Great article, Ryan! I love the detailed explanations of the various options for sleeping. I consider myself a veteran “light-duty traveler” who stumbled across some of these things by accident over the years. My needs are different than yours (I’m usually traveling long distances for days and weeks at a time for work or vacation, so I usually don’t hunker down in a base camp very often), but I have a few questions and points to share:
Reflectix only works if there is an air gap next to it - Reflectix themselves recommend at least a ¾” gap between their material and the area to be insulated. This is the case because Reflectix is a radiant heat barrier, and when you put it right up against your van walls the foil cannot reflect back radiant heat (remember, radiant heat is only transmitted through air or a vacuum). If there is not an air gap, the insulating power of Reflectix is very low.

It is also essential to take a lean, data-led approach to choosing a business space. The average length of a commercial lease has dropped over the last few years but is still often well over five years, so the absolute last thing you want to do is rush into a signing and get locked into a bad situation. There are so many ways to test the viability of your business idea before you over-invest and sign a full-blown lease agreement.

If you are looking to sell your business, it is important to engage a lawyer who is a business specialist to ensure you gain the best possible valuation. A small business is valued by assessing the potential ongoing income from the business over the coming few years. Normally this means that a business will be valued at three to five times net revenues, which can present a potential issue for particularly tax-savvy small business owners. Remember that every time you write off an expense against your business, you are lowering the net margin of the business. So, that dollar you saved by writing off the expense could cost you three to five dollars on the valuation of your business.
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When you design your workshop setup, climate control often gets ignored — and that’s a huge mistake! If your workshop or hobby room is in an unconditioned space like a garage or basement, you could find that it’s brutally uncomfortable to work in there during warm weather. You’ll be much happier with a solid fan — or several — to keep air moving for your comfort.
After you are done narrowing down your list of business goals, you are now ready to plan out when they will be accomplished. Just remember, nothing is set in stone so if you need to remove or add something to your business goals later down the road, that's okay. It happens to me ALL THE TIME. Sometimes our priorities shift or things didn't go as planned and you need to make changes. 

Trademarking is a lot less expensive than most people think (although enforcement is another thing entirely), but make sure to do your research! If someone else is already using your proposed name, your application will be rejected right away and you will not only lose your application fee, but the time invested would have been in vain. And as you know, time equals money.


Ultimately, I did this to inspire my son. I want him to look at what I have done as a father and be proud. But I also want him to grow up into a strong man who faces fear in the eyes and doesn’t back down because of a challenge. I want him to say to himself one day, “if my dad built Optimus Prime, then I can do anything I want to do in life.”  I want him to succeed in every possible way imaginable, even when I am no longer around to help him through those challenges.
Compensation is a critical key to retaining and motivating the right employees. However, since small businesses often start out with tight budgets, compensation is an area they often struggle with, commonly leading to bad hiring decisions that affect overall business performance. The good news is that employers willing to step outside the hourly-wage box have a variety of options.
Garage spaces are usually not insulated, and garage doors on most homes have very poor insulation. That means it’ll inevitably be super hot and stuffy in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. To be comfortable in your workshop you’ll need to take the extra step to insulate your garage and set up some space heaters, and some portable floor or window AC units. Having to wear a heavy coat while you work will impede your DIY efforts and nobody likes working in a sauna.
Your sense of space and how to use it will be slightly different depending on the focus of your craft. If you are building furniture with hand tools, you will be able to make do with less space (under 300 sq ft.) than if you’re using mainly power tools and building sets of cabinets (over 400 sq ft.). Some 3D mod­elling with a program like Sketch-Up or some 2D layouts on graph paper with scaled cutouts can allow you to experi­ment with arranging your space and how much of it you will need. You should include not only the tools, benches and storage that you currently possess but also enough room to tackle new types of projects and new tools that you antici­pate needing down the road. When you think you have a layout that works, test it out by mentally working through a range of different projects you might tackle and the needs you will have for material storage, assembly and finishing. Then revise as necessary; this process will allow you to hone in on a general square footage and layout ideas that will set you up to move forward.

Wide aisles also prevent the dreaded butt brush, a term coined by top retail consultant Paco Underhill. His studies show that both women and men avoid tight or crowded aisles where they might brush bottoms with other shoppers. Really, this is a thing! Learn more about Paco’s retail research and insights in his book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.


