Itty Bitty Tour Buses

Rock-It Ships, a company launched in August in Tallahassee, Fla., has a simple, innovative concept: take a tour bus, shrink it down.

Started by tour bus company veteran Derek Hart, Rock-it Ships converts vans into mini-tour buses – particularly, Mercedes-Benz Sprinters. Rock-It Ships has 15 of them, sporting carbon-neutral BlueTEC diesel engines that get 22 mpg without a trailer, 17 mpg with. That is the equivalent of a Ford Taurus, versus the usual 9 mpg of a 15-passenger van, or the 5 mpg of a tour bus.

They sleep seven, with five bunks and two couches. They come with a kitchenette with refrigerator, satellite television, a phone lounge and internet capability. And the company already claims acts like George Clinton as clients.

“The concept of a Sprinter van isn’t really new but taking everything that a bus has and shrinking it down is,” CEO Derek Hart told Pollstar.

“I’ve been in the tour bus business since 2003 and we started to see a rapid decline,” Hart said. “In 2007 I started managing Go Radio, out of Tallahassee and on Fearless Records, and we were kind of looking for something in between. We had the 15-passenger van, and there’s a company called Bandwagon that provides a vehicle a little bit smaller than a bus, and then there’s a tour bus. They decided to use a bus and came home with no money in their pockets. That sparked me to create this vehicle.”

The concept fills a unique niche – bands can have all the mod cons of a tour bus, yet can travel freely around a town, and sleep in a Walmart parking lot without fear of blocking vehicles. It also eases the pain for acts that are on a career slump but don’t want to give up the bling. Hart suggested the niche hasn’t been filled until now because of the stigma attached to passenger vans, and because tour bus companies have no interest in cannibalizing their own businesses.

Bands helped modify the first two prototypes. For instance, a generator turned out to be a bad idea and was removed. But they requested USB ports for the bunks, for example, and those were added. By the time SXSW arrived this year, the company had vans on display at the Gear Expo. The vehicles apparently came across like mobile versions of Dr. Who’s TARDIS.

“People were walking around with these smiles on their faces,” he said. “They couldn’t believe how much room there was inside. It’s 6 feet, 3 inches tall.”

Of course, there are sacrifices – like not having a toilet. On the other hand, there’s no need to hire a dedicated driver and put him or her up every night. The cost is around $450 daily, all-inclusive, according to the company, estimating it to be about a quarter of the cost of a tour bus. But it also means sacrificing a little.

“We lease them out with a matching black trailer,” Hart said. “The whole idea is being efficient so, if a band has too much gear, we try to educate them that there’s a cost to pulling that weight. You have to reduce what you bring with you; sometimes you may have to drop-ship your merch. But all that reduction is saving the band in the end.”

Hart added that the company has a unique delivery system: if a band prefers delivery to a flight to Florida for pickup, a driver will take the van to the delivery location, then, from the trailer, leave in a smart car. Hart added that, unlike some tour bus and rent-a-car companies, Rock-it Ships’ insurance policy not only covers damage to the vehicle but liability for the passengers.

Rock-It Ships expects to open offices on the left and right coasts by fall if enough capital is raised, Hart said.

More information is available at and the company can be contacted at 850-727-8555. The grand opening is May 17.