Move to West Fargo has Vanna Adventure Vans set to redefine the camper van industry

Co-founders Ben Gleason and Jason Gilbraith are set to relocate their business to a new space in West Fargo which will increase capacity tenfold. And they’re just getting started.

Vanna Adventure Vans co-founders Jason Gilbraith and Ben Gleason are set to relocate the production of their namesake custom vans from their Moorhead facility to West Fargo. The West Fargo space is five-and-a-half times larger than their current location in Moorhead, seen here from the outside at 1710 26th St. S.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

MOORHEAD — Vanna Adventure Vans has a problem. They’re running out of space, and they’re running out of space quickly.

Given the company’s rapid growth trajectory, it’s a good problem to have but a problem no less. Fortunately for Vanna co-founders Ben Gleason and Jason Gilbraith, production of the company’s namesake custom vans will soon be relocating to a new facility at 311 21st St. NW in West Fargo.

To mark the move, the company will host a two-year anniversary open house at the new facility from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 3, complete with complimentary food and drinks, a showcase of their vans as well as live music and art.

The new production facility in West Fargo checks all the boxes for the company, Gleason said, all inside a space that is five-and-a-half times the size of their current location in Moorhead’s industrial park. “It’s going to totally revolutionize (our process),” he remarked during a recent sit-down interview with The Forum. “It will instantly 10-times our production capacity and speed, essentially.”

Jason Gilbraith, left, co-founder and chief technical officer of Vanna Adventure Vans and Ben Gleason, co-founder and CEO, discuss moving their business from Moorhead to West Fargo on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Vanna helps customers build specialty vans such as Mercedes Sprinters or camper vans.
Chris Flynn / The Forum


‘Very much just the beginning’

As it is, the company is already pushing the limits of its current space in Moorhead.

When Gleason and Gilbraith founded the company in 2020, they began with a single, high-ceiling garage stall, with back-office work taking place in a loft overlooking the floor. Business boomed rapidly and, from 2021 to 2022, production space tripled inside. Vanna’s footprint swelled as the company took over adjacent garage space for all the carpentry, upholstery, plumbing, electrical and body work required to build a custom van.

Today, Vanna is pushing the limits of its Moorhead facility, Gleason remarked during a walk-through tour as mechanics, cabinet makers and finish carpenters whirred throughout the facility. “We’ve been very forward-thinking, so we knew at some point we would need more space,” he said. “We just weren’t sure when or how much space.”

Founder Ben Gleason and Jason Gilbraith are bringing custom van conversions and adventure van rentals to the Fargo-Moorhead area, a first-of-its-kind business on either side of the Red River.
The Moorhead company Ben Gleason and Jason Gilbraith founded over a year ago has found quick success with outdoor and travel enthusiasts across the country. “We want to build some of the best camper vans that people could get their hands on,” Gleason said.

Orders have poured in from across the country, Gilbraith said, with inquiries as far off as Arizona, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Alaska. Along the way, Vanna has made fans in far-flung areas as well. One man stopped by Vanna’s Moorhead plant for a selfie because his daughter in Colorado has followed the company from the beginning. “There are how many outfitters that have been in the game for 20 or 30-plus years down in Colorado, yet she’s down there and looking at us up in Moorhead, Minnesota,” Gilbraith recounted. “That was kind of a cool thing to look at and kind of realize, ‘Oh, it’s not just this area, it’s a nationwide market that we’re looking into.’”

That level of demand is a driving force behind the fact that Vanna outgrew its Moorhead facility in a matter of years. “We had orders coming in that we weren’t able to fulfill because of the lack of space,” Gleason commented.


The loft space inside Vanna Adventure Vans' Moorhead shop has grown quite a bit in just two years.

Jason Gilbraith, seen here in 2021, works on computer design in the studio loft area at Vanna Adventure Vans in Moorhead.
David Samson / The Forum
Today, the loft space inside Vanna Adventure Vans' Moorhead facility is a hub of activity, housing the company's marketing, sales and design teams. The group also includes five engineering interns from North Dakota State University.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

The marquee addition inside Vanna Adventure Vans’ new facility is a custom-built rail system for outfitting their vans, inspired by those used in the production of RVs, Gleason said. Furthermore, the space will contain van lifts, another new and critically-needed component of the business’s production process.

All told, Vanna’s production footprint will swell from roughly 5,000 square-feet to 28,000 square-feet. The new cabinet shop alone will be larger than the current Moorhead facility, which will be retained for storage, Gleason noted. “We’re pretty much transferring from two years of heavy, heavy (research and development) and our first, initial products and now we’re just going to streamline the whole process,” he said. “This is very much just the beginning.”

The team behind the van

Other than their new facility, ask what has changed in the past year for Vanna Adventure Vans and prepare for a nuanced answer on the ins-and-outs of the manufacturing process.


As Gleason mentioned, a large component of the past year was spent on research and development. That process included standardizing their processes and searching for components that are more energy-efficient and reliable for future van builds, Gilbraith added.

Gleason and Gilbraith have also been studying up on the principles of lean manufacturing and kaizen, two philosophies with a collective emphasis on minimizing waste and continuously improving. Thanks to the new West Fargo facility, those principles will go from conceptual to actionable in the coming months.

Vanna Adventure Vans' new location at 311 21st St. NW, West Fargo on Feb. 1, 2023. The space is five-and-a-half times larger than their current production facility in Moorhead. With more space and new lean manufacturing techniques, Vanna expects the new facility will increase production tenfold.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

It takes a team to put those concepts into practice, however, and Vanna has spent the past year bolstering its ranks in anticipation. The crew consists of 25 employees and five engineering interns from North Dakota State University, up from just 10 employees the year prior.

