Bunker Labs’ programs are helping Veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs every day, and we want to help you, too. While we’re happy to talk with you on Bunker Online and tell you all about our great programs, sometimes it’s better to hear how those programs impact real Bunker Labs entrepreneurs in their own words. The Narrative Spotlight seeks to do just that, providing a micro-documentary that turns the camera on our program participants and gives them the spotlight.

Entrepreneurial Spirit: Hustle Trucks

The Van Ells are serial entrepreneurs, and between the two of them, Hustle Trucks is their third business. Sara went through a terrible experience with identity theft that gave her a hard-knock education about personal finance. She shared a lot of her hard-won knowledge on a blog she created back in 2014, which ballooned in popularity. Her blog got acquired, which came with a job offer, and after a few years working as a marketing specialist, she turned freelance. Dustin founded The Van Plan/Vanpire Customs in 2018, where he customizes retro vans and Sara runs “everything that isn’t van building”.

Things were going well on both their independent, entrepreneurial journeys. Then Covid-19 hit, and both their traditional clients dried up. The clients they were starting to see more of were box truck customization orders to create mobile business fronts. Sensing opportunity, the Van Ells decided to combine their skills and rent out mobile retail storefronts in converted box trucks as Hustle Trucks. They’ve been growing ever since.

Dustin Van Ells’ Military Service

Hustle Trucks co-founder Dustin Van Ells is a Navy Veteran. He served from 2011 to 2015 as an Aviation Electronics Technician. He was based out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, one of only three active master jet bases (including NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, and NAS Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington State). Dustin spent his time surfing along coastal California on a base that was home to the aircraft of five carrier air wings. His hands-on experience translated well to customizing and outfitting vehicles, mounting solar panels instead of weapons systems.

Connecting With Bunker Labs

Dustin and Sara are Veterans in Residence alumni. While they started with an in-person cohort, their cohort had to go virtual because of Covid-19. Still, Dustin and Sara loved the accountability and the community, so they gave it a shot.

While Sara felt like she’d really be missing out on the community as a result, she was pleasantly surprised at how wonderful the virtual experience was. It created an easier ask for one-on-one virtual meetings, letting her make efficient use of her time and make time to talk with the exact people she needed to get advice on finding accountants, legal services to check their contracts, and more.

Quote & headshot from Sara

Adapting to Today’s Market

Brick and mortar retail has struggled since 2011 when Amazon killed Borders retail storefronts. The explosion of online marketplaces has decimated entire brick and mortar sectors of retail like electronics, toys, and books, while digital delivery has created an apocalypse for big box media retail. It’s merely transformed the landscape of others, such as food and clothing.

Small businesses with retail products increasingly eschew bespoke storefronts in favor of a website, often saving tens of thousands of dollars in rent and décor at launch. However, many want to do targeted, special events that require putting customers in the same room as some sort of physical inventory. This new category of mobile and pop-up retail is poised to explode, and Hustle Trucks is looking forward to riding the wave to expand nationally. Their hope is to be in ten US cities by the end of 2022. Keep up with their progress on Instagram.

Hustle Trucks Collage

Join a Bunker Labs Program

Part of Hustle Trucks’ success came from the community at Bunker Labs, which gave Sara and Dustin an accountability group, networking opportunities, and resources. Dustin and Sara started out with the Veterans in Residence program, helping to take Hustle Trucks to the next level. After two rounds of Veterans in Residence, Sara decided to give back to Bunker Labs and continues to volunteer time to help the local Bunker Labs community. Explore our programs today.

Bunker Labs is Now Part of IVMF

As of January 2024, Bunker Labs is now a part of Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). In addition to ongoing Bunker Labs programming, we’d encourage you to browse IVMF’s deep wealth of entrepreneurship programming, much of it available virtually or at locations across the country. Find the program to help your business take the next step today!