Bainbridge business is all about getting out and about

Have you ever wanted to go camping, but didn’t want to invest in the gear or the transportation?

Have you ever wished your neighbor with that great Westfalia van would loan it to you for your adventure?

Relax, PacWesty has you covered.

PacWesty is in the business of renting Volkswagen camper vans for just such a trip. In business on Bainbridge Island since August, the company now has six vehicles in its fleet and plans to add more.

“We’ve combined our love for Volkswagen vans with our love of adventure on the Olympic Peninsula,” said owner Greg Dronkert.

“There’s a whole cult of people who follow the Westfalia vans, and we’re with them on that. But we really want to help people get out and see what’s available throughout the Olympic Peninsula.”

Dronkert, an engineer by trade, grew up around Volkswagen vans. His parents had one and he drove a VW van when he was younger.

But it wasn’t until this past year that he realized the rental demand for them. So, he began with two and added four more to the fleet, hired a marketing person, an office coordinator and a mechanic with a special knowledge of Volkswagen van repair.

Then he named the vans.

“There’s Lulu and Rosie, and Daisy and Burt, and Ernie and Joule,” he said, noting how special Joule is — a neon green 1969 Volkswagen van which is being converted to all electric.

There are differences in the vans, and intended uses. Some meet the needs of families. Some have propane stoves. Some have pop-up roofs to allow for double-decker sleeping arrangements inside.

As Dronkert and marketing manager Nora Phillips say, they match the van to the needs and personality of each customer.

“And we have all the equipment anyone would need to go out on a real camping vacation,” Phillips said.

That includes sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, tents, camping chairs, folding tables, lights, pots and pans, plates, bowls, cups — you get the idea.

“We set you up,” Dronkert said. “All you need to do is bring groceries and your clothes.”

They also have relationships with local outdoor outfitting companies where they can help customers get specific items that aren’t on the rental list.

What’s really special to PacWesty employees is that customers learn about the Pacific Northwest.

“We sit with them and help them plan their journey,” Phillips said. “We especially promote the Olympic Peninsula, but customers can take our vans other places, too, like Mount Rainier or the Cascades.”

As nature enthusiasts, Dronkert and Phillips see the Olympic Peninsula as a great mix of mountains, forests, beaches, timberland, Native Tribal lands, rivers, cities and communities. Customers are sent out with a packet of information about the area they plan to visit, what there is to do, and what they must see.

“We help them navigate, too, what areas require what passes or fees,” Phillips explained. “That way they’ll be able to plan out their costs and have funds available.”

And each customer gets a leather-bound travel journey in which to record their experiences and their thoughts about their adventure.

Although they are a new company, they’ve met the needs of a variety of customers: a family of four who went out for three weeks “and came back still talking to each other,” Dronkert quipped; a father who took a van to parents weekend at Washington State University in Pullman; and a family who was attending a wedding in the area and found out there were no more hotel rooms available.

Just this past week, they’ve fielded calls from Bainbridge residents who have company coming for Thanksgiving and want to rent a van to park on their property, to provide more sleeping space.

The normal rate for rental is $195 a day, but in the off-season, they drop to $175 a day. There is insurance that must be added, which amounts to about 10 percent of the fee for the van rental. Reservations can be made online and will detail exact costs, depending on what you decide to rent.

Expectations for growth for the company are high. In time they hope to have an app that can be used for updated information such as conditions of trails, and what wildlife is observed in various parts of the Olympic Peninsula. They also plan to expand and provide renovation and repair service to owners of Volkswagen vans.

But most importantly, they hope to be able to provide volunteers — their customers — to help preserve nature throughout the area.

“The Olympic Peninsula is just an amazing playground,” Dronkert said. “We’re so grateful to be a part of helping people experience and be respectful of it.”

For more, go to www.pacwesty.com or call 888-212-3546.

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