VW Transport Vans Give Goode Plumbing Advantage in Covering Territory

Once popular with free-spirited hippies, vintage VW vans now give Chicago plumber a serious business advantage.
VW Transport Vans Give Goode Plumbing Advantage in Covering Territory
While the outside looks like a normal Volkswagen Transporter van, Mike Goode has outfitted the inside with shelves to help store supplies. He stocks them with drain cleaning machines and pipeline inspection cameras.

Interested in Tools?

Get Tools articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Tools + Get Alerts

When Mike Goode pulls up on a job or at a parts depot, the owner of Goode Plumbing in Chicago gets his fair share of double-takes. That comes with the territory when a service vehicle is also a valuable collectible: A vintage Volkswagen Transporter van.

First introduced in Germany in 1950, the distinctive-looking, hoodless vehicles became strongly associated with the “flower power” subculture created in the 1960s by hippies. But for Goode, the Transporter is a serious service van that serves as a nimble rolling warehouse as well as a retro-cool marketing campaign on wheels that differentiates his company in a crowded market for plumbers.

Goode bought his first Transporter in 1995 for $500. He eventually sold it, but he liked the van so much that he bought three more after he started his second plumbing company in 2006 (the model years are 1973, 1974 and 1978). And he’s always on the lookout for more, though they’re getting harder and harder to find, he notes.

“One reason I went with more than one is their reliability,” says Goode of the vehicles. Also known as Type 2s (the beloved VW Beetle was the Type 1), the vans are powered by rear-mounted, air-cooled, boxer-type engines that generate about 70 hp. “No. 2, they’re easy to drive and park in the city. And No. 3, they generate a lot of business.”

How much business? Goode says that’s hard to quantify exactly. But he points out that customers periodically mention the Transporters when they call in for service. “They brand our company big-time,” he says. “A lot of customers say it’s the coolest work van they’ve ever seen. We’ve also had photographs of the vans posted several times on the Chicagoland Petrolheads and Car Spotters Facebook page.”

Occasionally, the vans even impress competitors. “I was at a supply house one day and another plumber came out and said, ‘I’m going to call you for a service call just so I can see it parked in my driveway,’” Goode says.

Part of the vans’ appeal stems from the clean, streamlined logo and less-is-more lettering scheme on the vans’ exterior, designed by Chicago Sign Systems. “They’ve been very good at helping us with brand recognition,” says Goode, whose company primarily performs residential repair and drain cleaning services throughout the metro-Chicago area. “They really set us apart. It’s very competitive out there and we’re just trying to stay ahead of the game as much as we can. We like to deliver a unique service experience and the vans are a part of that.”

Goode says the Transporter’s outside dimensions are a little smaller than a minivan, but is larger inside, with 180 cubic feet of cargo space. To a degree, that somewhat limits how much each van can carry, so he says technicians have to plan ahead. For example, a 75-gallon hot-water heater won’t fit because of the van’s shelving configuration, so the company relies on supplier delivery for larger items like that. Moreover, since the vans are considered collector cars, sometimes it’s harder to find banks that are willing to provide financing to buy one.

“There are trade-offs, for sure,” he notes. “But for the most part, they work really well, especially with the traffic congestion and tight parking conditions here, which are brutal. The size of these vans is perfect. They can carry enough materials and supplies, but they’re not as cumbersome as a full-size van.”

The company also owns a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, three Dodge ProMaster vans, a Dodge Ram C/V and a Ford E-350. Goode also owns a 1931 Model A Ford that he occasionally drives to check on jobs and run estimates for customers.

Inside, the Transporter is equipped like a typical service van. A bulkhead separates the cab from the cargo area, which is equipped with shelving and storage bins purchased from American Van, a manufacturer and retailer. Storage capability includes a four-drawer Pack Rat unit made by WEATHER GUARD, a Werner Co. brand. “Some of the shelves had to be modified a little to get them closer to the walls where they curve toward the roof,” Goode explains. On the roof, he opts for a customized ladder rack made by Cross Tread Industries and three pipe carriers, also made by American Van.

Goode equips his service trucks with RIDGID K-50 sectional drain cleaning machines for sink, shower and floor drains; a RIDGID K-1500 sectional machine for larger drainlines, primarily residential laterals; and RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection cameras. The Transporters carry about $7,500 worth of repair-parts inventory as well as power tools made by RIDGID, Robert Bosch Tool Corporation and Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp.

Over the years, Goode has found that most of his technicians like the Transporters as much as he does. Whenever the company buys a new van, he tells technicians driving the Transporters that they can drive the new vehicle. But more often than not, they prefer to stick with the Transporters because they’re tailor-made for urban driving, he says. “I know I’m a little bit crazy about them, but I didn’t think the guys were, too,” he says with a laugh.

A self-described car nut, Goode — who says he once owned a souped-up 1967 Volkswagen Beetle — says he’d buy another Transporter in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, even though Volkswagen made more than 6 million Transporters between 1950 and 1990 (that includes only the rear-engine, snub-nosed first- through third-generation models), they’re hard to find these days. Goode says he found one of his Transporters in Canada, another one in Arizona and the other just five blocks from his home. “It had been sitting at a gas station for years,” Goode notes. “Some kid brought it in and never came back for it.

“They’re really good vans,” he concludes. “For a small service company like mine, they’re pretty hard to beat.” 


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.