We had the good fortune of connecting with Brad Piersons and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Brad, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk has been a huge factor in both my work and my life. From quitting my regular job and starting this business to taking a saw to the wall of a brand new van for the first time, risk seems to be at every turn. Being that I work alone and mistakes can be extremely costly or dangerous, the constant consideration of the risks involved can quickly result in a minor panic attack. While it would be foolish to avoid thinking about risk completely and old phrases like “No risk. No reward.” offer little to no help, I’ve put a lot of effort into focusing on the outcome, taking the proper safety precautions and formulating a plan for what to do if things go wrong. It turns out when you take the time to thoroughly think through your process and put a solid plan in place, you come to the realization that the task isn’t actually all that daunting and, perhaps more importantly, mistakes can be fixed. More wood can be bought. Steel can be welded and painted. You can learn to pick your nose with your thumb. Furthermore, as cliché as it may sound, you learn from every mistake. For me it’s usually a new technique or approach that broadens my skillset and adds value to my work. On one of my very first vans I had made a mistake that resulted in a trip to the bodyshop. At the time it was overwhelming. A little soul crushing to be honest. At that point I thought maybe the risk wasn’t worth the reward. But, after a long talk with the bodyshop owner I not only learned how to avoid the issue in the future and fix it myself but, that he, a man who grew up in his father’s bodyshop, had made the exact same mistake in the past. I’ve never considered that task a risk again. Why would I? It’s easily avoided, fixed and, as it turns out, quite common. I learned, I added a skill to my repertoire and have been able to pass that knowledge on to other builders over the years. Quite the reward if you ask me. So while risk seems to be at every turn, every turn has taken me down a path better than the one I was already on. Turns out the biggest risk for me is not moving forward… or losing a finger. Knock on wood. Not that wood! I just stained it. Never mind.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I build custom camper vans and take a lot of pride in the word custom. I want every single van to be as unique as the customer. For them to know that their dream can be fully realized and not just an amalgamation of pre-made components put together in order to resemble some version of what they’d envisioned. Raw materials come in. Their van comes out. No pre-made cabinets from Lowe’s. No solar power “kit” from large manufacturers. Truly custom from the bottom up. I think that’s what sets me apart. The ability to constantly say “yes” to people’s dream builds. To really give people what they see in their mind. That’s what makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning. Well, that and if the surf is good.

When I first started to gain momentum I was constantly asked “how do you plan on scaling your business?” It seemed like I was immediately faced with being a big company with a team of builders cranking out cookie cutter vans or, being a small shop that does a handful of unique, painstakingly detailed, custom builds a year. Being that I’ve always fantasized about being a cranky old man who knows way too much about router bits and steps out of his workshop only to spray kids with a hose while yelling “get off my lawn!” I chose the latter.

I build one van at a time. It affords me the ability to fine tune every detail, ensure a high standard of work and to be creative. It also gives my customers a direct line to their project. I spent a lot of my life in the service industry and I really take customer service seriously. When you’re behind the bar you want every customer to feel like they’re the only one in the room. With that being quite literal in van building I do my best to let every customer know that I’m not just going through the motions. Their van is just as important to me as it is to them. That objective has resulted in a lot of close relationships and years long friendships. I strive for that to show in my work and my company persona in general. I think personal connection, creativity and control over each aspect of a build is far more important than standing over an assembly line, building an empire. That being said, if a large conglomerate wants to buy me out for millions and scale my business you’ll find me on a beach in Mexico sipping watermelon martini’s, wondering if my speedo is socially acceptable and immediately not caring.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, there’s a pandemic going on so… throw some sweats on and try not to breath on each other? Party.

Being a proud Oceanside resident with a fondness for Vista, we’d have to start local. A quick stroll down Buccaneer beach, coffee in hand, feet in the ocean, pointing out my favorite surf spots while swearing up and down that I am actually good, and not a complete kook (despite what photographic evidence may suggest.) Let’s pretend it’s a Saturday and head over to the Vista Farmer’s Market and hit Veggy Jess’s booth for the most incredible breakfast burrito. After another coffee I’d probably drag everyone out for a quick hike on one of the many incredible trails we have in North County. Then, if we’re keeping it casual we’d head over to my local bar, The Draft, for dinner and drinks. If we feel like ironing our shirts and showering I’d highly suggest Blue Ocean for Sushi. I always aim to finish the night around the fire pit, beer from Mother Earth in hand, making plans for the next day while pretending we can pick out which hops are in our beers.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Being a workforce of one I have leaned pretty hard on my friends and family for advice and comfort over the years. My brother for never-ending wiring advice day and night. My mother to ensure me that everything I do is perfect and magical. My buddy Mehmet for continually stopping what he’s doing to lend me a hand. My life long friend Jenny who should probably bill me for the amount of hours we’ve spent on the phone talking through my decisions and plans. And, last but not least, my friend Dan who, from day one, has been a consistent wealth of knowledge on not just how to run a business but, how to run a better business and be a better business owner. He should also probably bill me for the hours and hours of advice but, he used to give me wedgies when I was 5 so, I’d never pay up.

Website: californiacustomvans.com

Instagram: @californiacustomvans

Youtube: youtube.com/californiacustomvans

Image Credits
Lauren Hensgens

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