By Chris Meehan | Sep 26, 2022
Salt Lake City, Utah
Narvarte and his wife, Veronica, are both architects, and it shows in the attention to detail in their stylish Hive Campers.
Narvarte moved to the U.S. from Peru 15 years ago, relocating to Utah after a stint in Arizona. "I had to close my design office in 2009," he says. "After that I felt the need to make something with my own hands. I tried different things. I did furniture, I built motorcycles, did some welding and started a small camper project. I realized that building campers actually combined everything I loved. It had metal fabrication, some woodworking, engineering, It had a ton of design."
Narvarte and Veronica design the trailers and lead a small team to manufacture Hive's EX and MX adventure campers. "We have a fabricator and two assembly guys. I spend as much time as possible with them in the shop," Narvarte says.
Right now, the company only offers its EX and MX models, which it continues to improve. "We stopped customizing because we were always running into issues sourcing parts. We decided to do three trim levels instead. This made it easier to keep stock and reduce chances of delays," Narvarte says.
Hive Campers has had issues with sourcing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Narvarte. "Initially production in China stopped, then shipments were not getting processed fast enough, then prices went up. Issues were in, I would say, 40 percent of the parts."
For instance, Narvarte says it took a year to receive an order for brakes that it placed. Likewise the canvas products the company uses weren't available for about four months and he says the company received the last few fridges from its provider before it sold out.
While the company's sourcing problems have alleviated in 2022, quality control remains an issue. Narvarte says that he returns about a quarter of the water heaters the company uses because they arrive faulty.
Nevertheless, Hive Campers has adjusted and eliminated its backlog. "We can start a build as soon as we get a down payment," Narvarte says.
The company is nonetheless cautious on its timeline promises, he adds. "We are still telling our customers that builds take three to six months. We just never know what could cause a delay."
Challenges: "The lack of unlimited cash and small purchasing power means that we just pay more than larger companies for products, which gives us a smaller profit margin," says Narvarte.
Working with small suppliers is another challenge: "If one fails, we suffer."
The company also has had to contend with labor shortage issues. "For a while it was impossible to find fabricators that could actually fabricate," Narvarte says. "People had very little knowledge and were asking for a lot more than what they deserved."
Some hires have been no-shows, while others quit after a short time on the job. "We have a problem: We are a very small business with a very complex product," says Narvarte. "That makes having the right people even harder and training them is very time-consuming and by the time they are trained, they can just leave and we have to start all over again."
Regardless, he notes, "The crew we have right now is pretty good."
Opportunities: Hive Campers is planning on extending its offerings. "We will be introducing a new model next year which will be more spacious and more winter-friendly," Narvarte says. "The prototyping got delayed by COVID initially, but we finally have all the parts needed. Now we need to find time to squeeze it in."
Time is a scarce commodity for Narvarte between Hive Campers and another company, Hive Fabrication, and other interests. "We are peeking into starting another small branch which will be car- and motorcycle-related," he says. "We are testing out a mechanic that is currently finishing a few of my old projects and depending on how it goes, we'll decide if we should go for it.
Needs: "We could use a few more tools," says Narvarte. "A laser cutter would be nice and it's on our list for next year."
He adds, "The biggest need right now I think is time. We need time to work on future projects while not getting behind on production."