Get a Van for Getting in the Van: An Interview with Greenvans Owner Andrew Reitz

I don’t exactly remember how I stumbled across Greenvans, but if Andrew Reitz had been offering the use of 15-passenger vans at affordable rates exclusively to touring bands, it would have made my touring life a fuck of a lot easier. I would have avoided doing month long tours in minivans out of necessity, for one thing. It’s about time there was a service that won’t nickel and dime you on milage or tear you a new one via claims of mandatory daily insurance, like most conventional vehicle renters, and actually understands a touring band’s needs, unlike most conventional vehicle renters. If you’re in a band and don’t already own your own touring chariot, here’s an introductory interview with your new best friend.
How did you get started in the van rental business? What were your humble beginnings like and how are things different today?
To be honest, Greenvans started out accidentally. In 2007, I bought a van and trailer for my band’s first full US tour (this was the band that eventually became Defeater). We toured for two months, it was a mild success, and then like every band that buys a van thinking they are going to tour all the time, I was left with a van sitting unused in my driveway. I thought about renting it out to bands, but I wasn’t comfortable letting strangers drive my baby. A few months later some friends in a band called I Rise were in a bind, they desperately needed a van, and I desperately needed some extra cash. I rented them my van for two weeks, and that was the beginning of Greenvans. My friend Anthony and I got together and started brainstorming about the possibility of starting a business around what was such an obvious need in a market that we both understood. We both had toured, so we knew first hand that finding affordable transportation as young band was next to impossible. We wanted to offer a service that so many bands needed but didn’t have access to because so few companies understood or cared about the needs of a touring band. From there it was a slow, uphill battle as we grew from one van, to two, to three, etc. We made a ton of mistakes early on, but learned important lessons that shaped the way our business works today. I wouldn’t say that it’s EASY now, but we have certainly gotten better at what we do. The only thing that’s different now is that we’re not fighting an uphill battle every day, only a few days a week.

Do you “get in the van” (c’mon, you knew it was coming!) much yourself anymore?
Haha, yeah. I get in the van whenever I have to. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to go on tour anymore, but whenever a van needs to get delivered to a customer and there’s nobody else around to do it, I have no reservations about putting on some music and cranking out a cannonball overnight drive. Anthony and I have made A LOT of trips across the country in the last 6 years for Greenvans. Some fun, some not so fun, but those trips always leave us with good stories.

Is there a story behind how you ended up with the name Greenvans?
We started out renting biodiesel and veggie oil vans, so we were primarily a “green” company. The first van that I bought was a diesel van I had converted to run on Waste Vegetable Oil. The original idea for the business came from renting WVO vans to bands so they could save money on fuel and take part in an eco-conscious initiative. Since then we’ve had to grow our fleet beyond just diesel vans and incorporate gas vans because of the demand. A lot of bands do prefer the basic gas option and we can charge a much lower rental rate for them.

What sort of client range do you have? By that, I mean who are some of the bigger names that have used Greenvans?
We work with everybody from small local bands doing weekend runs to full time touring bands. Every Time I Die, Terror, Parkway Drive, The Joy Formidable, H20, Unearth, Shadows Fall, The Chariot are some of the bigger bands that have rented vans from us. Oh….and Snoop Dogg. Not even kidding.

What does a band that isn’t based in proximity to your Massachusetts homebase have to do if they’d like to rent from you? I noticed you have a new location on the west coast. Any plan to get into the Midwest so as to cover as much of the country as possible?
We do whatever we can to make rentals work for bands who aren’t close to Boston. We’ll deliver a van anywhere….obviously the further you get from us the more expensive it gets, but we try to keep our delivery rates as low as possible. As long as we get fuel, tolls, transportation for the driver, and the driver’s pay covered, we’ll get a van to you. We just opened up a west coast office in Huntington Beach, CA this year thanks to our friend Chris at No Sleep Records. He’s been kind enough to let us share some of his office and parking lot space, though I’m sure he’s regretting it now that we’re actually using it. Chicago is on our radar for our next location, but we’re still a year or two away from making that happen.

What happens in cases where bands from other countries rent your vans? Do you have a staff of drivers on hand to drive bands who need help behind the wheel?
We don’t have a “staff” of drivers on hand, but we’re fortunate enough to be in a circle of friends that have a lot of tour experience. We have SO many friends that spend their lives on the road in bands, as TMs, merch dudes, drivers, whatever, and they are always eager to find other touring opportunities. I don’t have a hard time finding drivers for international bands. We don’t require all international bands to hire drivers, but it usually ends up being the easiest option. Sorting insurance can be a little difficult and expensive, but we know how to get it done if we have to.

What sort of maintenance do you have to perform on the vans in your fleet? Is there a certain scheduled point you take a van out of commission? What happens to the vans you no longer rent out?
Maintenance and safety are our most important concerns. We’re VERY serious about keeping our vans in excellent mechanical condition because bands have a high expectation for safety and reliability. Our shop spends most of its time (and our money!) on tires, brakes, oil and fluid changes, front end work, etc. All normal wear and tear items, but we also do more serious engine and transmission work from time to time to keep our vans lasting as long as possible. We usually run them to 150,000 or 200,000 miles before we take them off the road, at which point we either sell them at auction or to local dealers. Obviously things happen on the road, but one of those things that we’ve learned to deal with over the years, and have gotten quite good at, is going above and beyond to make sure bands don’t miss shows when something goes wrong. We’ve been in business for just over 6 years, probably logged well over 2 million miles on all of our vans total in that time, and I think only 5 shows have been missed because of mechanical problem. If a van breaks down and I have to put a band in a limo because it’s the only vehicle I can find to get them to their show, I’m going to do that. (and, yeah, I have.)

