At Work: Custom Bus Conversions by Creative Mobile Interiors

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Photo by Aaron Lane of Creative Mobile Interiors.

Working in a business providing a custom product can be a very rewarding career. Creative Mobile Interiors (CMI) has been in the custom bus conversion industry since 1999, when the company was started by Owen Connaughton. Connaughton had been working for a company that started when the industry was new, worked his way up, then wanted to branch out on his own.

“He felt he could do it better, so he left with his retirement (and a cabinet builder, now our Production Manager, Mike),” says Josh Gifford, President of Creative Mobile Interiors. Gifford became president of the company when Connaughton unexpectedly passed away in 2013.

“Owen had a knack for finding people with a passion that resembled his,” says Gifford. “He considered our employees family, and it shows. From our electricians to our metal fabricator, Owen created a team that loves what they do. In fact, all but four of our employees have been here for 5+ years!”

Gifford has been a part of Creative Mobile Interiors for more than ten years and has seen the company weather the recession, and grow into a new office space they built and own.

“The shop started small, so Owen was able to make do without much financial help,” says Gifford. “With hard work and personalized service, your company can always grow – word spreads fast when you’re doing your best to make customers happy.”

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Creative Mobile Interiors chose a site off of London Groveport Road and I-71 in Grove City for their 19,000 square-foot office and workshop in 2008. Building it out involved discussions with the team of the wants and needs of the company, and ways to create an efficient workflow. A lobby, material design center, office spaces, a large workshop with plenty of room to fabricate materials and work on the vehicles, and a conference room with one-way glass looking into the shop.

“There’s room to expand, and it’s suited perfectly for our business,” says Gifford.

On my visit, Aaron Lane, Design Engineer and Marketing Director for Creative Mobile Interiors, took me on a tour of the shop and showed me some of the custom projects they are working on.

“We don’t have many finished projects here because the second we’re done, it’s out the door being enjoyed,” says Lane.

I got lucky that day to see a couple who worked with CMI to custom design a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van for a cross-country road-trip that would take them all the way to Alaska. They had stopped by CMI for some final tweaks before they left. Soft white-leather seats, a kitchenette, and windows all around the cab gave them the ultimate travel vehicle for this trip and their bright smiles showed their excitement. It looked so good, I wanted to drop everything and leave on a trip like that!

Custom luxury vehicles, as well as tailgating vehicles, restorations, and custom mobile offices and show trailers are all part of their business.

“Restoring Johnny Cash’s tour bus was one of our favorite projects,” says Lane. The bus was purchased by a collector who came to CMI for a full restoration before donating it to its permanent home at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There were existing drawings and plans for J.C. Unit One, which Cash originally spent over $553,000 on. Reclaimed wood from a Civil War-era house that was General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters was used to build the table in Cash’s personal compartment and the coffee rings and cigarette burns remain.

“We restored it back to its hey-dey,” says Lane.

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Creative Mobile Interiors has been able to experience growth during lean economic times by paying attention to trends in the corporate space.

“Our industry was hit hard by the recession,” says Gifford “A lot of RV manufacturers closed their doors during those years. Things slowed down for us, but we tried to never lose steam. The growing popularity of mobile marketing/display vehicles (companies bring their product to the consumer, instead of waiting for the consumer to come to them) definitely helped us stay alive during the rough economy. Individual spending slowed quite a bit, but companies were still investing in their future – and hitting the road has become the thing to do!”

It was difficult to continue the company after Connaughton’s passing, but Gifford is proud to be leading the team.

“He instilled a passion in me and in the rest of the team – the passion is what kept us all going after his passing,” he says. “We knew that things would change, but we also knew that we would continue on.”

To learn more about Creative Mobile Interiors, visit CreativeMobileInteriors.com. Photos of finished buses and feature image provided by Aaron Lane. All others by Anne Evans.

Do you know of, have, or work in, a creative workspace and would like to be featured in this series? If so, please contact Anne Evans.

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