While a single great product can’t usually support a whole business, it is beneficial to select one or two “headline” products that will form the cornerstone of your offering. This will often be an obvious choice: If you’re a coffee shop, your headline product will be coffee. If you’re a burger joint, you guessed it, it’ll be burgers. This product will often be the centerpiece of your marketing efforts and a way for you to “own” a space in a customer’s mind. For example, Jack’s Burgers makes the best cheeseburger in town and Daisy’s Threads has the most adorable scarves.
Tip: Save money on specialty displays! Many manufacturers offer retailers low-cost or free specialty display fixtures designed to highlight their branded lines, like the one pictured below. These make great speed bump or outpost display units on a tight budget. Your product line reps can tell you if they’re available, plus provide merchandising and display advice.
To help, it’s important to determine the average price per square foot for your area. Price per square foot is typically derived from the annual lease amount divided by the total rentable square feet of the space. You can find the average price for your area by typing your zip code into LoopNet’s directory of commercial properties available for lease.
We love natural light as much as anyone, and the big windows in our van were something we were super excited about. But when you're living in a van, you'll want some privacy. Trust me. You'll also need curtains to keep out the lights when you're trying to sleep. Making your own curtains can seem like a daunting task, but it's not all that hard. (I speak as someone who had to look up a tutorial to operate a sewing machine!)
Just stumbled across your article and it’s right on time as I am about to launch a special events venue (ballrooms, meeting rooms, outside garden area, outsourced caterer, etc). Not sure what type of zoning this business falls under. I read that zones are usually for office, retail, industrial and leisure. Any idea what type of zone I should be looking for? Also first time trying to get a commercial space for this type of business, any specific suggestions?
With all the time and effort you've put into properly merchandising your products, the last thing you want is for incoming customers to hurry past them — this ultimately limits the number of products they'll purchase. One way retailers combat this is through creating breaks that force them to pause. These are sometimes referred to as "speed bumps." Essentially, this can be anything that gives customers a visual break and can be achieved through signage or special/seasonal displays.
Some people lean towards starting a small business because they seek freedom, others to fulfill their passions. Some entrepreneurs, however, are driven by a desire to build a legacy, one that that they can hand down to generations to come. Whatever your reasons are for reaching for the stars and aiming for the moon, before you start, remember, there is a dark side.
I'm in the same boat. In Florida, we don't have basements, so my dedicated portion of the garage is 10' x 12'. In that space I have very neatly packed: 8' bench, Cabinet saw with 50" fence, 18" bandsaw, Dust collector, Joint, Planer, Drill press, Compound miter saw and a medium-sized hanging tool cabinet that holds all my nielsen stuff. I find myself moving my stool several times an hour just to work... Can't wait to move into a new house some day!
You need an out-feed table to support work exiting the table saw and band saw. By placing the tools close together, I was able to make one out-feed table that works for both tools. I put four pivoting wheels on the table, allowing me to shift the table in any direction. By placing a shelf below the table, I gained some much needed storage space for portable power tools. Finally, since this is a large work surface, the table also serves as a true, flat assembly table.
These basics are going to set you back about $180, leaving you with $320 left to work with.  We are going to be leaving behind two hand powered tools from the $250 shop and upgrading to powered alternatives.  This should lead to more consistent results, more enjoyable builds, and increased efficiency.  These are all goods things that only the biggest fans of The Woodwright's Shop would argue with.
Nicole and I decided not to go public with the cost of the build. Although we are very open about most things, we are a little uncomfortable about making an expenditure of this magnitude public knowledge. Furthermore, unless you live in the Phoenix area and plan on building the same size shop with the same patio and with all of the same finishing touches and labor requirements, the price isn’t all that helpful to you.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of choosing the right location when starting your small business. We’re sure you’ve heard the saying 1,000 times before, Location, Location, Location! Some of the world’s most well-financed franchises have this weaved into their business DNA. McDonald’s Ray Kroc is the perfect example. When asked about the business, this well-know American businessman and philanthropist once stated, “We are in the real estate business, not the hamburger business.”
Tired of holding a flashlight between your teeth while working in the dark? Make a light stand by bending a 2-ft. section of 12- or 14-gauge electrical cable into a U shape. Duct-tape the light to the ends of the cable. The wire can be shaped into a hands-free supporting base for the flashlight or bent into a hook for hanging. — Paul and Haylee Lytle. Check out another hands-free light hack.

Since grid layouts are used in most grocery, big box, and convenience stores, they create a familiar feel to customers. However, due to this familiarity, they tend to impart a grab-and-go experience. A grid layout can be a good choice for small retailers who shelf-stock inventory in quantity, like toys, books, magazines, specialty foods, kitchenware, and home goods. However, it’s not ideal for retailers who want to create an upscale, branded environment that invites relaxed browsing.
Note: Some of the links to products that we recommend on this page are affiliate links. This means that if you click through one of our links and buy something, we get a small commission at no cost to you. This helps us keep this blog going so we can continue to provide you with van build tips, tricks, and guides. We believe in honest opinions, and we never recommend anything we don't know about. Every recommended product on this page we've either used personally, have personal experience with, or have researched heavily.
Up until about ten years ago, if you were in the process of starting a small business and wanted to use all of the technologies listed at the start of this section, you would have needed to take out a second mortgage to cover the bill. Investing in retail technology has historically involved expensive hardware (including an in-house server), large upfront software costs, and hefty ongoing bills for customer support or repairs when things went wrong. Innovators were targeting large-scale enterprises like Coca-Cola, not local mom and pops, so the packages and price points were designed to match.
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is an open-celled foam board (think styrofoam) that is the cheapest of all the foam boards. It does work, but we generally don’t recommend using EPS in your van. It insulates less than XPS (R-4 per inch), and the gaps between the foam cells allow moisture to penetrate, which degrades the insulation over time. Polyiso and XPS are much better choices for a slightly higher cost.
Though store planning software isn’t a necessary tool for the average small retailer, it can certainly come in handy if you are looking to develop specific planograms, such as for the holiday season or a special event. Store design software is more common for multi-location retailers that want to deploy the same planogram in multiple places. Either way, if you are looking to build planograms, DotActiv offers a handy free tool.

