This Van Life Brand Tried the 4-Day Work Week and Isn’t Going Back

Vansmith cut employees’ work week from 40 hours to 32 without cutting anyone’s pay — and it’s still cranking out some of the coolest custom vans, faster than anyone else.

Circular saws buzzed loudly in the Vansmith workshop in East Boulder. The place was bustling with activity as people worked on multiple vans, all in different stages of construction. Some Vansmith team members were installing electric wiring. Others were building interiors or gutting vans to their foundations.

Aaron Haack walked through the shop, explaining how, at first, he’d been unsure whether Vansmith’s 4-day work week was actually going to work.

“I kind of kept my reservations to myself, but I was thinking, ‘God, I hope this works out,'” Haack said. “I just kept reminding everyone, ‘Hey if this doesn’t work, we’re going to have to go back.'”

But, Vansmith hasn’t gone back. Much to Haack’s surprise (and to the elation of the staff) the grand experiment did work. The company cut everyone’s hours from 40 a week to 32 a week, without cutting pay. And productivity didn’t go down at all, Haack said.

“Generally speaking, we [gave] everyone a raise without giving anyone a raise and we’re getting the same amount of work done,” he said. Everyone is benefitting from the new schedule.

‘The Apple of Vans’

They call themselves the "Apple of Vans for a reason; (Photo/Vansmith)

Vansmith is a Boulder-based company Haack started with his cousin Roberto Gutierrez. Haack had just been discharged from the military. He’d left his subsequent job in a coal mine and was taking some time for himself. He was getting into skydiving and living out of a beautiful tiny home he’d built all on his own.

In 2017, he and Gutierrez were at a wedding and reconnected. Sparks started flying and in no time at all, the two cousins were think-tanking a new business: a custom van “upfitter” outfit that would convert cargo vans into sleek, sexy custom-built campers.

And they had no idea how it was about to take off.

There have been ups and downs since then, Gutierrez admitted. It’s dealt with name changes, lawsuits, even robberies in the half-decade since they founded the company.

But Vansmith has made a name for itself with its high-end adventure van conversions. With its modern, minimalist style, Gutierrez self-describes them as the “Apple of Vans.”

Vansmith Switches to 4-Day Work Week

Vansmith Van in the wild; (Photo/Vansmith)

As a brand focused on adventure and the freedom of the road, it’s taken certain risks that embody and reflect its values. Shifting from a 40-hour work week, to a 32-hour work week is a perfect example. Now, the employees have all of Monday to enjoy their own adventures.

And by the time Tuesday rolls around, everyone’s ready to hammer down again.

“Weekends feel like they’re long,” Haack says. “After three days I’m like, ‘I have to get back to work.'”

Still, the team is able to crank out a full van build in just 2 weeks (8 days), Haack says — which, if you’ve ever tried it yourself or seen someone DIY their own van build, you know, is wicked fast.

The VanSmith shop in Boulder; (Photo/Will Brendza)
(Photo/Will Brendza)

That’s a testament to how well the shorter week has worked. And both Haack and Gutierrez agree that it’s something almost any company of Vansmith’s size could successfully implement.

“There’s more motivation in the shop to get stuff done,” during the week, Haack says. Especially since everyone’s still getting paid for that fifth day. It’s like having a full day of PTO every week.

“At $25 an hour, it comes out to $10,400 a year that we’re just giving people.”

That’s paying off. Vansmith just moved into its shop at 7209 Valtec Court in Boulder 2 years ago. It’s doing so well, it’s already preparing to expand the workshop and ramp up operations.

“So far, it’s been awesome,” Haack says, simply.

Check out Vansmith’s website to see all its conversion options, to schedule a call about buying a van, or to convert or upgrade one you’ve already got — or, to peruse its careers page.

The Vansmith Builds

One of the vans being used for everythiinng it was designed for; (Photo/Vansmith)

Vansmith has several levels of conversions for different budgets for both Mercedes Sprinters and Ram ProMasters. The Bivy is the most basic build (starting at $37,000).

It includes a countertop, sink, queen-size mattress, Goal Zero power center, mini fridge, cabinets, and stowable table.

The most advanced build, the Outpost ($89,000), offers all that and an electric stovetop, extra storage under the mattress, a water tank, benches, and off-grid power capabilities so you can live the van life, full-time.

Starting a van build at VanSmith from square one; (Photo/Will Brendza)
(Photo/Will Brendza)

Or, if you’ve got a van, a knack for building things, and a lot of time on your hands, you can get the Foundation. Vansmith will install electrical wiring, wood ceilings and floors, fabric-wrapped or tongue-in-groove walls — and that’s it.

Then you’ve got a blank canvas to customize for yourself. Vansmith also offers DIY kits so you can take its designs and install them on your own.

It’s built hundreds of vans for hundreds of happy campers, as well as professional athletes like Tommy Caldwell, and at least one “notable rock star” (whose identity Vansmith wouldn’t go on the record with).

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Will Brendza

Will Brendza is a writer, journalist, and professional misfit based out of Boulder, Colorado. Will grew up on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, reenacting "Survivorman" episodes and studying books like "Hatchet," "The Monkey Wrench Gang" and "Into the Wild". He's written on topics ranging from cannabis to local news, the environment and, of course, outdoor gear and adventure. If he's not banging stories out on his computer, you’ll probably find Will skiing or mountain biking (depending on the season)—or drinking beer at some remote craft brewery.