June 27, 2023

Experience the Off-Grid Lifestyle with XGRiD Campers, find the Right Rig for your Journey. [EP 390]

Show Notes

Rick Saez
Experience the Off-Grid Lifestyle with XGRiD Campers, find the Right Rig for your Journey. [EP 390]

Welcome to Episode 390 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast featuring XGRiD Campers, founded by Loren Walker, an avid camper, RV’er, and outdoor enthusiast.

Shredding a traditional trailer on one of Loren’s adventures sparked the inspiration for XGRiD Campers. After a bit of research and connecting with makers of the world’s toughest off-road campers, Loren left his corporate job, and XGRiD Campers came to life. With stores in Las Vegas and Knoxville, XGRiD Campers is dedicated to helping backcountry adventurers find the Right Rig for their journey.

Presented to by:

Show Notes

You had a 23-year career in corporate strategy, branding, and partnership, developing software and platform technologies. Give us the Twitter version of what you did there.

Yeah, definitely not too sexy, but it was a good career, really in software, technology channel, sales partnerships, and strategic planning for some big companies. And it was a good opportunity for me, but fast forward to Covid, and things changed. So we decided to go a different direction and kick off with XGRiD Campers. This is much more fun,

How’d you get into the software thing? Were you just a software guy?

One thing left, another more on the, on the sales side, corporate sales side. And then kinda evolved from there, so that was really it. Did a lot of partnership development and ran some sales teams and things like that.

And so, how’d you get into the outdoors? I guess for years, your job kept you basically a weekend outdoor enthusiast.

Yeah, that’s what it was. I grew up actually near Yosemite, up in the mountains there.

And, so, always backpacked and hiked and did a lot of fly fishing and that sort of thing. I was definitely an outdoors guy. But what we ended up doing as a family, after I had kids, we started to get into RVing. We had done our camping, and we got into RVs. We ended up buying a 27-foot traditional RV.

And that type of trailer was not best suited for the types of adventures and experiences that we wanted to have. So started to research and looked at the off-road, and at the time, overlanding really wasn’t a common term. But now we know the over landing camper market and found that there were some neat products coming to market.

This is back in two thousand, 15, 16 type thing. And so that caught my interest, and that’s what started us off on this journey.

Where’d you grow up?

I grew up near Coarsegold, up near Yosemite. So on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, we spent quite a bit of time up through the mountains up there.

I guess the catalyst to leave the corporate job was just to switch gears from a work perspective. How was that?

Yeah, so what happened is we had this idea to start an off-road, overland camping business years ago, but we couldn’t do it cuz I had a job.

And so it was one of those things that were on the back of our minds, a business plan was written and got dusty and everything. But, come COVID in June of 2020, I found myself with some free time after some downsizing from the organization I was with. And decided that was the right time to kick it off.

So we had done enough research on the market, had built some relationships with some of the partners, and we kicked off XGRiD Campers. I say we and my wife and I got it going in June of 2020 as the pandemic and things were starting to open back up. Lucky for us, there was a little bit of a tailwind right then. There was a high demand for the products.

We had zero access to the products at the time because of supply chain issues, but it allowed us to start building the brand and start getting some pre-orders in, and so that’s what we did. We decided to venture off and start this.

So when we started this venture, What was important to us was to really have a narrow focus on the types of products we wanted to carry. And provide a different type of experience for buyers or researchers, I’ll say, that are in the market to potentially buy an off-road camper. It’s a different type of product. There’s a different knowledge base; there’s different technology with them. And a lot of the shops that work in the more traditional landscape, this is a little bit foreign to ’em. And so we went into it saying, Hey, we’re gonna focus on this niche. We don’t sell traditional RVs, and we just source some of the best products now from across the globe.

Yeah, you gotta be able to get yourself out of a jam. These are basically some of the skills that you need. If you have a flat back there, if something breaks, it’s all on you to fix it.

