Owen Connaughton turned his childhood love of vehicles into a successful custom RV shop that continues to roll out creative, one-of-a-kind machines for its clients.
“In the mid-’80s, I started building ambulances for another coach works company, then moved on to building custom buses, working my way up to plant manager,” Connaughton said. “Then in 1999, the company hit some troubled times, so I left with my vacation money and 401(K) and started up Creative Mobile Interiors.”
Two and a half years ago, the company expanded into its current $2-million Grove City facility off Interstate 71 south of Columbus. According to Marketing director Aaron Lane, Creative Mobile Interiors employs 25 people, including artisans, electrical engineers and business staff.
“We can basically do a custom conversion of anything with wheels,” Lane said. “We can turn a vehicle into whatever the heart desires — mobile marketing conversion to luxury vehicles to family vacation vehicles. Recently, we even built a second-story loft in a box trailer for a mobile ministry that helps troubled youth.”
Connaughton and Lane agreed that the economy has forced people to be more conscious of what they are paying for.
“We get people who ask us to gut a mobile home they plan to buy and instead, we offer to build them what they want from the ground up with an empty commercial shell so that they don’t have to spend money on what they don’t want, just to throw that out before we put in what they do want,” Connaughton said.
According to Connaughton, the economy has presented challenges as well for his business, but through diversification and partnerships, he’s managed to remain profitable.
“We’ve taken measures to make us profitable even in the down economy. We’re doing things to appeal to business buyers and we run a lean manufacturing process,” he said. “We’ve been building million-dollar vehicles for some partner companies that then lease them out — their success is our success.”
Supporting the local economy is important to Creative Mobile Interiors, Connaughton said, and it is personally satisfying to him.
“We do as much as possible with local businesses to grow our own economy,” he said. “At year end, when I look at my balance sheet, it is very satisfying to see all the local vendors I’ve spent money with that are also then contributing to the local economy.”
Being a locally owned small business means Connaughton can have a great deal of interaction with his employees and customers, something he said makes the hard work worthwhile.
“I get to know these people and their families,” he said. “And I get to shake every customer’s hand coming in the door and again when they leave with their vehicle. I’m not sure I’d enjoy what I do as much if that wasn’t possible.”
Connaughton said he believes the keys to success for his business involve putting together a team that believes in the common goal they are working toward and taking care of his staff, who then take care of his customers.
“We’re just a bunch of middle-class people trying to carve out a living in this world with simple honesty and integrity,” Connaughton said.