Meet David Brooks of Custom Vanner. He builds some of the most stunning vans in the country and publishes his work in Custom Vanner Magazine. Read along to find out how he got started and what advice he gives to other creative businesses.

When did you first become interested in custom vans?

My Father always took me to car shows so I was pretty familiar with custom cars starting at age 8. When I was 20 I needed a van so my band could go on tour. At the same time I wanted a car to customize. I thought I could just combine the two needs and customize a van. I started looking on the web for “custom vans” and what I found blew my mind. Of all the car shows I had been to I had never seen a custom van. It was something completely new to me. It looked like it was based in fun, it was very imaginative, and sometimes garish. All things that piqued my interest.

How did you take your interest and turn it into a business?

My education in high school was primarily vocational. I took Graphic Communications which was in basic terms printing. Half a day every day I learned about layout, printing, and bindery. When I was a couple years in to the van world I realized vanners needed a publication so I took my experience within the printing industry and made a magazine. I didn’t have any experience as a journalist and automotive photography was something I would have to learn as well. I forged on with the help of various friends over the years progressing the aesthetic of the mag from an amateur collection of photos and information to being a much more professionally assembled book.

When and why did you start to seek out legal aid?

We were working on a project with another media firm that required a contract far more complex than the handshake type deals we were used to. It’s important to recognize when you’re out of your range of expertise. That is when it would be far more effective to hire an expert in said field.  

What has having a lawyer on your side afforded you in your business?

In this particular instance it has allowed us to take on a project that is a big “next step” for us. I don’t feel like I have signed up for a project with a plethora of hidden messages. We have representation that is there to help us understand legal jargon that doesn’t typically appear in our line of work. The other benefit is the experience that your lawyer brings to the table. In our case the contract we needed help with was very much a new experience for us but not for our legal team. They helped us get an idea of what average compensation is in an agreement like this and what we could ask for in addition that turned out to be very standard requests.

What advice would you give to up and coming creative businesses?

Maintain your moral compass. My mentor Fay Butler told me “If you only do things for the right the reasons you will never be asked to do more than you are capable of.” To do this I believe it requires a greater look in to the way we communicate. Be honest with your customers even when it’s bad news and don’t feel obligated to say yes to everything. Maintain a path based on your creative desire and your own ethics code. The rest will sort itself out. Even if that means eating ramen noodles and egg sandwiches for a few years.

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