opportunities. “At the last conference, we were able to speak afterward with the panelists – the CEOs of THOR Industries and Winnebago Industries. I talked with them one on one-on-one just to hear their perspectives. Winnebago Industries’ headquarters moved to Minnesota, where I’m from, so we discussed what spurred that move. I was also able to ask what THOR Industries’ thoughts are on the Class B RV space. It was great to have those conversations.”
“The RV Industry Association has been super helpful in connecting us with people in the industry who can help us find the right individuals and resources,” he said. “We’re a new company, so when we attend the Association’s Leadership Conferences, we’re there to learn about the RV industry and the Association’s resources. However, we’re also telling our story, which is a unique one for the Class B space and for RVs in general. It’s not the typical manufacturer story. That’s our hope – that we learn from the industry, and they learn from us.”