If you’ve ever been interested in a 100-percent custom-built truck camper, Phoenix Campers has a step-by-step Build Your Own system starting with a traditional slide-in or flatbed model. Their new website also features over 800 photos of custom truck campers.
At first blush, the new Build Your Own system from Phoenix Campers appears as a straight-forward process to designing a custom slide-in or flatbed truck camper. What isn’t apparent is the level of thinking that went into every step of the process. In fact, we were unaware of this depth prior to talking to the co-owners of Phoenix Campers, Robby and Cari Rowe.
With a second pass, it became clear. Instead of just creating a Build Your Own system that offered everything to everyone no matter what, they sculpted a system that guides you to the design, features, and options they know – from decades of custom camper experience – will work well.
As Robby explained it to us, he’s seen hundreds of custom campers and knows exactly where the pitfalls are. Their new Build Your Own system keeps you from those mistakes, and leads you to a winning custom camper design.
To learn more about the new Phoenix Campers website and Build Your Own system, we talked to Robby and Cari Rowe.
Above: Phoenix Campers is located in Commerce City (near Denver), Colorado
Before we talk about your brand new website and Build Your Own system, tell us how things are going. The RV industry has seen some dramatic changes over the past year.
Robby: Yes, demand has been very strong. Right now our custom build orders are booked out for approximately 14-months. There have been challenges acquiring materials and components, but we have been able to adapt.
The increase in demand is actually what prompted the idea for our new website and Build Your Own system. We needed to simplify and improve the camper design and ordering process for our customers, and for us as well.
Cari: The new Build Your Own system guides customers through the process of picking and choosing what they want in a custom Phoenix Camper. It presents options and puts the build process in their hands.
Once the process is completed, we respond with an explanation of the process if the customer wants to proceed with scheduling a build date. By having information about our build process and current wait time on the website, the customers know what to expect from the beginning.
Above: The interior of a Phoenix flatbed camper
That makes perfect sense. How much of the custom design and ordering process is possible in the new Build Your Camper system. Does it basically result in a ready-to-build camper order?
Cari: Once a customer completes the Build Your Own system, most customers will have a fairly complete custom camper design and order. If they have any unique requests or want to ask about something not included in the Build Your Own system, we can discuss that. At the bottom of the Build Your Own system there’s a space for any questions or comments regarding the camper.
Robby: One thing that is really good about our new Build Your Own system is that there is so much to choose from when you build your own camper. This gives you both choices and focus. From experience, people overthink things a little bit.
Above: The interior of a Phoenix Level 2 short bed slide-in camper
That’s an interesting comment. What do you mean they overthink things?
Robby: We have been designing and building custom truck campers with customers for decades. My father founded Four Wheel Campers in 1972, almost half a century ago. From that history, we have a deep understanding of how to design and build a custom camper that is going to give you the results and experience you’re after. That’s what separates Phoenix Campers.
Our new Build Your Own system incorporates that design experience and knowledge. We have carefully thought through each part of the Build Your Own process to ensure success. Not only does it guide you to the right design choices, but it also avoids expensive mistakes. The result is a best-of-the-best design.
Cari: We still evaluate everything before proceeding. The Build You Own system provides a winning foundation to your camper’s design, but we will examine every detail before a stick of aluminum is welded. That’s what we do.
Why do you require to non-refundable 25% payments?
Robby: Just like a custom home, our customers pay for down payments throughout the build process. We begin investing money and time in materials as soon as your order is made.
Because each camper is custom, we are ordering cushions, fabric colors, countertops, and parts specific to each camper. By ordering right away, everything is here in place the day we start the build.
Cari: Adding a new order pushes our build schedule back three weeks. Sometimes the long lead time discourages a customer from ordering. In the past, we have had customers casually back out with no deposit. That’s not only one loss for us, but potentially two or three of potential orders due to the lead time.
The first decision on the Build Your Own system is slide-in or flatbed. What is the build ratio of traditional slide-in versus flatbed at Phoenix Campers?
Robby: We build about three slide-ins for every flatbed.
Another interesting fact we learned in the Build Your Own system is that the length of a camper doesn’t impact the price. Is that correct?
Robby: Yes, a camper from five to nine feet in floor-length is going to be the same price. This works out because shorter campers are less material but require more labor. For example, with larger units, we can have two people working on a unit where the smaller unit we can only squeeze one, and it’s harder to get to things.