Those employees are subsequently broken down into eight groups, with each focused on a specific aspect of the van-building process. It’s a flat leadership structure, Gleason said, with one person leading each group. “With that format, we get a lot wider diversity of in-house talent. We have extremely talented welders, mechanics, electricians, finish carpenters, cabinet makers, CAD (computer-aided) designers and 3-D designers. That broadens our talent in house and let’s people do what they’re really, really good at,” he said.

Finish carpenter Ethan Orr works Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 inside the Vanna Adventure Vans shop in Moorhead. The company produces virtually all of the components for its custom vans, including cabinetry, on site.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Both Gleason and Gilbraith agreed that Vanna has been fortunate in its hiring process, though Gilbraith said its a testament to the workplace environment. “It’s not so much you’re traditional (structure): you have your people up in the office who get paid $100,000 a year, whatever it may be, then your salespeople make commission and the people on the floor make minimum wage,” Gilbraith said. “It’s very different here where we value everybody very equally. … We give a lot of respect back to everybody.”

Here, Gleason chimes in. “The team dynamic and aspect is a central part of Vanna’s work culture. It’s about all of us,” he said.

Beyond the bread-and-butter

When Vanna Adventure Vans first started, demand for custom van builds soared quickly. As a result, marketing efforts centered around the rental side of the business, which allows people to rent finished vans for a broad range of excursions.

David Hiles-Kolberg, left, cabinetry lead, seen drawing plans for a kitchenette and right, Brian Gaukler, finish lead, with canine companion Logan at the Vanna shop in Moorhead on Jan. 25. "It's a one-off conversion van we typically don't do," Hiles-Kolberg said. "This is just a customer's vision that we are helping with."
Chris Flynn / The Forum

So while rentals became what they were best known for, custom builds were the heart of the business. To stand out, Vanna drew from its Upper Midwest roots. “I think our biggest niche in the market globally itself is the four-season capability. I don’t think a lot of other outfitters have been able to perfect it or approach it as well,” Gilbraith said. “You can go in our vans in negative-30 degrees with water on the inside and not have to worry about anything freezing.”


Gilbraith, who at one point lived out of a van himself, also knew that vans needed to be up to the task when it counts. “A lot of our competition uses a lot of cardboard paneling, thin laminates that scrape, cheap hardware. It’s pretty much everything that looks nice when it’s in the showroom but then you actually take it out and it kind of starts falling apart,” he commented. “We want things that look great from the showroom but then last 10, 15, 20 years.”

Vanna refuses to cut corners, Gleason said, pointing to the vans’ robust battery banks, solid tongue-in-groove pine, cedar and maple slats as well as bamboo cabinets and counters. “Our whole approach is also a little bit different. Our starting point is: how can we make the best quality product in terms of durability, how long it will last and what environments it can be in,” he said. “With every decision in a camper van, with every component, you’re asking that question. With every single step, you’re asking, ‘How can we make this the absolute best, second to none?’”

MEP technicians, Kyle Rolie, left, Joshua Behrends, sitting, and Curt Bracken, underneath the van, work on Vanna Adventure Vans' first medical van on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 at the company's Moorhead shop.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

That level of craftsmanship is being applied to Vanna’s newest creation, their mobile medical units. The one currently under construction will be “the first of many,” Gleason said, with 40 units possible during the first year of manufacturing. The van will be used for appointments, prescription refills, physicals, booster shots, lab work and x-rays. Drivers wouldn’t need a commercial driver’s license to use it and like all Vanna vans, it will have four-season and off-grid capabilities. Because of those features, Vanna considers it to be the first of its kind globally.

While the van’s intended use represents a departure from the typical camper van, Gilbraith views the project as a chance to give back to the region. “What these will allow clinics to do is to go to rural areas where there are a lot of people who don’t have access to health,” he said. “I take a lot of pride and happiness in knowing that we’re going to be giving new avenues for people that weren’t originally available.”

‘Defining the next generation’

Thanks to their new facility, Vanna expects to finish 86 vans in 2023. It’s a lofty figure to be sure, but Gleason emphasizes it is not out of reach as the business enters year three in operation. It takes five years to build a stable foundation, he said, and the goals moving forward are to continue to increase volume and streamline the process.

Asked what he sees on the horizon, Gilbraith hopes to see satellite Vanna locations throughout the country, with showrooms, rental vans and staff on hand to guide customers in other markets.

Pondering the question, Gleason takes a broader approach. “I’d say our vision for the future is we want to be part of defining the next generation of camper vans and adventure vehicles,” he said.

Lori Lawson, left, and Linda Skogen see the inside of their new custom camper van made by Vanna Adventure Vans for the first time on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Vanna Adventure Vans specializes in four-season, off-grid camper vans which can include beds, electricity, plumbing and more.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

As part of shaping the future, both agreed they want to serve as the archetype for their industry. “We want to share or kind of serve as a role model for a new way of how people can manufacture, keeping a soul-based culture within a company that’s also practicing lean manufacturing,” Gilbraith said.


Gleason can’t help but nod and smile at the thought, as the co-founders of one of Fargo-Moorhead’s most unique businesses set the course for what’s next.

“I think we’re going to bring a lot of soul to the manufacturing industry,” he beamed.


Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over three years, primarily reporting on business news. He's also the host of the InForum Business Beat podcast, which can be streamed at or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reach him at or by calling 701-241-5518. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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