Tom Eichen drove his mobile bicycle shop into the parking lot of an apartment complex in Buena Park, Calif., tools clanging around in the cargo space behind him.
As a customer wheeled a mail-order bike over for final assembly, Eichen swung open the rear doors of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter to reveal a fully equipped bike repair stand. Just 45 minutes later, the customer rode off on a fully assembled Shocke electric bicycle.
“This is so convenient,” said Eichen, a mechanic for Beeline Bikes. “I have everything I need in the back of this van to do any bike repair.”
Eichen, who is 6-foot-4 with a handlebar mustache waxed and twisted skyward, can easily stand up inside the Sprinter.
Hundreds of tools, parts and supplies — such as inner tubes, tires and handlebar grips — are within an easy arm’s reach. A wireless router zip-tied into one corner allows Eichen to process orders and send receipts via iPad.
Beeline is capitalizing on what many businesses have discovered: The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is capable of transforming into a mobile office for a wide variety of commercial purposes.
A bicycle shop is one of many business uses for the vans. Customization shops have transformed Sprinters into dog-grooming studios, butcher shops, tanning salons and dozens of other retail businesses, said Herb Lugger, general manager of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter of Long Beach. And, of course, they are regularly used in the construction trades by plumbers, electricians and landscapers.
Corporate fleet managers are drawn to the Sprinter for its cargo capacity, maneuverability in urban environments and fuel economy from its turbocharged diesel engines, Lugger said.
“You take them out of a gas vehicle and you’re going to get 24 or 25 miles per gallon,” he said. “It’s a big selling point.”
For others, it’s the Mercedes name that makes all the difference. In 2014, Twain Taylor purchased an extended-wheelbase Sprinter and started Luxury Mobile Barbershop Inc. in order to provide house calls for high-profile clientele.
Taylor enlisted the help of Automotive Designs & Fabrication in San Fernando, Calif., to perform the conversion. The result is an elegant interior with wood flooring, elaborate lighting and five flat-screen televisions. Complimentary champagne is chilled and ready. Naturally, a towel warmer and shampoo bowl were also installed.
The centerpiece is a plush leather seat Taylor has dubbed The Million-Dollar Chair with an engraved Mercedes-Benz logo in the headrest.
The van allows Taylor to meet clients where they are in the Los Angeles area.
“They prefer that luxury is pulling up in front of their office or hotel,” he said. “I had to get something comparable to what they like, and Mercedes is what they like.”
Eichen said the Mercedes branding is a conversation starter and lends him instant credibility.
“Here in Orange County, they’d rather see a Mercedes than a Ford,” Eichen said. “It gives you a little bit of prestige.”
Businesses are also drawn to the Sprinter because Mercedes-Benz works with a network of certified upfitters, or customization shops. When the vans are imported from Germany to U.S. ports, they’re sent directly to the shops, which transform them into whatever purpose a company needs.
The Beeline vans, for instance, are outfitted by shops in South Carolina or Northern California. They’re delivered to franchises fully finished, covered under warranty and ready for service.
Beeline offers its franchises the choice of purchasing the Sprinter or Ford Transit Connect, and nationwide the split is nearly 50-50, said Peter Small, a Beeline spokesman. Since 2014, its franchises have ordered dozens of vans from Sprinter of Long Beach.
It’s easy to find businesses that are interested in the Sprinter, but some need to be convinced that they can afford it, said Mathias Geisen, a vice president of Mercedes-Benz Vans. He said the three-pointed star can make the Sprinter appear more expensive than its $32,500 starting price.
“It’s really interesting how this perception of Mercedes-Benz as a brand here in the U.S. being expensive, luxurious, etc., is also spinning over to the van business,” Geisen said. “As soon as you have them in the van, driving, they realize it’s pretty comparable pricing-wise to the competitors’ product. Then they really love it and stay very loyal to our brand.”
The novelty of a Mercedes work van still attracts curious onlookers, even in Orange County. During the 35-minute bicycle assembly, a passerby strode up to Eichen to inquire about the Sprinter.
“This is a pretty sweet setup you’ve got here,” he said.
Eichen politely answered his questions while tightening the pedals, then directed him to the business cards lodged in the door panel.
The man nodded and took one, even though he doesn’t own a bike.