Obviously, Greenvans is different from the major name rental companies. But what makes Greenvans different from other indie companies?
There aren’t a lot of other independent companies that do what we do….honestly because it’s difficult, it’s expensive and it’s risky, but regardless, we LOVE what we do. I think I’m constantly toeing the line between being a small business owner trying to make a living, and a dude that used to be in a struggling band that wants to help other dudes in struggling bands. I couldn’t tell you specifically what makes us different from other rental companies in the music business, but compared to some of the standard rental companies out there I like to think that our customer service and the relationships we build with bands is what sets us apart. I enjoy interacting with bands, and I take great personal satisfaction when a tour goes well, and when something goes wrong that I can’t fix in a way that the band is happy with, I’m pretty disappointed, and that’s what drives me to be better at my job. My outlook on band life and touring is that successful bands put together good teams: They have managers, labels, booking agents, merch companies, etc that handle a lot of the hard work that goes into growing a band. I see Greenvans as part of that team for most of our customers, and it’s an important element that a lot of bands overlook. We’re really good at dealing with tour transportation, so it’s fun for us to be a part of a group of talented individuals working hard for something they believe in.

What vans/trailers do you have available in your rental fleet? I notice you have diesel and waste vegetable oil rentals available in addition to standard gasoline vans? How popular are you finding these alternatives to be?
All of our vans are Ford E350 15-passenger vans. We have a few trailers, 5×8, 6×10, and 6×12 sizes. The majority of our vans now are regular gasoline vans because Ford stopped making vans with diesel motors, so we started buying newer (2011, 2012) model year gas vans while we wait for Ford to reintroduce the diesel motor in it’s new models. We do still have a few diesel/biodiesel/waste vegetable oil vans that we rent out as well. These are good alternatives for bands that want to stick with an environmental initiative as well as save money on fuel on long trips. It’s not an option for everybody, most bands just want your basic, most familiar Ford 15-passenger gas van and above all else they want to spend as little as possible.

deciblog - greenavns

I also noticed you have a sponsorship option at reduced rates. Please describe what’s going on there?
The sponsorship program was a way for us to get creative in figuring out how to reduce our rental rates while still covering our operating costs. We partner up with various music industry related companies and wrap some of our vans with their ads. The companies get great exposure on the road and at shows, use the vans for their own events throughout the year, and in exchange bands can rent these vans for lower rates than the standard unwrapped vans. GHS Strings, Jensen Loudspeakers, Amplified Parts, Clayton Custom Pics are a couple of the companies we work with to keep our rental rates low for bands.

Without naming names (unless you’d like to), describe the worst condition one of your vans has ever been brought back in? Describe the biggest rental nightmare you’ve had to deal with? What happens in cases like these?
One of the biggest rental nightmares I’ve ever dealt with was a band that decided to leave a van at the Milwaukee airport without telling me….even though it was supposed to be returned to New York about 4 days earlier. I had one of our guys on his way down to meet the band and pickup the van. The band’s manager called about an hour before the meeting time and said they were stuck in a blizzard in Canada. Ok. That’s fine. Maybe it would have been cool if you called to tell us this earlier, but it is what it is. My dude headed home, I lined up another friend in New York to pick up later. So a day goes by, haven’t heard from them. I call the band, I call their manager, no answers. Two days later I got their manager’s assistant on the phone and he’s like “oh, are you calling to schedule the pickup in Milwaukee?” Um, no dude, I’m calling to find out where my van is cause it’s 2 days late and you’re supposed to be in New York, not Milwaukee. The assistant is just like “oh, yeah, the tour ends in Milwaukee, so that’s where the band is flying out of and that’s where we need the van picked up.” I have a momentary panic attack thinking I royally screwed this one up, so I go back through my email, I look at the routing they gave me, I check, check and double check all the rental dates that were confirmed, look at the contract, the invoice. Nope. I’m right, a one-way rental to Milwaukee was never discussed. These dudes basically stole my van for 4 days and just thought it would teleport itself back to Boston. I have to get somebody to fly to Milwaukee on a day notice and drive almost halfway across the country. When I sent the manager an invoice for the $1500 or so that it cost to retrieve, he emailed me all bent about how high the price for the pickup was and if there was anything I could do to give him a better deal. Needless to say I billed his card and wrote him a very friendly email explaining that he was an idiot.

What sort of goals do you have for the future of Greenvans?
We want to get better at what we do every day. Our biggest goal is to continue to grow our fleet and our brand name, but it’s most important for us to do that without sacrificing the level of customer service and attention to our customers that I think defines Greenvans. As long as we keep making progress and growing our company without losing sight of our original motivations, then we’re headed in the right direction.

Check out the Greenvans website here