Business booming for Gilbert custom van maker

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By Howard Frank
Pocono Record Writer

Posted Apr. 10, 2016 at 9:25 PM
Updated Apr 11, 2016 at 1:13 AM

 

A thriving niche business in the West End that makes wheelchair and stretcher accessible paratransport vans in a 13,000 square foot Gilbert facility is ready to expand.
TCI Mobility takes stripped down cargo vans and customizes them for corporate purchasers — like transportation companies, airport shuttles, prison vans and assisted living transports.
The business is the brainchild of Steve Hoffman and Scott Weinstein, mobility dealers who began the operation two years ago. It takes customer’s custom needs, specs out and builds the product, finances it through its own financing division and transports it to end users all over the country.
The vans sell from about $35,000 to $50,000. About 10 percent of its product is non-paratransports. A school bus on the line Thursday will hold nine passengers.
But it hasn’t been easy. When the company started it was completing two vans a week for regional customers with four employees. It now delivers 10 vans a week and employs 12. The typical turnaround time is three to four weeks, but it can have a vehicle ready in a day if it is configured as a standard package, according to Production Manager Pete Klenke.
The company receives a stripped cargo van with nothing but two front seats; not even interior walls. It installs ceiling, lights, air conditioning, walls and reinforced floors to secure wheelchairs. All its products comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and are Department of Transportation and Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier compliant.
Weinstein said the customization facility is flexible enough to stop its production line to spec out and create a new feature for a consumer.
“Every van we build is a little better because we learn things and upgrade it. We are a smaller builder so we can slow the line and retool. We fabricated one for a bigger wheelchair.”
Some units have esoteric components like heated window washer blades and comforts to transport someone who wants to use a laptop while in the van.
Before the company began its customizations, the paratransport market limited riders to tiny Dodge vans with basic accoutrements, Hoffman said. Now, with its sound, climate and other interior modifications, the passenger can ride with greater dignity.
The company employs local workers who live within a couple of miles of the facility, Weinstein said. That means many can still make it in the snow.
“These guys, the workforce in the Poconos, are amazing, outstanding, dedicated, hardworking guys who struggled with us to get it off the ground,” he said. “It’s exciting for it to come to fruition.”
But success sometimes breeds change. The company has run out of room. Hoffman said, and it is looking for another property of at least eight acres, preferably in the county, to double the size of its operation.
“We want to build a retail showroom and service and repair facility,” Hoffman said.
Its current location is overloaded with stripped vans waiting to go into production.
“We’ve outgrown our facility already, busting at the seams trying to keep up,” Weinstein said. “We can’t keep up with the business we have.”