Steve Moore calls car camping more glamorous, more secure and more comfortable than tent camping, as well as being more flexible, less costly, less stuffy than hotels and resorts.
“It’s the happy middle ground,” said Moore, who with fellow 2009 Sequim High School graduate Martin Nerbovig founded Camp N Car.
The company, a three-partner operation with Moore, Nerbovig and Micah Van Lelyveld, sells kits for transforming vehicles into rolling homes, and also does custom builds for those people who can bring their vehicles to the Port Townsend workshop.
Moore and Nerbovig founded the company after Moore took a six month trip to Alaska in a Honda Element that they converted.
10 percent of their clientele is local, Moore said, and 50 percent of their orders are custom.
“People come from as far as Arizona to have work done at the custom shop,” Moore said.
Van Lelyveld joined the team at the beginning of the year as custom shop lead.
“He is in charge of all the design and assembly of our one-off custom projects,” Moore said. “He joined because he had been thinking about starting a similar company and met Martin by chance when Martin was buying a dust collector from him.”
As technical director, Nerbovig is in charge of developing the products and writing instruction guides for their assembly at home, among other work.
“On the computer I design it, I cut it out,” Nerbovig said. “Then I torture test it. Then I modify the design. And then I do it again, and rinse and repeat until we end up with a bulletproof product.”
Any customers that are having difficulties can easily reach Camp N Car to be talked through the process. Moore said that a lot of their customers are new to DIY and that their company is helping bridge the gap.
As managing director, Moore spends a lot of his time using marketing skills he learned at the University of Washington, where he earned a degree in international studies, according to his mother, which he then developed through working for nonprofits and Dusty Strings, a harp and dulcimer shop in Seattle.
“He learned a lot about himself and what he was good at through the different jobs he had,” Moore’s mother Kathy said.
Moore also used his promotional skills on the trip he took by himself in Alaska. He charted out a series of music gigs at venues in the state, many booked ahead of time, thus alternating between solitary living in the beauty of the wilderness and socializing in those towns.
Camp N Car had assistance getting started from the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, which offers classes and other help for local small businesses. Rick Dickinson, C.I.E.’s program manager for the Olympic Peninsula, helped Camp N Car cultivate a marketing strategy secured funding, as well as a number of other things to make the business go, Moore said.
“It’s been fun to work with them and watch their growth as they have matured as a business,” Dickinson said. “They have a great combination of vision, commitment and adaptability, and I am excited to see their future success.”
Camp N Car became an official LLC in March of 2019, just in time for the challenges raised by the Pandemic. The company has done so well that they have already outgrown their first workshop.
That new workshop was a 3,000-square-foot shop before Van Lelyveld designed a 1,000-square-foot office loft, which the team built between August and October without employing outside help.
The Camp N Car team has also doubled in those two years: the trio of partners is looking for a seventh staff member, a custom shop carpenter.
“The goal is to have a business that supports our livelihood, while maintaining a healthy work life balance, and also to provide a place for people to work that has a positive, supportive work culture that offers the same benefits that the owners share,” Moore said.
“We do our best to not only make good stuff but to help people with problems,” he said. “Standing behind our work that we believe in has gotten us this far.”
Growing up on the Peninsula, both Nerbovig and Moore lived a childhood rich in experiences with nature. Moore’s parents often took him camping and hiking. Both of them emphasized that though he enjoyed it, he didn’t embrace the lifestyle until he was grown up, when he took it far beyond the seeds they planted.
Kathy said, “It wasn’t necessarily his favorite until he went to Seattle. Then he said, ‘I miss that,’ and found like-minded friends. You take it for granted when you grow up here.”
“As a parent you do the best you can the whole way,” said Moore’s father, Brad. “You say, here’s some things. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t. One of the things we tried to do along the way was go hiking and camping.”
Nerbovig’s family have been in Sequim since pioneer times; is parents own 35 acres in Happy Valley where he and his friends spent many days playing and exploring. Nerbovig and Moore said that they spent their time there well, doing things like building catapults and a “protoboat” that eventually sank into the pond.
“Steven and Marty both were band kids growing up,” Kathy recalled; Nerbovig played percussion and Moore played tuba, bass trombone and sousaphone.
“Martin is super bright, the easiest going guy on the planet,” said Brad. “Steven is super organized, a man with a plan. They get along really well — they always have.”
Brad ought to know: he taught both of them at Sequim High where he is the woodshop and robotics teacher.
“They were both excellent students,” Brad said. “They worked hard and were creative…. I was really pleased with them both.
“Martin has an engineering mind,” he said. “CAD (Computer-Aided Design) was something he did really well.”
“We are very pleased the two have remained friends,” Brad said.