In the Frogtown neighborhood of Los Angeles, a crew of music industry nerds is making something pretty amazing – and it’s not noise. They’re designing and building highly functional retro inspired campers. Their flagship model, the HC1, is now making waves beyond the West Coast – thanks in part to uShip for helping to make nationwide shipping affordable on these beauties.
Happier Camper founder, Derek Michael May, grew up watching his father restore vintage campers in their Ontario backyard. He’d always loved the feeling of comfort and freedom he got from being around those old trailers – the idea that you could just spontaneously pack up and go anywhere.
It’s that same wanderlust that eventually brought Derek – a musician, DJ, graphic designer and computer programmer – around the world and eventually to Los Angeles where he settled in 2004. His career drove him there, but the California vibes and landscape made him stay. Derek’s ventures in Los Angeles ranged from working in film to starting his own record label to inventing a drop-proof iPad case.
In 2010, vintage trailers made their way back into Derek’s life. He needed a way to start taking his products to trade shows and conventions, so his dad gave him a restored 1968 Boler trailer. He painted it his company colors, started bringing it to various shows, and the trailer became the company mascot. In Derek’s free time, he took it camping, fishing, snowboarding and to the beach with friends. He fell in love with it, but it was for business, after all, so he decided to buy another one to fix up.
Derek started buying trailers from the 60s and 70s for a few hundred bucks, restoring them and turning them into these masterpieces. Eventually, he had a small fleet, so he parked them in a Volvo mechanic’s lot on a main corner in Los Angeles. People were constantly bugging that poor Volvo mechanic to get their hands on one. Derek finally gave in and decided to rent one to a couple for a few hundred dollars – they had a great experience, wrote a stellar review, and business just took off from there! Derek put up a For Rent sign in the lot, and he called his business Happier Camper Rentals. As demand grew, he bought and restored more trailers. Eventually, Derek had himself a pretty solid business and a swarm of happy customers.
Organic Product Research
In 2013, he decided to put his design experience to work and started his biggest passion project to date. He built a new trailer from scratch. Derek utilized his own experience renting campers, as well as the wealth of feedback he received from rental customers, to build and refine his ideal camper. He took the best ideas from the vintage trailers he had refurbished and added some modern functionality to the design. Before long, the HC1 model was born.
The HC1 has a look that’s sleek and classy as any of the vintage trailers on Derek’s lot, but this head turner has incredible functionality as well. The super lightweight 70-square-foot trailer is made of extremely durable molded fiberglass and weighs in at just 1,100 pounds. It’s easily pulled by a compact or hybrid vehicle, making it significantly more accessible to a wider audience. The interior comes complete with modular cube components that fit together like Legos into grooves in the floor. Each cube is as durable, lightweight and weather resistant as the camper itself. Bench cubes have cozy cushions for sitting or sleeping. HC1 cubes can be arranged in over 100 different ways!
HC1 trailer options vary from going completely bare bones for hauling purposes – thanks to the trailer’s convenient huge rear door – to sleeping a family of five. Additional setups can transform it from a mobile office space to a food truck to a cozy den. The basic model includes AC wall plugs, light dimmers and storage shelves. No trailer park? No problem. Go off the grid thanks to options like solar power paneling, an AGM Deep Cycle Battery and a Zamp solar power inverter.
“Adding flexibility is a big deal to us,” says Derek. Happier Camper is in the late prototype stage of releasing a new 32-inch x 7-foot wheelchair ramp that can be easily converted into a back porch. The latest update available on the HC1 is a raised suspension suiting the camper for a more rugged, off-roading adventure.
Happier Camper customers can choose to have their campers either towed or transported on a trailer to their new home. They can even choose enclosed transportation. When using uShip, Happier Camper has been able to transport campers to the West Coast for an average of $500 and to the East Coast for an average of $2,000 (actual pricing varies.) Not a bad price for safety and peace of mind. We’re happy to have been a part of making this amazing experience available coast to coast.
Mixing Business with Pleasure
When Derek chilled on the music industry to focus on trailers, he took his friends with him on the adventure. Most of his staff is made up of musicians and DJs. At uShip, we have a history of hiring our friends, so we wanted to know how it worked out for Happier Camper. Derek says it’s been “a good experience” being surrounded by “some of my best friends. We’re expanding quickly enough that I needed to get people around me who I felt were capable and could help us grow.” It’s been a crazy adventure, and it makes him feel more confident having his friends along for the ride.
Happier Camper is booming, and it’s hard to keep up with demand. Each camper is made by hand and requires an 8-12 week build time. Meanwhile, Happier Camper has sold over 100 trailers in the past year.
Derek still finds time to get away every once in awhile, even if it’s just for a night or two. He did take a moment to sweeten our Texas pride here at uShip and gave honorable mention to a little swimming hole we call Hamilton Pool outside of Austin. He also got the chance to visit on a road trip to SXSW last year.
Happier Camper has had a lot of satisfied customers over their few years of providing lightweight high tech living spaces to the public. Some of their most notable are lululemon and several kombucha and coffee companies who use the HC1 as commercial vending space. However, Derek’s favorite customers will always be the first few who really took a risk on buying a unique unconventional trailer when the company was still fresh. Derek says, “I really appreciate them…they went into this blind.”
uShip is proud to be a transportation marketplace that has helped Happier Camper ship their raw materials and finished products. It’s an amazing part of the journey to help get these gems to their new owners and onward to all of tomorrow’s adventures.
We always love learning about cool companies, like Happier Camper, who have used uShip to help move their businesses. Are you a company with a great story? Let us know! We’d love to share it in an upcoming issue.