Steve Kloessner, the president and founder of Commercial Van Interiors, discovered and fell in love with the van-upfitting industry when he was first introduced to it at the age of 23. Already having worked in a machine shop while in college and owning his own headhunting/recruiting firm after going to California (to play guitar), something in the business just connected with him. The van- and truck-upfitting industry provided just the right mix of hands-on work, customer interaction, sales, promotion and creativity outlet.
When he started Commercial Van Interiors (CVI) in 1985 in St. Louis, “The industry as we know it now was still in its infancy,” Kloessner said. “Our biggest competitors were DIYers and their homemade shelving. We had to change people’s mindsets to show that our modular products were not only better and more versatile but also less expensive, considering the value of the time they invested doing it themselves. That took some time and persistence, and, needless to say, we were very hungry and had to scratch and pick up work wherever possible to make our way through those early days, often doing those jobs no one else wanted.”
Kloessner had an early vision for the industry’s future: “We always knew that, as the industry became more mature and mainstream, we would have to do several critical things to maintain our position within it. That included creating a network of branches across the country and building great relationships at all levels with every type of customer — and taking a leadership role in helping shape the future of our industry. Armed with that vision and a reputation for providing quality work and unconditional first-class service, we have expanded to 17 locations across the country, satisfying customers that range from the individual contractor to local and national fleets and leasing companies to vehicle OEMs and their dealership networks.”
Small, individual, local contractors with vans and trucks are the heart and soul of CVI’s business. For these contractors, in addition to providing transportation, their vehicle is often their most critical tool and must function as an office, warehouse, store and visual statement about the company. CVI makes sure it does everything they need it to — with no downtime.
Over the years, CVI’s work with fleets and leasing companies has grown naturally through its national presence. These fleets range from regional service providers, municipalities and utility companies to some of the nation’s largest fleets. In addition to advising and handling the organizational side of their upfits, CVI provides whatever electrical and safety products they need to make their vehicles functional, self-sufficient, secure and highly visible on the side of the road.
The third area of CVI’s business centers around longstanding and trusted partnerships with vehicle manufacturers and commercial vehicle dealerships. Commercial Van Interiors has bailment pools for several OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), ordering vehicles which are then available for dealers to pull from when they need them for their customers. As a bailment pool, Commercial Van Interiors is required by each vehicle manufacturer to meet stringent quality and insurance standards to ensure their upfits and workmanship. These extra measures cover every vehicle they work on, not just those in the pool.
One of the most important things to understand about Commercial Van Interiors is that no matter if someone comes to a CVI location to upfit one individual van or truck or a fleet of hundreds, the CVI team must learn the intricacies of the customer’s business.
“It’s not enough to know only what their industry is. We want to hear what the individual"does,” said Kloessner. “Many of our customers focus on or specialize in certain aspects of their industry. As a result, the tools and inventory each person needs to carry — and reaches for most often — can vary dramatically. And, whether the customer uses a van or a truck, that vehicle should be upfitted according to that individual’s needs and daily activities to make sure they’re working as efficiently and safely as possible.”