SEMA News—December 2022
10 Questions for Duran Morley
By Douglas McColloch
At age 17, Duran Morley was involved in a high-speed motorcycle accident. “My motorcycle caught fire,” he said. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
While convalescing, Morley spent time watching YouTube videos on Sprinter Van conversions. Upon recovery, his “obsessive passion” became a business when, at 18, he opened the The Van Mart in a 1,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Huntington Beach, California. Now 22, he operates a 22,000-sq.-ft. facility in nearby Westminster that customizes an average of five to seven adventure vans per month. Additionally, his Van Speed online store offers branded parts such as bumpers, roof racks and side steps for the adventure van market. His accomplishments caught our notice to the extent that he was named one of SEMA News’ “35 Under 35” for 2021.
We spent some time at Morley’s shop to learn more about this fast-growing segment, and to find out more about the person behind its success.
SEMA News: What’s your latest personal project? What’s in your home garage?
Duran Morley: Right now I’m working on a ’69 Corvair that’s on a Jeep chassis, so its 4WD, and I’m making some changes to it along with my dad.
SN: Adventure vans have gained in popularity over the past couple of years, but it’s still a “niche” market. What inspired you to “take the plunge” and invest in this kind of business?
DM: Growing up, I always had a van. It’s the best way to get from point A to point B if you’re into motorcycles, or surfing, or snowboarding or camping. For me, it wasn’t the build aspect that attracted me as much as it was where the van can take you.
SN: Who is your typical customer, and what are his/her expectations when they first walk into your shop?
DM: Our customers range all over the place, but our biggest share are recent empty nesters, people in their 50s who want to travel more but who don’t want a 50-ft. motorhome.
SN: To folks who are new to overlanding, what advice would you give them?
DM: A lot of our customers do their own research for six months or more, so they have a pretty clear idea of what they want to do. For the rest, I’d say the best way to go about it is, don’t overthink it. Rent a van or a truck at first. There are companies like Outdoorsy or Alt Camp that can supply you with a rental for a weekend trip. It’s a lot cheaper to rent a vehicle than to buy a fully outfitted van and find out later that it’s not what you really need.
SN: Have rising fuel prices had any kind of impact on your business?
DM: Most of our customers are from California, so for them, a $.30–$.40 increase in gas prices doesn’t affect them all that much, so we haven’t noticed a difference yet.
SN: You were involved in a serious motorcycle accident at age 17, and spent months recovering from it. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
DM: You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but live every day like it’s your last.
SN: Are there any builders or mentors out there who have helped you along the way?
DM: Over the years I’ve worked for a lot of great people, starting with Jerry Zaiden from Camburg Engineering. It’s the place where I learned how to weld, which inspired me to get a welder in my garage when I was 14, to hook up a 220 plug and get to work. Roland Sands at Sands Design taught me a lot about design and engineering. It was great working for him.
SN: What’s your daily driver, and what do you like best about it?
DM: Realistically, my daily driver ends up being whatever van is on the lot. What I like about is, every day is a little different—but there’s noting like having a van to run errands, or to go surf in the morning and drive to work afterward.
SN: If you went back to school, what would you study?
DM: Industrial engineering and design because I love having the ability to design your own parts—the ability get your ideas on a piece of paper that someone else can understand.
SN: Where do you see your business going five to 10 years from now?
DM: We’re definitely focused on growing the recreational part of it, RV conversions for instance. We also have a commercial division that we’re looking to grow as well to help plumbers, electricians and contractors keep their tools securely stored.
SN: What’s your dream backcountry adventure? What would you drive, where would you go, and who would you take with you?
DM: Of course, it has to be a van! For me, I’d love to take a trip from Alaska all the way down to South America, and I’d probably go with my brothers because we all love to surf and we’ve all got motorcycles. It would be a dream come true.