Colorado-based Phoenix Pop-Up Campers has long been known as a custom truck camper manufacturer, but not anymore. In this exclusive Truck Camper Adventure interview, Rob Rowe, Phoenix Pop-Up Campers CEO and truck camper designer extraordinaire, reveals what the future holds in store for his company.
Hi Rob, thanks for talking with us. When we visited your factory last month, you told us about your new business model. Can you tell our readers about it?
Rob Rowe: I sure can. We have decided that we have been building several of our campers from two main models, while just adding on specific options each customer asks for. With this we decided to build our campers a little faster and to make all of our employees more comfortable with each build. Over the years we were asked to add options that we would have to spend many hours researching how they would work with our campers and how they work in general. Moreover, we would be asked to include options that were new to the market and had not been tested to work in a truck camper. We’ve come to the conclusion that the true amount of time and money we lose in being that custom is really not beneficial to the customer or to us as a company.
We’re offering four base models for slide-in campers (Base, Level 1, Level 2, and Stealthy-Mini), and three base models for flatbed campers (Base, Level 1, and Level 2). We can still be more custom with each build than other manufacturers as we will still build each camper from the ground up to the requested length, width and height of our customers along with their choices of cabinetry stain, countertop colors, and fabrics for upholstery and curtains. In all we are still very custom, but have decided to build our campers with proven options from over the years and the good ole’ KISS method of doing things.
Custom-made campers are what Phoenix used to be all about. This is a huge change. Why now?
Rob Rowe: Yes, it is. We want to be able to build more better-quality campers for our customers. After 30 years for building the Phoenix-brand campers and the history going back to when dad started Four Wheel Campers in our driveway, we have evolved into who we are today and can look back and see what is best for our customers, and today, we feel moving in these directions is what is best for our customers and for our business.
What exactly will you be offering customers to streamline everything?
Rob Rowe: Custom-wise, we still build each camper to fit nicely on to the truck it’s ordered for and whatever body length they request (mid-size 5.5 feet and 6 feet; full-size 5.5 feet, 6.5 feet, and 8 feet). We offer many choices of upholstery colors, drapery colors, cabinet stain color upgrade. Then we have a large number of equipment/accessory options to choose from on our “build your camper” tool on our website, so a person can design themselves a very nice, “custom to them” camper, made from everything we offer.
The way it’s streamlined is that we won’t be building with equipment or accessories that aren’t offered. We’re going to stick to the equipment and accessories that we know fit and work together best. For example, if a customer says “hey have you seen so and so’s refrigerator? Can I get one in my new Phoenix camper?” Our answer will be, “no, we offer a number of nice refrigerator options that we have used and tested in the field for sometime, so we trust them. You can choose one of those, or go ahead and order the camper without a refrigerator and install whatever you like, after you get the camper home.”
That makes sense. You’re offering quite a few flatbed campers. What percentage of your current sales are flatbeds?
Rob Rowe: About 15-20 percent of our sales are flatbeds at this time.
What are the key differences between the Level 1 and Level 2 slide-in models?
Rob Rowe: The Level 2 (L2) offers everything the Level 1 (L1) offers plus the L2 has a hot water heater and interior shower and cassette toilet.
The Level 2 slide-in camper used to be called the Mini-Max. Why did you change the name?
Rob Rowe: The Mini-Max was just a name given to a camper we had built for the mid-size trucks that had the many of the options already included. We had requests for a few “Mini-Max” campers, but the customers were still wanting to change many things about the floor plan and options, so through this process, the “Mini-Max” name itself was done away with, and it has evolved into what we are now calling the L2 Model.
What are the key differences between the “base model” and “Stealthy-Mini” slide-ins?
Rob Rowe: There are several differences between in the two. Our base shell model is just a “camper” with a lithium battery to run the interior led lights and electric roof lift. There is no cabinetry, no LP system, heater or water. It does come with a side window and front widow and screen door on the entry door. This camper also has under bed storage and a queen-size bed with mattress.
The Stealthy-Mini is built low-profile with a queen-size bed yet has NO under bed storage. This camper has all that the shell has (besides the under bed storage), plus it has a water system, cabinetry, sink/stove combo, LP system, heater, area wired for a cooler or fridge (fridge not included), and a dinette that can be made into a second bed. A solar power battery charging system also comes with the Stealthy-Mini.
Interesting. So are the L1 and L2 flatbed offerings basically the same as the slide-in models?
Rob Rowe: Yes the L1 and L2 offerings in the flatbed are the same as in the slide-in.
Will you still be offering different exterior paint colors?
Rob Rowe: Yes, we still offer to paint the campers whatever color the customer would like for an extra charge.
So with all of these changes, what will make Phoenix campers stand out from the competition?
Rob Rowe: We are still and will still be the only manufacturer that offers the campers to be built to the length, height and widths the customers would like along with the unlimited choices for their fabrics for upholstery and stain options for the cabinetry. With all of that said, we are still a family-owned small company that looks to put quality over quantity.
Lithium batteries, solar power, and inverters are becoming incredibly popular in the hobby. What options do you offer for each?
Rob Rowe: Starting with campers ordered in 2022, all Phoenix Pop-Up Campers include a lithium battery. Some models also include a 175 watt solar power charging system, and solar is available on all other models. You can upgrade your system with extra solar panels and extra batteries by clicking on those options on our website’s “build your camper.” With the advent of lithium batteries, the DC air conditioner is becoming increasingly popular too. What options do you offer including standard AC air conditioners running off of an inverter?
We offer a nice, wall-mounted 5,000 BTU air conditioning unit with vinyl snap over cover. It runs on 110 volt AC power with a low amp draw. To run this off of batteries, you need to build a big, 12 volt power system and inverter to run it for short periods of time. The options you would need to add are a second 100 amp hour lithium battery, two more solar panels, and a 3,000 watt inverter—this entire power system upgrade costs about $3,300. Note that these options also take up some storage space and add an extra 100 pounds to the camper so beware. It’s probably better to get yourself a 2,000 watt portable generator, and call it a day.
What about the toilet? Will you be offering electric Wrappon and composting toilets as options in addition to the cassette?
Rob Rowe: We offer the built-in cassette toilet only, if your order our restroom options. If anyone wants to get themselves an after-market toilet and bring it along in their camper instead, that would work just fine too.
Will you be offering a standard black tank and toilet in your new offerings?
Rob Rowe: No. Just a cassette toilet.
Thanks, Rob, for talking with us. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Phoenix campers and your company’s new direction?
Rob Rowe: Phoenix Pop-Up Campers has spent a lot of years building extreme, custom campers, and we are thankful for the opportunity to help design so many exciting, one-of-a-kind creations. But in the process, we realized that most of the equipment and accessories our customers would request in their “perfect camper design” would be the same as the ones requested by so many others that came before them. So it was like we were re-inventing the wheel over and over again. By using all of that experience we’ve re-shaped our program. We are excited to offer a few great models, with just the right performance-oriented features. We are hoping that these new models will be just right for today’s truck camper adventurer.