Coyote RV: Custom Pop Up Campers
- September 02, 2009
- - By Gordon White
Robby and Cari Rowe, Owners of Coyote RV, tell us about their company's history, new aerodynamic fiberglass front nose, and other changes to their custom pop-up campers.
Coyote RV specializes in custom pop-up truck campers for just about any truck imaginable. If you have an unusual truck, or a truck that's not a standard candidate for a pop-up truck camper, Coyote RV can help. If you have a unique vision for a pop-up camper layout, or a special feature in mind, Coyote RV can help. Or if you just want an extremely basic camper without all the ammenities that often come standard on production line pop-up campers, Coyote RV can help.
Two years ago, we stopped by Coyote RV and watched Robby Rowe, Owner of Coyote RV, building two campers. Not only were we struck by the fact that Robby was building two campers by himself, but we were also impressed that the pop-up campers he was building were completely custom. Robby even signs each camper like an artist signs his work, which gave us the title for the story, "Robby Rowe: Phoenix and Coyote Pop-Up Artist".
Two years later, Robby and his wife, Cari, have just announced their new aerodynamic fiberglass front nose. As you can see in the above graphic, it's big change for Coyote RV and one that they are very excited about. And that's not all that Robby and Cari have been up to.
TCM: Do you go truck camping yourselves?
Robby: We would like to, but we’re just too busy. We had a nice Phoenix camper on our truck a few years ago, but then guy came in and wanted that one and did not want to wait, so he bought it. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet had a chance to find the time on our build schedule to build another one for ourselves.
Cari: We’re looking forward to that. That’s for sure.
TCM: Robby, your father started Four Wheel Campers. What’s the history there and how is it that Four Wheel Campers is no longer associated with your family?
Robby: Growing up, my family camped in a pop-up Volkswagon bus. Then Dad wanted to get back into four-wheeling so we got an International Scout II. Dad removed the top of the Scout II and built a camper on top that engulfed the whole thing. That camper didn’t pop up or anything, but suited our purpose.
We camped in the Scout II camper for awhile until someone bought the camper right off of the Scout II. This happened a couple more times, and then my dad designed a camper with a pop-up top. That camper got a lot of attention where ever it went, so my dad took it to a RV show in 1973. That’s when Four Wheel Campers was started. He gained quite a few orders at that first RV show.
TCM: What are your memories of those early years?
Robby: I remember the first aluminum frame lying on our driveway, being welded, then roller skating around their new shop. It was at 62nd and Federal Street in Denver. Skating around the place was my participation in the business. At that age I couldn’t do much else but watch my dad and see his excitement!
TCM: How did things progress after the show?
Robby: My dad turned it into a real assembly line business. He built campers for 4x4 vehicles like Dodge Ramchargers, Chevy Blazers and Ford Broncos, but not pick-up trucks. Finally, because of the overwhelming requests he designed the slide-in pop-up camper and things really took off. The company got bigger and bigger for fifteen years. Things really went well.
TCM: That’s fantastic. Then what happened?
Robby: In 1986, our family had a huge change; let’s call it a family re-arrangement. After the re-arrangement, one party had the pop-up camper side of the business and one had the motorhome side of the business.
That’s about when the pop-up camper business was sold. In retrospect, it wasn’t a good decision for my family, but we moved on and started Phoenix campers in 1988. A phoenix is a mythological bird rising from ashes. It shows us coming back alive.
What’s important from this history is that we have been building aluminum framed pop-up campers for over thirty years in my family. We have a lot of experience, and all that really matters is that our campers are better made now, than ever before.
TCM: Did you always know you were going to follow in your father’s footsteps or did you find yourself in the RV business another way?
Robby: It was the last thing on my mind as a teenager. When I started working with my dad, it was just a job to get money to go out to the movies. At the time, music was going to be my life.
I really learned a lot from my dad when I worked with him with. We’ve worked together on various things from the assembly line, sales, and running the business. I respected what he did and felt tremendous pride for what he had built.
TCM: Do you still pick up a guitar and play now and then?
Cari: Yes, he does. Robby taught my son to play guitar and plays with the neighbors. Robby performed a song for our wedding.
TCM: That’s very sweet. Cari, you recently joined Robby at Coyote RV. What’s your role at Coyote RV?
Cari: I just recently got my M.B.A., so I help with marketing and sales as Coyote’s business development manager. Basically, I’m looking for different ways to bring in business and helping the company shine.
TCM: Tell us about this new aerodynamic fiberglass front nose you’ve debuted.
Robby: Since they were invented, most truck campers have been designed to be semi-aerodynamic. In reality, all of them are anti-aerodynamic. They slant inward into the windshield of the truck instead of taking the wind over the windshield.
All that wind resistance is not good for the mileage and the performance of the truck. You feel a lot of lifting when going down road when you are not aerodynamic. I always knew that it was a backwards idea, but it was the easiest way to build these things. Easiest isn’t necessarily best.
Now we have a molded fiberglass leading edge cabover. The bottom front is shaped like a sports car so it takes the wind when it drives on the highway from the tip up and over the roof and sides of the camper instead of sending it up the windshield and in between the camper and truck. It also shields the roof from water and wind so you don’t have stuff from highway under the roof of the camper. Plus, it looks a lot more classy and it’s lighter weight.
Cari: Robby took a few weeks to build the fiberglass mold by hand. He did it himself.
TCM: Have you made any other significant changes to the basic design or materials of your campers in the past few of years?
Robby: Yes. We have a designed and created a new table that is an option one can choose. It is made of fiber composite and resin materials. The table is clear topped with a rim around the edges designed to catch things that spill. There’s also a clear coating on the top surface, with an attractive antique aged compass poster photo just beneath. This new table is stronger and lighter weight.