Yeah, exactly. And you need to know you have to understand first what you’re going for with a camper, if you’re out looking for an off-road camper, really what you’re looking to do. So a lot of the time what we do with our customers is we sit down with them, and we talk about their lifestyle. We’re actually working with them and figuring out where they wanna go. How long are they going out?

What’s the family situation? We’re really trying to be their consultant or maybe their trail guide, if you will, right on that journey to try to find the right rig.

That makes sense. We’ll get back to that customer thing in a minute. I read somewhere that there was a trip in Southern Utah that pushed you over the edge. What happened on that trip?

So that’s when we had one of our traditional trailers and found some really cool spots to go fishing with the family. Got back on a small trail, and frankly, the trailer wasn’t capable of doing what was needed for that trail. After getting hung up on some rocks and, bottoming out a little bit and breaking up some stabilizer jacks, scraping up the edges and the side of the camper going around trees, we just decided that we needed to find a different type of trailer to get back into the places that we wanted to go to.

I saw some of the brands you carry; it’s pretty awesome. Let’s go to the brand thing. What are the criteria for you choosing brands?

All the stuff that we carry has independent suspensions. And so what we do is we look a lot at how it’s built, right? So we start with the suspension, we start with the frame design, and then we go up from there, and, a lot of stuff we’re looking at, we’re trying to stay away from wood. Some traditional trailers they’ll use wood in the wall panels. Or sometimes even in the body itself, sometimes within just the cabinetry and that sort of thing.

So a lot of stuff we carry is zero wood. Wow. But really, what we’re looking for is how it’s built. It’s gotta be built in a way that can take very rugged terrain.

And do you get to test most of the products that you choose to sell for most of the campers?

Oh, it’s been fun. Yeah, we have a rental line, and so we bring in a camper, a new one, and use it as a demo for a little bit and typically move it over to the rental. We get out there and get to test them, and we have four partners, Australian Offroad Track Trailers out of Australia, then Lifestyle Campers out of Australia. And then also Expedition Trailers outta Salt Lake City, that we are the only dealership in the US, we are the exclusive dealership for those. And so we work really closely with them, as well as our other partners, to help look at what the market needs for the US. What makes sense here? And they’ve been very supportive of us to provide feedback and continue to build upon them as well.

So someone wants to rent one, they have to come pick it up? Do you deliver it to anybody?

They’d have to pick it up. We started with deliveries a while back, but we’ve paused on that now. Most people come to our Vegas office, and they’ll do the orientation with us here.

We spend about an hour showing ’em how to use a camper. They have to have the right tow vehicle, which we, of course, check on that beforehand. We give ’em some training, and then, when they head out, some people take it out for a one or two-day trip just to test it out, see how they like it if they’re in the market to buy. But a lot of people just use it as an opportunity to take a family vacation. You take them out for a week or two and go explore. There are a ton of places to go camping in the West. And we can give ’em some suggestions too if they’re not really familiar with it.

So what types of customers rent these or buy them? Is it people that are just like you and me, ready to get away, done with the corporate life? Or is a lot of folks that just want something to do on the weekends? I bet it’s a broad variety.

Gosh, it’s so broad. We have millennials that are buying and going out and exploring, and we have retirees that maybe have Been living in a fifth wheel or a big class A that are looking to be more remote. And so, really, the demographic of the buyer is all over the place.

But what they share in common is this desire to be off-grid and be away from the campgrounds and be away from the RV parks, but they still want some amenities and some comfort with the rig.

We have customer groups that we call ’em Weekend Boon Dockers; they go out for the weekend or go out for a couple of days and then come back, maybe stay in a campground, which is great. You have the overland enthusiasts, which are out there taking longer trails, longer trips, maybe exploring parts of the country.

And then we have full-timers too. We have full-timers that live in these rigs full time, maybe, homeschool kids or work remotely. And so what we’re trying to do is really understand which of these categories you fit in so that we can make sure to recommend an outfit and the camper the right way for you.

