At SylvanSport, a Brevard, North Carolina-based startup company, Tom Dempsey and his team of designers set out to put the cool back into pop-up campers.
As an entrepreneur, Dempsey saw an opportunity to make camping, already a relatively affordable vacation option, more comfortable for a new generation, reported the Asheville Citizen-Times.
They came up with the Go, an 800-pound lightweight but solidly constructed platform that turns into a spacious living quarters that you can tow behind a Prius, instead of a huge pickup. The Go is billed as “Mobile Adventure Gear” rather than a trailer, which brings to mind the old-fashioned aluminum box on wheels.
“Pop-up campers are part of the entry-level RV world, which hasn’t really changed in the last 40 years,” Demspey said. “We wanted to take the pop-up camper out of the RV world into the REI world.”
The Go has proved a hit with enthusiasts eager to drive cross-country to Brevard to pick up their $8,000 campers, ordered online. Dempsey sees “a massive paradigm shift away from SUVs and big trucks to more compact cars, but people still want to play even if they own a Prius, so we hitched our wagon to a trend to more efficient vehicles.”
Dempsey got his start out of college as an industrial designer for Coleman, a leader in camping equipment, including those pop-up campers that your parents might have used on their summer vacations.
Dempsey went on to become a serial entrepreneur, starting up a medical supply company in Huntsville, Alabama, before returning to his first love—recreation. He was able to transfer much of the plastics injections technology from his first company into a successful kayak company, Liquid Logic, near Brevard, North Carolina.
The gearhead generation
But Dempsey kept thinking about those pop-up campers and how to make them cool for a new generation. Seven years ago, he started yet another company, SylvanSport, to see his vision through.
He enlisted the aid of Kyle Mundt, an industrial engineer who had worked for Johnson Outboard Motors designing GPS units and fish finders, and Tom Reeder, a mechanical engineer who had a background in precision metal manufacturing at Cane Creek Cycling.
They wanted to design a product that would appeal to “gear heads”— those outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate well-designed mountain bikes, kayaks, backpacking, or rock climbing equipment.
“We put our energy, time, dollars into truly engineering a piece of gear,” Mundt said inside a Go that he and Dempsey popped out in just 10 minutes. “We have a custom aluminum, tigue-welded extension frame that you would find in the best mountain bikes.”
“People think, ‘Oh, a tent on wheels’ and then they see one and fall in love. There’s a market out there,” Mundt said.
Camping has changed as people want to tote more gear with them to the outdoors, be it mountain bikes or kayaks. By the time you get everything stuffed in the back or tied on top, you’ve run out of room for the dog. The Go can haul all the gear, as well as provide two comfortable beds off the ground.
That versatility is what sells many customers, Dempsey said. The Go serves as a ready-made trailer to cart a motorcycle or lawn tractor or take home the refrigerator you bought at the store.
That interest in the cool camper cuts across a large demographic. One couple picked up their Go in Brevard and immediately set off for Alaska with it in tow.
Some 200 Gos have been sold to date, and Dempsey sees interest expanding. Triatheletes, kayakers, musicians, families, and couples of all ages have taken to the Go.
SylvanSport was founded in 2004 to develop great gear to support an evolving sense of adventure. Adventure can be on a mountain, river, or in your backyard.
Their team brings decades of experience designing and making outdoor products from the most respected companies. They offer products that blend utility, quality, and value while respecting the purity of the places our adventures take us.