After starting a conversation in another thread http://www.sportsmobileforum.com/vie...hp?p=1307#1307
I decided I better move my long-winded posts to the area I originally intended them to be in.
i prefer the smb 4 x4, i am thinking that this will dictate/limit my options,
will research the other outfitter, salem, to see the parts in their system, etc...
anyone here familiar with the salem system?
I will be soon enough. I dropped my brand new SMB off there on Tuesday, and as of yesterday they already had the stock suspension removed and the stock brakes were being removed.
I got to look at three different S&K vans up close while I was considering my options, and all three customers I spoke with had no negative things to say about the installation/quality. One fellow wished he had approached it a little different and wished he had made plans for larger tires etc.
One of the most appealing aspects of working with S&K is that there is no option that is off the table. If you want a low cost 4-wheeler to get you through the slush, cool, they have an option for that. If you want to go extreme, they'll go there with you. I'm going pretty extreme, with 37" tires, 4-point independent air springs, upgraded brakes, custom aluminess bumpers etc.
Also, their default upfit is a coil-over suspension, versus a leaf spring configuration ala SMB, which should result in a better on road ride, and better articulation. (I hear several opinions on this, but to me it comes back to the difference between my 01 jeep wrangler with coil suspension, and the previous generation with leaf springs) By default, S&K uses ford parts from the heavy duty trucks where they can.
They apparently work on a lot of police, fire department and military vehicles, and I've heard other people talk about problems with S&K and delivery times. I can say that my experience with Craig at S&K has been very good so far, and as a matter of fact, of all the partners I've worked with to realize my dream van, Craig has been the most ready to adopt my vision and 'get' where I was going. Rob at Integrated Audio in Fresno is a very close second though.
Craig is so friendly, that at first it is somewhat alarming, and I felt that either this guy was full of sh!t and empty promises, or really knows what he's doing. Obviously I'm banking on the latter
As it is, Craig has promised that it will be done by the end of the month, and has done considerable research for my project specifically to ensure there are no surprises in parts being delivered late or whatnot. I explained to Craig that I would be very open with my experience with S&K, as I've had several forum members here and at the yahoo forum contact me with questions, and this would be a great opportunity for some good old new fashioned digital word of mouth.
I've been extra-ordinarily busy since I picked up the van on the 20th, and I need to gather all of my notes and data together into a post or something, but I just haven't had time unfortunately.
If you're in the area after it's done, you're more than welcome to check it out. I have high hopes.
They seemed to have no concerns at all working with an already converted van, as they've done several SMBs, GTRVs, and other camper vans. SMB did the work first, and I had the van for about a week (when the wrap was supposed to have been installed, but that's another story....) and then I was to take it up to Red Bluff (S&K). I arranged the work with S&K, and merely dropped the 4x4 conversion from my original SMB build request.
Let me also state that I feel somewhat fortunate that I can drive to both of these places from home within a few hours so if I ever really get concerned I could always visit in person.
I should also add, there is a user here on the forum who has a slightly different perspective on S&K, who I spoke with after I had made my decision but before I dropped off the van; I didn't want to speak for him, but I didn't think about it far enough to consider that he might not post. If he wants to reveal his identity, I'll leave it to him to do so
I'll elaborate so I don't sound too much like a mouthpiece for S&K, but I do want to be forthcoming in that the end of the day I still have no problems leaving my brand new very expensive toy with S&K.
About a week before I planned to take the van up to S&K, I called aluminess to ask some questions about the changes I wanted from their normal bumpers. In the process of the conversation, Dave at Aluminess asked if I would be ordering the bumpers myself or if I was having them ordered by the 4x4 upfitter, and I mentioned that I would just have Craig from SK order the bumpers, since some of the modifications were his suggestions (additional coves for led brake lights on the rear, etc).
Dave expressed a concern that S&K was out of business, due to a report he had heard from someone else in the industry. He mentioned that there was concern because the phone numbers had been disconnected at S&K or something.
I explained to him, that I had been in almost weekly contact with Craig and knew about the problems with their phones, but that was a telco issue, and Craig had distributed to me via email alternate phone numbers and I'd had no problems getting ahold of him via that number, and had a regular line of communication with Craig via emails.
I told him I would let Craig know to call and help clarify their status, and that I would follow up with the data Dave had provided me to see if I could get a clearer idea of where the rumor was started and what truth there was behind it.
Eventually I was able to start going backward through the process and I was able to speak with the customer himself about the issues. It quickly became obvious that the process of word-of-mouth and relaying the story from one person to another, the story was a little different from the actual events by the time Dave told me he thought S&K was out of business and had witheld a customers van for 6 months. The 4x4 camper van community is a pretty small one, and I wasn't sure it was really fair that this story was out there that S&K was out of business and shuttering doors with customers' vans inside.
I won't go into a lot of details here, because I'd rather not risk mis-reporting it, but the gist of it was:
There was a customer with an SMB who took his van to S&K for conversion. This customer told me the following issues:
(I'm reading back from my notes that I took on the call)
His van was there one day short of 4 months (obviously longer than expected, but not the 6 that I had heard)
There were continual problems getting the correct parts ordered for the van.
Customer had difficulty getting a status on his van, there were issues dealing with one person, and then another etc.
There was an engineering question regarding the changing of the gear ratio in the front and back differentials which took some time to resolve.
There was a coordination issue in getting the van delivered back to the customer. I don't recall exactly, but I believe they were trying to make arrangements for someone to drive the van the 7 hours or so back to the customer and this fell through or something.
The customer also said that he had problems getting replies to emails and did not know about the remaining phone number which was still working. I don't know if at this point he was communicating directly with Craig, or Josh or what.
Additionally, this customer has some remaining issues with some mechanical stuff that appears unfinished/problematic (I have written down: Leaky pan @ transmission, no hub covers on rear wheels, no wheel locks, rear diff leak, no pcm reflash.)
I thanked the customer for his frank input, and he welcomed any follow up questions I may have. Nice chat, and I hope he sees this and participates.
I feel that my proximity to S&K here may serve me to insure that any issues get addressed etc. Also, the phone issue is resolved, and after relaying all of my information to Craig, he had no problem understanding why I might be hesitant to proceed, and had no problem amending my paperwork with a guarantee that the vehicle would be ready on time.
the (literally) $80,000 question here was, would I continue with my plans to work with S&K, or would I have to start over with someone who would be further away etc.
My honest take on it was that this customer did have a somewhat unfortunate experience with S&K, but it was nowhere near the disaster that was being reported to fellows in the industry and potential customers. Where I think the story started to change, I will not posit a theory.
I encouraged Craig to follow up with this customer to make sure there weren't any broken lines of communication, and I also told him that I would be publicly reporting my experiences with S&K because I had received so many queries, so he had an opportunity here to set an example. I have no problem expounding the details of my experience; good or bad, but will absolutely try to be fair.
Most importantly, I truly believe Craig is going to take care to make my van right, not because of any potential backlash that may come from my reporting it on the internet, but because I truly feel like he cares about my project.
Feel free to ask any questions. I'll update this #1 message in the thread as my experience continues.