And there are all kinds of options these days. There’s everything from popups, the old school popups, to some of these new things like Taxa. How do you figure out what works for them? You must go through a lot of questions. Yeah. It’s getting into that lifestyle goal.

Oh yeah. If you wanna be more remote and you wanna get down narrow trails, we gotta go small light. Obviously, we’re looking at the tow vehicle and what the tow vehicle can handle. If you want the comfort of having a bathroom inside or an indoor kitchen, Maybe a hybrid or a caravan is the way to go. Are you comfortable being outside for doing your business, that sort of thing, and having a composting toilet or maybe a dry flush type toilet? That’s important. And then really the types of trails you’re going down. Are you staying on fire roads, which is great, or do you wanna be able to go explore and have the trailer be able to keep up with anywhere that you can go? That makes a difference.

And so yeah, we’re sitting down, we’re talking about that a lot. Size, weight, amenities, and capabilities there. All play a factor as we go through that journey and select a trailer.

How frequently does someone come in, and what they want? They’re not gonna be able to tow. So it’s driven by their vehicle. Does that happen a lot?

It happens a fair amount. Although I would say most of the consumers in this space they’re doing a lot of research. Okay. They really are; most people are very well-researched and educated.

They’re spending time on YouTube. A lot of times, by the time they come to us, they’ve selected a couple of campers, and they want clarifications or they want information that they can’t get online. Once in a while, you do have a customer that says, Hey, I want to tow this, and we’ll caution them or steer ’em in a different direction.

So how is XGRiD different from other RV dealerships? Sounds like the service level is off the charts.

It’s fun. So what we do is we offer an indoor showroom. We’re not a traditional lot. We keep limited inventory on hand. A lot of our stuff is pre-order. And so it’s more of an experience of coming in, having more of a discussion about the lifestyle, understanding what we’re trying to do, and then pairing it up. So it’s more of a process like that because we’re not trying to sell a lot of inventory off the floor. We’re not pushing certain items, but we sit down, have a consultative conversation with the customer, and then build it from there. We’re a small business, There are only five people in the Las Vegas office, and we have about five people now in our new location in Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s an owner-operated business in both locations. Both of us are partners and are heavily invested in the day-to-day operations. And so when customers come in, they’re working with us directly. And it makes for a nice experience. The main thing, I think, is being able to sit down and talk about the different capabilities and options out there and really get into the weeds and details for someone who wants that, for people that don’t; great.

Is there a wild customer story where someone came back from their trip, and you just looked at ’em as they’re pulling up, looked at the trailer, and said, what the heck happened? What did you do?

We’ve had a handful. We had a really gracious client; he took one of our rentals out on the Mojave Trail. And, it was actually, it was an Opus OP 4, which has a really good suspension and great frame and beat it up pretty well. Definitely came back with some bruises and everything. But the funny part about it actually is he actually bent the frame on his truck. So the fact that he bent the frame on his truck, but the actual camper came back and others some scrapes and bruises, it was actually sound. So that actually made me happy that my camper was okay. So it’s terrible for him, but it just shows you that you can, in many cases, I don’t recommend this for a rental, but once you have your own rig, you can get out there and beat it up if you need to.

So you have shops in Las Vegas and Knoxville. Why those two locations?

Las Vegas started cuz it was just time and opportunity. And that’s where partners that we’re working with, they needed a representation here.

So that worked out well for us at the time. So we’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. And, what was important for us looking for a second location is helping these partners we’re importing, particularly from Australia, to get them distributed through the US.

So we looked for another location out east, and that way, we could support them really across the entire country. Knoxville it’s just a great community. It’s an outdoor community, very in tune with the same culture as our business.

Other than Covid, or maybe since Covid, have there been a couple of challenges in the last two or three years that you guys had to overcome? Supply chain?

