This is part of a series on West Chester entrepreneurs. Know someone who’s taking an innovative approach to the mantra, “Follow your dream?” I’d love to share their story. Thank you to Benchmark Federal Credit Union for making this expanded content possible.
It’s always around this time of year, when the air is sweet with dying leaves and the temperature is just starting to cool, that I imagine myself a camping enthusiast. I crave waking up immersed in the brisk morning air, cozy in the warm embrace of my power-down sleeping bag. I dream of smores, blankets of night stars, and sipping coffee around a campfire. Then I remember – we don’t have anything to make that coffee in, our sleeping bags are not temperature-rated, and we own a two-person tent for five people.
But man, if I had the goods…which is precisely where West Chester couple Hillary and Seth Todd hope to come in. They are the owners of TG Customs, a custom van and camper builder and HGTV show waiting to happen. Together they convert full-size vans into amateur outdoor enthusiast’s dreams – or “glamping to the extreme” as Hillary called it.
The adventure for Seth and Hillary began four years ago, stuck in a traffic jam on the Donner Pass just outside Lake Tahoe. They were there camping. Burning Man had just ended, and hundreds of concert-goers decided to drive their RVs south to continue their adventure. Unfortunately, those large RVs kept getting stuck. “And then you’d see a van go by,” Seth described the scene.
They left that mountain with an idea for a better camping experience. They came home, bought a Dodge Sprinter extended cargo van of their own, and in 2019 set up shop. (Seth has a background in railroads, construction, and building renovation. In his free time, he likes to renovate boats and rebuild jeeps. So the leap wasn’t so great when they said, “Let’s do it!”)
Proud to be West Chester Built
If you are coming west down Miner Street, you will see on your right a low brick building with bright-blue, double-hung barn doors. It is in this old, unconditioned space (it was hot the day I visited) that Hillary and Seth build their state-of-the-art, handcrafted conversions. “We always promote that we are from West Chester,” said Seth. Even though they draw clients from well outside the area.
The first van was supposed to be for Seth and Hillary, a fun side project, and in many ways it was. “We learned from the first,” said Hillary, but it was still pretty darn good (I did mention Seth’s background, right?), and by now, pandemic lockdowns were in full effect. Well, as I am sure you can imagine – it sold like nothing, and a business was born.
Each year Seth and Hillary complete four vans. It’s a manageable pace that gives them time to travel and their clients an exclusive experience.
“Everyone gets our full attention for three months,” said Hillary of their custom builds. If you want it, they’ll squeeze in a full kitchen, bathroom, sleeping for up to four, dining space, and storage, all in just 65 to 78 sq ft of space. Need something else? They’ll find a way to sneak it in there for you. I found one picture of Bluetooth speakers embedded in a step-up stool and another of a fern-papered accent wall.
In addition to the living space, there are the mechanics. Each van is fully-conditioned with electrical, running water – and, thanks to a series of solar panels, they are completely off-grid. You just need to get water. (Being completely custom, clients can exclude any of these features, but this is the camping experience most are looking for.) The spaces are small but swanky. The materials used are almost always top-of-the-line.
“You can use the best because there is not a lot of it,” said Seth.
Glamping for All
Still, the high-end finishes, the mechanical, the custom labor – it all adds up. Even with TG Customs passing along the material costs directly – “Clients just pay for labor,” Hillary shared, owning a custom van is easily a six-figure endeavor. So, this fall, to help bring the custom camping experience to a broader audience, Seth and Hillary introduced their first teardrop camper. This adorable tow-behind camper is packed with nearly as many amenities as the vans (just no bathrooms and the kitchen is outdoors).
With the teardrop listed (you – or I – can now rent it on Outdoorsy.com), and their own trip to the Sawtooth Mountains in the books, it is time to start on the next build. Where will it take them? Well, that all depends on the imagination of the client.
“It’s a fun community,” said Hillary. It certainly seems that it is.
4 Reasons TG Customs Should Get Their Own HGTV Show
They know the importance of visuals. Each build starts with a client intake discussion and pictures, lots and lots of pictures. “The more people give us the better,” said Seth.
They already embrace the big reveal. While clients are usually welcome to stop by the shop, they are kept away near the end. “We don’t let them see it for the last three weeks,” said Hillary. “[The reveal] is our favorite part – or at least it’s mine,” she said.
They have great catchphrases. “We are always saying we are smarter than the last van,” said Hillary.
Location, location, location. Shop location always plays into HGTV shows – and what better backdrop than the charming streets of West Chester?
The only federal credit union to exclusively serve Chester County, Benchmark Federal Credit Union provides commercial lending products for local businesses. Clients can count on personalized service, local decision-making, and quick loan turnaround time. Benchmark FCU not only understands your business but can provide a wide range of financial solutions, including commercial real estate-secured loans. We’re ready to be your trusted business banking partner. To learn more about our business banking solutions, visit http://www.benchmarkfcu.org.