Stephen Shives, owner of the Runaway Campers factory in Ocala, Florida, built his first camper in his backyard, on a whim in August 2012, mainly because he had some scraps left over from other projects.
“I finished it, put it up for sale on the Internet, and sold it within 36 hours,” Shives told ocala.com.
The campers measure 4-feet-by-8-feet and weigh about 600 pounds. They come primarily with a thin band of blue or red on a white background. Some units have a camouflage pattern, which appeals to hunters. Prices start at $2,395.
Each unit has an electric power strip so people can plug in coffee makers or other small appliances. A small air conditioner is optional.
Some buyers have purchased a small generator to power appliances when dry camping.
One couple even bought a unit so that when they visit friends or family or stop at a hotel, they can leave their cats safe and secure in the camper.
“I’ve had people who go to dog shows get one as a comfortable, safe place for the dog between showings,” Shives told ocala.com.
Young mothers have said they would use them when taking babies or small children to the beach.
Shives’ wife, Deidre, furnished her camper with a red comforter on the bed, red-checkered curtains in the small screened windows, a red storage box out front, and a tiny refrigerator.
When the idea for the business came up, Shives vowed to devote one year to it. Shives, his father-in-law, and a handful of staffers work long hours constructing about 10 trailers a week.
Now, he has to figure out where to take the business next.
Shives has a wall-sized map of the United States in his office where he tracks the location of each new purchaser.
More than 150 units have been sold to people in at least 33 states and one in Canada, many of whom traveled to Ocala to pick up their new camper.
Shives, who arrives at work as early as 5 a.m. said when he received an email from Australia, he “just kind of brushed it off.”
However, a follow-up telephone call came a day or so later; a man in Australia had seen the campers on the Internet. Once all his questions were answered, he ordered nine campers.
Shives and co-workers packed the campers into a mammoth shipping container that later was loaded on a ship sailing from Savannah, Georgia.
Originally from Baltimore, Shives, 47, has lived in Ocala since 1972.
Shives is the author of The Venturist, Finding Success When One Thing Leads to Another, published in 2009 by LINK Publications.
He has launched a dozen companies since leaving high school and starting work. Shives also has traveled in recent years as a missionary, and it is possible the mini-campers might eventually be shipped to areas hit by natural disasters such as earthquakes.
In a fun holiday twist, several of the units were strung into a “train” as an entry in the Ocala-Marion County Christmas parade.
Marvin Shives, Stephen Shives’ brother and the owner of Marion Detail, has several units on display at his shop.
He said women have told him they like the campers’ small size and maneuverability and that couples have measured them inside to see if they both could fit.
At the nearby Magnolia Bakery, owner Linda Castello said she had been so busy that she has not had time to think much about the little campers lined up across the street, but glanced over and took a long look.
“How cute. They are just adorable,” she said.
“Now I’ll have to go check them out.”
Started in 2012 by Stephen Shives and Father-in-Law, Robert Lane, Runaway Trailers is a debt-free, family run business, “where our main focus is not products and profits; but people.”
Address: 1338 N. Magnolia Avenue, Ocala FL 34475
Phone: (352) 299-6799
Only the curious will learn and only the resolute overcome the obstacles to learning. The quest quotient has always excited me more than the intelligence quotient.
—Eugene S. Wilson