7 Things We Have Learnt Starting Our Business (In A Global Pandemic!)
Having talked about changing what we did for some time, we had lots of ideas for a business and we finally thought we were on to a winner! We were going to enter the events market and we had the perfect USP! Having spent 6 months business planning and creating our website, not to mention, investing a large sum of money in our beautiful 1972 Airstream Safari that we converted into a mobile bar, we returned from our trip to the Alps all ready to get going and bang we were hit with a global pandemic! No more events for the foreseeable future, so what were we going to do? How were we going to respond?
I had already given up my job as a Headteacher and Simon's filming work had all but disappeared due to the virus, so we had no choice but to keep moving forward. So this what we have done and what we have learnt:
1. Adapt quickly. The Airstream was going nowhere so we had to adapt our business and quickly! We had already bought a campervan in November 2019 that we were hoping to do up to use for ourselves and maybe rent out a little, so we turned to that. Could we make a business from this? Yes was the answer so we named her Alaska and set about the work and getting her ready to hire ASAP. Being adaptable is key. There was no time to wallow or procrastinate. We also know that we have to keep adapting as you never know what is around the next corner.
2. Focus on what is working. I am not going to lie, I was gutted about the Airstream and for some time, I tried to push this. However it got to a point when this was not helpful. It felt like I was wasting energy and becoming deflated that our idea was not working. However, once I accepted that the market was on pause and therefore so was our idea and focused on what was working, which was our campervan hire, this was a turning point.
3. Smell what sells (as Alan Sugar would say). Alaska was booked up until October and we were getting so much interest in her, that we took the risk of investing in another van. It was already August, so much of the summer hire sales were behind us, but we had to trust our gut and spend some more money! Our view is that if you don't take a risk, and if you not prepared to invest your own money, then nothing is going to happen!
4. Research your market. We could tell from the interest in our vans and then following other campervan businesses on socials, that this was a growing market. Our research also showed us that campervan sales were through the roof and with no sign on slowing. So how could we have a piece of this? If the pandemic has taught us something, it is not to have all our eggs in one basket, so offering something alongside the campervan hire was really important. We knew people loved our vans, as they told us, so we decided that alongside the hire, we could offer custom van conversions but using what we had found out, to offer builds that were totally bespoke, hand built with solid wood and offer a truly personal service.
5. Accept that you are still learning. We are new to this market it takes time to build up a reputation, learn your craft and make your mark. The first van we did was for a friend. Ok, so we didn't make much money on it at all, but it was a learning process. Taking practical skills, and an eye for creativity, Simon designed and built the van to meet their needs. The result was a fantastic build for our friend and her two girls. This and our own vans, is building up our portfolio to market to potential customers. With each van we do, we learn more about layout, how to and what to use to kit them out, which heaters to use, which suppliers to use, what to order and when etc.
6. Tap into the experts. While we can do most of the conversion ourselves and are learning new skills everyday, we know that using the 30 years of experience of our expert carpenter is key to getting that very special handcrafted finish in our vans. We also considered managing the whole van hire process ourselves , but there is a reason why companies like Quirky Campers exist! Don't try and do it all. Their model works and yes you have to pay for it, but it saves you time, hassle and gets you loads of bookings! They have 100k followers on Facebook and Instagram!
7. Don't be sentimental. We want to offer our customers the best experience that we can. We therefore made the difficult decision to sell Alaska. She is such a beautiful van and everyone who hired her loved her so much. We put so many hours of work and love into her, but her high mileage, coupled with our location meaning vans are hired to do the NC500 route (she did it 7 times last summer) we felt that her hiring days were behind her and it was time to find her a forever home and invest in a brand new van. So, more investment - but watch this space as she is a real stunner and we are so proud of her and excited to reveal her!
So what's next? We now have 4 van conversions commissioned, our new van Tikaani to promote for hire and another van of our own to convert for hire or sale - we have still not decided yet! As for the Airstream...well with the good news of the vaccine, we are hopeful that the events market will begin to recover and we can realise that idea soon.