The Past, Present, And Future Of The Van Conversion Industry

By Tim Cattlin

Vantastec Managing Directors Gareth Edwards and Colin Smith recently sat down with esteemed van industry consultant and journalist Tim Cattlin, who asked us about our journey up until now, along with what we believe the van conversion industry will look like in the coming years.


The Past

Located in deepest South Wales, commercial vehicle converter Vantastec has, from humble beginnings, become one of the leaders in the refrigerated van conversion industry. But, as I soon discovered, it is not ready to sit on its laurels just yet…

“I’ve been involved in the commercial vehicle industry for virtually all my working life,” said Vantastec’s joint Managing Director Gareth Edwards. “It just gets under your skin, like a life sentence, but a good one!”

Gareth went on to explain how he started his career as a mechanical engineer, subsequently gaining qualifications in plant and heavy transport maintenance. Fleet management roles followed, with Gareth specialising in the refrigeration sector.


Gareth's old spare bedroom
Gareth’s old spare bedroom – where Vantastec was founded


“I ventured into sales for a brief period but my business partner Colin Smith and I reckoned we could see an opportunity working for ourselves. Although our first business premises would be modest, to say the least (my spare bedroom!) we decided we’d give it a go – and Vantastec was born.”

A period of rapid growth meant a home-based business quickly became impractical, and Vantastec leased its first property, a unit on an industrial estate in Caerphilly.

2013 saw a further move, this time to a unit in nearby Ystrad Mynach, a location where the business remains to this day. Initially occupying an office and workshop above a used car dealership, as the operation grew, Vantastec acquired more and more of the premises, eventually taking over the entire lease. This expansion saw the business taking on more staff.


Aerial View of Vantastec
An aerial view of Vantastec HQ


“What myself and Colin saw from the outset was the importance of working as a team,” explained Gareth. “There’s no ‘them and us’ – everyone at Vantastec works together and we’ve had fantastic loyalty from the men and women that have come on board as we have grown.”

“As the business became more and more established, we saw further opportunities outside of just selling new refrigerated vans.” Gareth went on to explain how the company diversified.

“Customers wanted a full package, and we saw no reason why we couldn’t provide this. So, we started to offer leasing, short and long-term rental, asset finance and ventured into the used van market too.”


Euro 6 Fridge Vans For Sale


The COVID-19 pandemic hit Vantastec hard, as demand for vehicles and the associated services plummeted. After a period of closure, Gareth and Colin took time to reflect on the best way to move forward as the economy started to awaken.

“Looking back, we can finally admit we spread our resources too thinly up until the pandemic. We finally decided to focus on our three core strengths: refrigerated vans, Polyshield crew cabs and panel vans, and bespoke conversions. These three types of products had proven to be our most successful – and, frankly, what we do best.”

The team at Vantastec realised the rapid recovery in the industry during the immediate post-pandemic period would mean two things: a shortage of both new and used vehicles and a consequential rise in prices.


Refrigerated Van For Sale: 100s Of Fridge Vans For Sale


“It was a huge risk. But we decided to order 12 months of stock in advance. It paid off – 2022 saw us in the enviable position of having stock available to fulfil an ever-growing demand,” said Gareth.

“More importantly, by securing these vehicles well in advance, we beat some of the more severe price increases from manufacturers. This meant our customers were able to get the vehicles they needed when they needed them most; and at a much more reasonable price.”

2023 turned out to be the biggest year yet for the company. After 17 years of leasing property including 10 at the current site, Vantastec became the owner of the 30,000+ square foot facility, purchasing it from the landlords, along with a section of land and two further units.

“This gives us security, and widens our options for expansion in the future,” said Gareth.


Vantastec Managing Directors Colin Smith and Gareth Edwards, along with our Board of Trustees
Vantastec Managing Directors Colin Smith (third from the left) and Gareth Edwards (middle), along with our Board of Trustees


Gareth and Colin decided that they wanted to extend the involvement of Vantastec’s employees in the running of the business and 2023 saw the company becoming employee-owned.

Gareth explained, “Thanks to the help of the Development Bank of Wales and GS Verde, our employees now form an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) that takes a 51% stake in the business. This gives our employees a voice in where we take Vantastec going forward – these people have made this business what it is today, so it was 100% the right thing to do.

“We’ve seen a steady 25% growth of the business year-on-year,” said Gareth. “But, we recognise the importance of reinvestment. Over the last three years, we’ve spent almost £1.3 million on research and development, the majority of this in introducing sustainable engineering practices.”

Despite the relative youth of the company, Vantastec has been recognised in some of the most prestigious industry awards, including Converter of the Year in the WhatVan? Awards 2020 following gaining the Highly Commended trophy the year prior.


Gareth and Colin shortly after winning their WhatVan? award
Gareth and Colin shortly after winning our WhatVan? award


The Present

After the consolidation of its activities, Vantastec now specialises in three areas.

Temperature-controlled vehicles. Both chiller and freezer. New and used vans can be supplied. New base vehicles sourced directly from the manufacturers and fully converted on-site. The typical customer base includes butchers, fishmongers, caterers and pharmaceutical companies.

Polyshield crew cabs and panel vans. These are lined with Polyshield, a hard-wearing material that can be jet-washed and that offers a hygienic environment that isn’t possible with traditional plywood lining.

Bespoke Conversions. Many of these are ‘one-offs’, catering for a demand for vehicles which are not run of the mill. Animal transport vehicles, mobile coffee vans, workshops and gaming vans have all been sourced through Vantastec.


Peugeot Partner Electric
Peugeot Partner Electric


The Future

“You don’t get anywhere by standing still,” says Gareth.

“The commercial vehicle industry is changing rapidly and we need to be a part of it. The requirement for all new vans to be zero-emission by 2035 presents the refrigerated van user with a tough challenge.

“We have built fully electric temperature-controlled vehicles. These customers are mainly city-based businesses with low-drop delivery routes and local authorities who are actively looking to decarbonise their fleet.


Fully-electric meals on wheels van for Caerphilly Council


“But, with the weight of a conversion, not to mention the power requirements of the chiller/freezer unit, the range between charges is impacted.

“Suddenly, the advertised 166-196-mile range of the new Ford E-Transit becomes closer to 100-110.”

Citing a typical operator profile, Gareth added: “Some of our customers do well over this amount of miles in a working day. Unless fast charge facilities become as easily accessible as diesel pumps, a lot of our customers won’t be switching to electric until they absolutely need to.”

Vantastec sees hydrogen as a viable alternative to pure battery power. “This is something we’ve been keeping an eye on in the past few years,” said Gareth.


Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Diagram
How Fuel Cell Vehicles Work (Photo: US Department Of Energy)


“The practicality of FCEVs (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles) seems astonishing. The possibility of being able to re-fill a van in less than five minutes, like you would a regular diesel van, is fascinating.

“It’s great to see vehicle manufacturers like Ford, Toyota, and Stellantis being proactive in developing concept vehicles. Infrastructure is where a breakthrough is needed, though. At present, there are only 14 public hydrogen fuelling systems in the UK. We need more. A lot more.”

In a final comment, Gareth said: “We just hope the government look at Hydrogen in the same light as battery-powered vehicles and start investing in it. As for ourselves, we’ve been hands-on in researching how we can introduce hydrogen into our range of products. But more on that at a later date…”


It’s a refreshing change to talk to a conversion company that has recognised its strengths but is continually looking outside of the box, anticipating future challenges. The conversion industry is one that often fails to do this, and as a result many fall by the wayside. This outlook bodes well for Vantestec’s future success.


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