Why Not From the Road?
Starting a Business as a Full-Time Rver
In the middle of the 2008 recession, Minnesota-grown Jeff Shelton decided to move across the country to California, to start a business from his home—a home that happened to have wheels. The plan wasn’t exactly to stay in California for good, but that small business idea grew faster than anyone could have imagined, and any RVer can tell you that the unpredictable moments in life are often the best ones.
The outdoorsy lifestyle was ingrained in Jeff from a young age. Growing up in his family’s marinas along the St. Croix River meant that he spent a lot of time outdoors, enjoying boating, camping and hiking. As an adult, it had the added benefit of having given him an interesting window into the industry behind these recreational toys. Jeff began working as an agent for boat and RV extended warranties, setting up dealerships to offer coverage to RV buyers. This was the way it had always been done, but from Jeff’s perspective it was also incredibly inefficient. He knew that if he could just talk to the customer directly, he could not only get them a better deal, but also a better education on what exactly they were buying.
“I knew that RVers needed coverage, and that eventually someone would see the same hole in the industry that I did,” Jeff says. “Somebody was going to bring this industry online and direct to the RVer, so why not me? And why not from the road?”
As the RV community began to embrace Jeff and his new website, Wholesale Warranties, he began to embrace the nomadic lifestyle right back. Jeff started his journey in a 2004 Gulf Stream Crescendo: 40 feet of eye-catching cherry red with the name of his company emblazoned boldly on the side. He spent most of his time in campgrounds next to the Pacific Ocean, or hitting the pavement for new adventures and tailgating opportunities, all while growing Wholesale Warranties from his big red RV.
“There was a defining moment when the RV lifestyle really clicked for me,” Jeff says, smiling at the memory as it comes into focus. “A good friend of mine got married in Utah, and a big group of us drove from San Diego to Utah in the RV. Everyone was comfortable, I was able to keep an eye on work, and we were able to settle into this amazing, remote boondocking spot that ended up being the most memorable part of the weekend. None of that would have been possible had we all flown in and stayed in a hotel.”
Of course there were, if you’ll pardon the phrase, bumps in the road. It turns out there is a hefty learning curve to living full-time in a Class A motorhome. There was constantly something new to learn, and something broken to fix. That last bit served as kindle for the growing fire of his business—Jeff knew firsthand how often RVs suffered mechanical breakdowns, and how expensive those repairs were. RVers needed access to reliable coverage, financial protection, and someone to talk to when things went south.
And so the business transitioned from Jeff making solo sales calls from the RV to him employing a small team in a local office, hashing out RV education and customer-service standards that would become trademark qualities of his business. Wholesale Warranties grew from a single, full-time traveler trying to do right by the RV community, to a dedicated office of 20 employees who work to uphold those same values every day.
San Diego, and specifically the Wholesale Warranties offices, may be home for Jeff these days, but the lessons he learned on the road are still a major part of his day-to-day life. “You find out how little you actually need when you just don’t have the space for it,” Jeff says. “I left a lot of junk behind when I first moved into the RV, and I don’t miss any of it.” Plus, there are undeniable benefits to traveling in an RV that he looks back on with longing: “You have your entire house with you! You don’t need to pack for a vacation, and you never forget your toothbrush.”
For the time being, Jeff’s RV life is reserved for sabbaticals into nature and weekends away, but it seems unlikely that it will stay that way for long. “When I look back on full-timing and starting this business, I realize that I was trying to find my ‘ultimate place’—the place where I was meant to stay long-term,” Jeff says. “But I think what it really taught me is that my ‘ultimate place’ is not having one.”
This post is sponsored by Wholesale Warranties, a supporter of ROVA magazine.