Cari: We used to not offer the insulated Arctic Pack as standard. The standard pop-up liner was one layer. Now more and more people ask for the Arctic Pack, so now we made the four season pop-up liner standard.
Robby: Another change we’ve made is an available option electric push button lift. It makes the pop-up top much easier to lift. If our customers want the ease of pushing a button to push up the lift, they can add this option.
An early 70's Ford Ranchero with a Phoenix pop-up truck camper
TCM: Your specialty is custom pop-up truck campers for any truck. What are some of the more challenging trucks that you’ve built campers for?
Robby: Different trucks we’ve built campers for are the Jeep Scrambler, a 1963 Jeepster that looks like a Jeep mixed with a Rolls Royce, a Scout II, Scout, Jeep CJ5, el Camino, el Ranchero, a Honda Ridgeline, a Chevy Avalanche, flatbeds, trucks with no bed on the truck, and many, many more.
TCM: Most of those vehicles are not on the radar screen for the truck camper industry.
Robby: That’s right. We do all custom work. All of our units are built to the customer’s specifications so that they fit their trucks like a glove.
There are lots of different vehicles; hundreds of different trucks out there. No one wants to sell their truck and get something different. If they have a 1970 Mazda truck and want a camper, they come to me. I can built an extra light weight, simple camper to accommodate what they want.
TCM: Any camper build stand out in particular?
Robby: My favorite story is about a customer of ours who was an avid surfer from the Malibu, California area. He made good money in life and was ready to just surf. He had a flat bed Dodge with toolboxes on it. He said to me, “Dude, I want to do it my way”. He gave me his own fabric and his own flooring. He said, “You can take your time”. He drove the truck out here to Denver and left it.
The fabric had purple volcanoes and flowers. The floor was like a turtle’s shell. We took three months and built him exactly what he wanted. When he came to pick it up, he had tears in his eyes because he said it was just beautiful. He even gave me a tip, which almost never happens.
TCM: What are some of the other unique options or features that your customers have requested built into their custom Coyote RV campers?
Robby: People are thinking green, environmental, and minimalist. People want the campers to fit in their garage. They want good mileage and a camper that is lighter on their truck.
People have also asked for generators that are vented to the outside and customized fabrics. One customer even wanted a bathtub in the camper. They ordered it and sent it to us. It was like a foot bathtub that they could just put their feet in. It was really small, but cool.
Basically, we can do anything a customer wants, but most of our customers want a simple, minimalist, light weight camper.
TCM: It would seem that a custom truck camper would need a considerable amount of planning and design. Tell us about how you work with your customers to plan and design a custom truck camper.
Robby: The customers give me a list and tell me about their truck. Then, we can put their camper together. We then draw up a proposed build plan. The customer can ask for revisions and changes. Some people have the whole thing planned out in their minds. They email me and we work together.
Once we come up with a plan that works and is the cost that they want, we give them a time frame and it works.
TCM: If someone is interested in a custom Coyote RV camper, but doesn’t want to go through an extensive planning and design process, is their a popular configuration that you could start them with?
Robby: Absolutely. We have one very carefully designed arrangement for the interior layout, that is easily adaptable to just about any size or shaped unit. We’ve built many over the years. Our campers are time tested and well used. When building. The campers are mostly geared to the size and shape of the people, and the specific vehicle people have. Most everyone wants some sort of alteration and that’s what we do.
TCM: Other than being a custom shop, what do you think separates a Coyote RV camper from the competition?
Robby: The new aerodynamic fiberglass cabovers. I honestly just saw one driving down the road for the first time myself. People come from everywhere, so I don’t really see them on the highway. Well I saw this one and said instantly, “There’s one of my campers”. They look totally different than any other camper because they are on the leading edge and the cabover is in the opposite directions from everyone else’s.
TCM: As a custom camper shop, are your prices competitive with the production line truck campers built by your competition?
Robby: Yes! Believe it or not our campers are very competitive with the mass produced campers out there as we offer a lot of items standard on all of our campers. Sometimes I worry that customers assume they cost twice as much because they are custom built. Our methods are virtually the same for every camper we build. We have mastered building every piece by hand.
We are also a small family business with low overhead, and with only one employee who is not in our family, it keeps our camper costs low. We work really hard and try to do the custom work, better, and faster than anyone else could.
TCM: Tell us about your warranty.
Robby: Our warranty gives five year coverage for the body, structure (which is an aluminum frame), the flooring of the camper, pop-up liner fabric, and the lift mechanism. Everything else is a year. Some appliances are covered through their manufacturer.
If an out-of-state issue comes up, you can take your camper to a local RV service center that you trust. They calls us and we work out warranty issues with them so that you can have it covered close to you.
TCM: Looking forward, what’s your vision for Coyote RV in the future?
Robby: I want to see my units being used and enjoyed all over the country and the world by the individuals who buy them. Someday I hope to see more photographs of our campers in front of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Mt. Fuji, and beyond. Some of that has come to life and some hasn’t.
Our plan for the future is for folks to seek us out to build their dream camper for whatever vehicle they own. I want people to know that Coyote RV is the place to go for custom pop-up campers. We can do something no one else can do.
TCM: Is there anything that we didn’t ask you that you want included in your interview?
Robby: We have a special niche. I am always happy to send people to other manufacturers when I can’t help them, if they want to pick-up a camper right away, That’s not what we do. We need camaraderie in the industry. I like sending out customers to reputable people I trust. We want people to know that I appreciate the referrals people send our way.