By Eric Peterson | Jan 30, 2023
Bushek learned about manufacturing while working for a leading digital billboard provider in Boulder. When the company consolidated operations in North Carolina in 2020, he elected to stay in Colorado and start Radica. "I didn't want to move there, so I knew I had an expiration date," says Bushek.
He started brainstorming startups, and thought of manufacturing a heavy-duty dirt bike rack before settling on a better truck camper as the first product for Radica.
"I had a regular slide-in camper: a big, heavy camper that pops up and has canvas walls," he says. "Ultimately, it was pretty cumbersome for still feeling you're in a tent. Once you have the canvas up, you can still hear the critters running around, and when it gets windy, you don't feel super protected."
"I wanted something hard-shelled that was a bit simpler. I didn't want any canvas. I wanted hard-shell protection."
Truck toppers offer a hard shell, but Bushek calls them "claustrophobic," noting, "You can't even stand up to put your pants on. You have to get out to do anything."
It follows that Bushek built a prototype of what is now branded the MoonLander and took it to Yellowstone National Park on a road trip with his girlfriend. "We went there and got so much interest that I figured, 'Hey, Why don't we just post an ad on Craigslist for a custom-built camper shell?'" says Bushek.
He immediately got three orders at $4,500, forcing him to turn the ad off in order to launch the company and its manufacturing in early 2021.
Now starting at $5,500, Radica's MoonLanders have the same basic design as the prototype Bushek took to Yellowstone. "It's a niche that needed to be filled in between a topper and a camper," he says. "You actually have more space if you sleep sideways over the truck bed. I ended up building a shell that was a little bit wider on the sides and a little bit taller than a regular topper. The idea was just to create space."
There's also more headroom, less framing, and thicker aluminum skin. "The skin reinforces the frame, because we use acrylic VHB tape from 3M," says Bushek. "It's specifically made for massing panels to frames, and it's so strong, the skin is actually acting as an exoskeleton on top of the frame."
Radica's crew fabricates frames and finishes MoonLanders to spec in-house with components from a variety of suppliers. "A lot of our suppliers are local," says Bushek, citing ALRECO as one of Radica's Denver-area suppliers. "We source the raw aluminum extrusion and the raw sheet metal. It comes to us pre-finished."
Bushek spent eight months working part-time on the prototype, then sped up to make them by himself in about 10 weeks. Radica can now crank out three to four a week after moving into a new 3,000-square-foot space in unincorporated Denver County in early 2023. "This place will allow us to grow and expand," says Bushek. "Then we'll need to move again."
"Now that we have two garage doors, we can have raw materials come in one end and the finished camper and the finished goods go out the other end. In between all that is an assembly line, and now that we have more space, we can actually break down the different steps of the process into different work stations and work cells."
The lead time for a MoonLander is about seven months as of early 2023. "That will probably pull back as we ramp up production, but as soon as you pull it back, people jump on board -- which is a good problem to have," says Bushek.
Challenges: Scaling production and reducing lead times. "Manufacturing, process engineering, and industrial engineering is a constant problem to solve," says Bushek. "You change one thing and another thing changes. . . . It's something we're tackling with confidence."
Supply chain issues have also thrown up a few hurdles, he adds. "Right when I started building these things, the aluminum cost skyrocketed."
It's also difficult to source heavy-duty hardware for the overland industry: RV suppliers' door handles and other parts are usually not able to stand up to off-roading, so Radica often sources components from the marine supply chain. "The overland industry won't accept that level of quality," says Bushek. "RV stuff is economical, and it's meant to be driven on the highway and then parked in an RV site."
Opportunities: Leveraging first-mover status in a new niche of the booming overland industry, says Bushek. "People say they've been looking for this for years and have finally found it."
Radica will launch new products in the future, potentially including the aforementioned bike rack. "If not the bike rack, then other off-road gear," says Bushek. "We plan to have more than just the MoonLander."
Needs: Employees. Bushek says Radica's head count will "hopefully double by the end of the year, maybe more. We'll see."
He adds, "Definitely in the near future, we're going to need more space, we're going to need some bigger machines for forming and cutting metal, we're going to need more storage."