Ultimately, your workshop should be a place that inspires you to be creative and to do your best work. When you take the time to plan the space for maximum efficiency and comfort, you’ll love spending time there — and that means you’ll get more done, whether it’s fixing up a car or building a new piece of furniture. No matter how you use your workshop, you should enjoy the time you get to work with your hands and make something brand new. So what are you waiting for? Get started designing your perfect workshop today.
For the next step up in convenience, consider adding a dedicated beverage cooler to your workshop as well. Though many people set up an old refrigerator in the garage for extra soda and beer, a dedicated mini-fridge will help you save on electricity, since new models are far more efficient than old ones. You can pack your beverage cooler with your favorite soft drinks for a pick-me-up while you work or use it to store a lunch to enjoy on a break —all without tracking dirt and or grease into your clean kitchen.
Let's talk about a few strategies for building out your shop below retail price.  There are the obvious ones like yard sales, craigslist, estate sales, and thrift stores, however, these can be hit or miss.  First of all, not everyone lives in an area where these avenues exist.  Second, when your brand new to woodworking, it can be hard to evaluate a tool that your buying second hand.  Because of this, I'm not going to focus on these channels in this post, but I will say, if your willing to do some hunting for second hand tools, you can easily save 50% to 75% on some perfectly fine equipment.

At the very least get the basics of shop design right with great lighting, clean displays, and a well thought out layout. Once you have all of this pulled together you can add a dose of your own personality to the store's design to break through the noise and establish a connection with your target customers. The goal is to be memorable and maximize sales per square foot at the same time!
Reflectix only works if there is an air gap next to it - Reflectix themselves recommend at least a ¾” gap between their material and the area to be insulated. This is the case because Reflectix is a radiant heat barrier, and when you put it right up against your van walls the foil cannot reflect back radiant heat (remember, radiant heat is only transmitted through air or a vacuum). If there is not an air gap, the insulating power of Reflectix is very low.

The thing I wanted to mention was that I moved from Seattle to Loveland, Colorado north of Denver in July ’05. I brought my ’01 Dodge Ram 2500 with a 8.5′ Northland Grizzly slide-in camper. It was myself and my 9 year old Black Lab mix Lucy. One thing I had not anticipated was the temperatures here in Colorado. It was 105-106 degrees for the first week I was here. My job was in Boulder, which is known for its “bunny-higher” types. I couldn’t leave Lucy in the camper at the RV park because I didn’t have air conditioning in the camper. I took her to work with me and tied her long rope to the trailer hitch on the truck so she could crawl under it and get into the shade. I also put out plenty of cold water for her that I replenished often. By the afternoon of my first day at my new job I heard rumors that people were going to call Animal Control on me for having my dog outside in temperatures that hot, even though she had both shade and water. I ended up having to leave early my first day so I could go purchase a $600 air conditioner and install it in the camper so I could leave Lucy there during the day and I didn’t have to worry about her comfort.


Sometimes you just know it when you see it. So always be prepared to capture pictures and take notes when you see store features that you’d like to try out yourself. And don’t forget the many online resources out there. Settle down with a cup of coffee and scroll through Pinterest for a treasure trove of store design ideas. Here’s a great board to get you started. Or get inspired by the many hip retail store designs on the Retail Design Blog.
Nicole and I decided not to go public with the cost of the build. Although we are very open about most things, we are a little uncomfortable about making an expenditure of this magnitude public knowledge. Furthermore, unless you live in the Phoenix area and plan on building the same size shop with the same patio and with all of the same finishing touches and labor requirements, the price isn’t all that helpful to you.
The big advantage to buying a pre-built camper is that it’s already built out, so you won’t have to wait to hit the road. Many feature innovative ways to convert the living space into a sleeping area, and may even include a bathroom/shower. These vehicles should also have electrical, plumbing, propane, and water systems already installed (although if you want solar power, you’ll likely need to add this yourself).
Non-Standard Miter Slots - This one is a downer.  One of the primary advantages of having a table saw is access to jigs that expand the saws functionality.  This is a major issue if you plan on buying after market jigs.  Given that we are limiting the cost of this buildout to $500, I am guessing that after market jigs are probably low on the priority list.  Your going to want jigs once you start researching what they enable you to do, my advice is to build your own - there are plenty of plans online.  
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