Tents are fine. RVs can be fun. But no transitory home launches as many dreams of running away from it all as an Airstream. That's something Bill Ward counts on for his Denver-based business, Living Airstream, which rents out the gleaming aluminum trailers for events from camping to corporate. The instantly recognizable bullet-shape trailers are "an American icon like Harley-Davidson," Ward says.
Recreational renters can call one of his Airstreams, which include new models and vintage ones with 1960s-era amenities, home for a day or for months on end. Prices start at $175 per day for a vintage trailer; a monthlong rental of a new model costs $2,600. Many customers fall in the 50- to 80-year-old range and have been Airstream enthusiasts for decades. "This has the most diverse demographic of anything I have ever been involved with," Ward says.
He has sent Airstreams out for everything from camping trips and guest housing for weddings to hipsters looking for a backdrop for stylish selfies. They've also been used at Burning Man, the counterculture festival that takes place each summer in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
Mobilizing 'treps Airstreams aren't just for travelers; they get plenty of entrepreneurs going, too. Here are some other businesses built off the lure of the beloved trailers. Autocamp in Santa Barbara, Calif., offers accommodation in the form of highly stylized Airstreams with luxurious amenities (think trailer park meets Ace Hotel). It's the first of four planned California locations opening this year.Urban Air is an annual festival for Airstream owners and fans in EatonRapids, Mich. Former NHL players in Tampa, Fla., turned an Airstream into a commercial man cave to-go, the Mobile Cigar Lounge.BlueSteel Airstream Photobooth brings a mobile photo station to California weddings, fundraisers and parties.
Playing on the power of Airstream's iconic image and utility, Ward's company rents out units for corporate customers, too. The Airstreams have served as vinyl-wrapped mobile billboards (one-month minimum rental) and temporary office spaces (average rental time: five months). The bulk of the consumer rental business comes during warm weather, but the corporate usage generates income year-round. Ward estimates that the corporate advertising business brings in 10 percent of total revenue.
And for those who really fall in love with the Airstream lifestyle, the company sells restored vintage trailers (outsourcing the renovations) for an average of $15,000. Living Airstream's team of six part-time employees and independent contractors manages everything from deliveries to introductions to companies that make the vinyl wraps to finding folks who can do repairs and restoration.
Living Airstream has a constantly shifting inventory, with more in stock during warmer months. In the first quarter of 2014, the company expanded to San Francisco, where the proximity to outdoor recreation and the population's affinity for retro styling are expected to help the venture triple its revenue this year. Living Airstream is also expanding to Arizona.
Eventually, Ward hopes to move to "an inventory-less model." He is starting another business, Rentbowl.com, which he describes as Airbnb for Airstreams, ATVs, boats and other recreational vehicles. Customers will use the website to book the vehicle they want in the location they want; Rentbowl.com will take a cut, but won't have to take possession of or deliver the vehicle.
The new model adds to the "idea of a community" upon which Airstream was founded in 1931, Ward says. "We have such a solid start on what's next."