Yeah, certainly, during Covid supply chain and high demand and then low inventory, was it. Now for that, though, we do have some inventory. The stuff that we import from Australia still takes a little while, but that’s okay. People are comfortable with that. I think right now, the biggest challenge, especially on the consumer level, is understanding the products that are out there. There are a lot of products that are coming to market. A lot of the traditional RV manufacturers are looking to get into the off-road or land space. And so they, they look to make enhancements that might, on the surface, appear, feel like they’re designed to be off-road, but maybe they’re not. And helping the customer navigate this landscape of all the different options and what’s really good and what’s not, and really what fits their price point is sometimes the most challenging part.

Do you also carry a handful of some of the more traditional outdoor products? Do you guys go to shows like Outdoor Retailer to buy other accessory-type things? Not only for the trailer itself but also for some of the camping stuff.

Yeah, a lot of our outfitting we do for the trailers gear and accessories for the trailers; our Knoxville, Tennessee shop does have a full retail and outfit and shop too. So rooftop tents, awnings, coolers, power systems, and batteries.

It’s really geared around the overlanding market. We don’t do anything really with suspensions and truck mods and things like that. It’s really around the accessories and components that work with a lot of the campers we sell.

Do you get outdoors much yourself? Do you have time to get outside and go camping?

Yeah, we try to take a trip once in a while. We love doing client events.

We try to do three to four client events a year. So, customers that have purchased from us, we get together on a trail meetup, and so that’s a lot of fun. But then, between the expos and the different events throughout the year, to get some quiet time ourselves. But definitely places to go explore, and it makes it a lot of fun because it’s work, but it’s also what we enjoy.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for someone wanting to get into the biz? Whether it’s just the general overlanding biz or the rental biz specifically?

I think if you’re looking to be in the business, in some way, I’d say, find your niche, find what you want to do. I think there’s a lot of noise. And do something different. Find that new problem to solve, and then go after that, and you have to commit to it. We see a lot of similar products out there, and hopefully, they last, but many don’t. So I think those that thrive have found a new angle, a new problem, solved something different, and are committed to making it work. It takes a lot of work to do this stuff. There’s a lot of investment with it and commitment to it. But the people are great. The industry’s fantastic. It’s a lot of fun. And so you get out there and certainly get the rewards of that too.

Do you have a favorite piece of outdoor gear under a hundred dollars that you like to have on board at all times?

Yeah. It’s something I don’t sell, but it’s been with me for a long time since I was backpacking as a kid. I carry my same shovel, and I’ve got a collapsible shovel that has never left my side and have used it for everything, and it’s in my rig all the time.

Do you have a couple of favorite books? Do you read a lot?

I used to, and I think probably what I’ve gotten into more than anything is just professional type stuff and developmental type stuff or strategy and business strategy and things like that. I would probably say this goes back a while back to my former days in sales, but I think for someone that is in sales or starting to do that, The Accidental Salesperson, I think had a big impact on me. I read that years ago, and, it impacted me, I think also right now, reflecting, again, going back 20 years probably The E-Myth was a book I read a long time ago. The Entrepreneurial Myth and, now that I have my own business creating the infrastructure and processes for the business to operate on its own, that was something, at the time, I read didn’t quite fully comprehend the impact of that. But now, being a business owner, it has stuck with me.

As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say to or ask of our listeners?

Get out there and explore. I think what’s fun about this space is you can do a lot, and sometimes people are intimidated by the offroad over-landing space because they watch videos all the time of all the crazy stuff, and even when customers come in, and they’re a little bit timid maybe about, I don’t do this. And that’s okay, whatever you have, if it’s a two-wheel drive sedan, just go outside, just explore, go travel where you can. Take your time to build up to things. If you wanna get more adventurous, jump into different outdoor groups and Facebook groups. Go talk to people, go to these events, and you’ll start learning a lot. Everyone wants to help people out. and it’s a fantastic community, get into it. If you’re not, continue to advance yourself if you are, and just enjoy it.

And where can people follow up with you if they’d like to follow up?

So XGRiD Campers.com is our website. Go to XGRiD Campers.com; both locations are listed there. Come visit us in Las Vegas and also in Knoxville, Tennessee, or follow us on Instagram, Facebook.