Cari: We have always charged the same price no matter the length of the camper. From a super short bed to a long bed, it might be a $400 dollar difference in material cost and/or labor cost. It evens out.
Robby: The important thing is that you can get your camper any length you want, for the same price.
Cari: If someone doesn’t want their cabover to come past the windshield, we can do that. If you don’t want the overhang past the bumper’s flares with width, we can do that. That’s one reason why we have the section for questions and comments (pictured above) on the Build Your Own form.
Is the base model essentially a shell?
Robby: Yes. I would call it an enhanced shell. It includes a Fantastic fan, battery, front slider window, side torq window, electric roof lift, entry door with screen door, and queen size bed with mattress and under bed storage.
Level 1 appears to be a full-blooded camper, minus a water heater and inside bathroom with shower and a cassette toilet. Is that correct?
Robby: Yes, exactly. In addition to the base model, Level 1 includes a dinette, LP system, fresh water system, electrical system, cabinetry, countertops, sink, stove, 2.3 cubic foot refrigerator, 175-watts solar, and a 10,000 BTU heater.
Above: Level 2 camper with a bathroom
And Level 2 adds the water heater, inside bathroom, shower and a cassette toilet.
Above: Aaron Macrae’s Stealthy Mini with the lower profile Phoenix cabover. Aaron’s photo in Alabama Hills won our calendar contest in 2020.
What is the Stealthy Mini?
Robby: The Stealthy Mini has a lower profile cabover, which is 5-inches lower than our regular campers. It is a slimmed-down version of our regular campers. It does not include a refrigerator. It only has a bench seat with a table to keep the weight down. There is a space for a cooler or cooler-style refrigerator and an electrical outlet for one.
The Stealthy Mini includes the low profile build option, which is $1295, but the others don’t. The others are normal height with under bed storage except when it is requested as an option to be lower.
Turning to the options, the one that really jumped out at us was the custom paint ($2,595). What’s possible with the paint choices?
Robby: What you get is a professional automotive paint job. We have a body shop that preps your camper, removes the windows, and gives the camper a full automotive paint job. The paint wraps up the side of the camper and 2-inches onto the roof. We leave our seamless aluminum roof un-painted.
The customer can provide their truck’s paint code and we can match that exact paint. Or, if you want a silver truck and black camper, we can do that in matte or gloss. If you provide the color, the price is the price and we do the job.
Does the paint hold up over time?
Robby: Yes, it’s a very high-quality automotive paint that wears well. We’ve been painting campers for many years and have had customers bring in their painted campers. What we’ve found is that the paint actually helps to seal the camper and retain the newness of the surfaces. I recommend paint for customers that want the best possible finish.
With at least 800 photos, we spent some serious time looking through the new photo gallery. Tell us about where those photos came from, and what they show.
Cari: They show a wide range of our custom campers from over the years. We just keep adding to it, so it will keep growing. We encourage Phoenix customers to send in photos. Email them to us, give us permission to use them, and we’ll share them on our website.
Above: Two custom campers underway at the Phoenix Camper factory
Any other news from Phoenix Campers?
Cari: We are in the process of bringing on a new sewing team member for our soft-tops. Sadly, our long-time soft-top liner seamster passed away from Covid.
Other than that, we’re in the same shop, with much the same production team. We’re still using double-welded aluminum frames, Azdel composite interior walls, fiberglass exteriors, fully-insulated floors, roofs, and insulated lining. We aim to build the best custom truck campers possible.
In the photos you sent there’s a military vehicle and a blue VW bug. What’s the story there?
Robby: The military vehicle is part of a custom camper project for a customer.
Cari: The blue Beetle was Robby’s birthday present.
Robby: And Christmas and anniversary presents for the rest of my life. I have always wanted one.
Cari: I looked everywhere and found one that was completely rebuilt and done. It was more money, but it was ready to go. I surprised Robby with it.
Robby: They had it repainted the original Ocean Blue from 1967. I would never change it. I love it.
That’s so fun! What’s the story behind the painting?
Robby: We bought that at a charity auction and gala. When we saw the Phoenix, we had to get it.
Cari: We partner with The Lion Project here in Colorado. It’s a non-profit that helps other non-profits with video production, marketing services, and service projects. The auction benefited their work. Part of every camper sold goes back to the local community here in Colorado.