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Quest Overland finds a niche

When Ashlanders Ian and Hally Gillespie bought a Mercedes Sprinter van and toured the country with their children all the way to Maine, the family loved the freedom of the road, beautiful sights, cooking and camping, but one thing was missing: window covers so they could sleep comfortably in the privacy of their rolling home.

They got a sewing machine and made a foldable set with insulating foam sandwiched between ripstop nylon, able to be popped on windows and held there by magnets. Friends in van clans loved them and asked for some.

Presto! An idea was born, and it had that key element of demand. They checked out the internet and could find few van window covers — and they weren’t high quality. For six months, they made them at home, built an appealing website, and started selling them on Etsy and Instagram. Trade shows followed.

In April 2018, they realized demand was driving it to be a real company, so they set up as Quest Overland in the Hersey Street light industrial zone and now are hiring their fifth employee. Even with a staff, making a set of a dozen window covers takes a full day, and they are posting on quest-overland.com that delivery can take four to six weeks.

They are starting to make window covers for the Dodge Promaster and, if they want to expand to cover the full and growing range of vans, it would be a significant leap, one they would approach carefully, they say.

They sold 350 sets at $950 in the last nine months and, in a thriving van market, expect to ship 700 to 1,000 next year, says Ian. They also sell a magnetically mounted map pocket and other van trimmings.

The main website pitch emphasizes insulation values and a cozy home feel. “Eventually everyone ends up at a campground (or Walmart parking lot), where it would be really nice to have some privacy inside your van,” their website says. “Our window covers snap into place with magnets, providing instant privacy. They also prevent most light from escaping from the inside for a very stealthy ‘blackout’ effect.”

“It’s pretty fulfilling to work for yourself on something interesting and useful,” says Hally, noting that people living the van life are generally fun and easy to get to know.

“You meet a lot of nice people who want to travel more and buy a van and have a smaller footprint. They want to connect with nature and what’s important in life for them. Many bring their mountain bikes. Big van gatherings, like Descend on Bend, are getting more popular.”

They recommend the Van Life app and have met its creator, noting “It helps you find places to camp and connect with other van-lifers. They all value and preach the Leave No Trace philosophy of “take only pictures and leave only footprints.”

Hally hails from Connecticut and Ian from Southern California. They chose Oregon as home three years ago because of its vast amount of public lands. The company motto is, “See the world without the world seeing you.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneIan Gillespie shows one of the window cover designs made at the Quest Overland office in Ashland.