Recently, I spent a few days in the beautiful city of Vienna, facilitating a strategy event for the CTBTO, a UN organisation working to ban nuclear testing worldwide. The group was made up of forty-five individuals from forty different countries, representing all continents. Being the only Irishman present, I was inundated with curious questions over evening dinner and drinks about Ireland. I proudly ‘sold’ the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East. Thanks again to Failte Ireland!
The enquiring questions progressed to infrastructure, facilities and accommodation. Because I’ve worked with countless hotels and pubs in Ireland, I answered with a degree of authority and confidence. But, when the questions moved to camping and availability of campervans for hire, I have to admit that found myself unsure and fluffing the answers.
Coincidentally on my return, I had reason to discover that the industry is actually thriving. From my time going on mobile home holidays to France when the kids were younger, the commonly-held view at that time was that camping sites in Ireland were underdeveloped. And if campervan hire did indeed exist as a service, it was very much under the radar. Well, I was wrong.
This week I visited Celtic Campervans in The Ward, County Dublin. Owned and operated by Stephen Bradshaw and his son Stephen, the company started out in Limerick in 1990 with four vans. When the directive to route US flights through Dublin came into force, the company moved to Dublin. They now operate a fleet of 35 high quality 2017/2018 units, with 85% of their business coming from overseas markets. That mainly includes continental Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
They want to expand market share of the US market where there is already a strong culture of family vacations in RVs (Recreational Vehicles for touring). Aiming to have 100 units in the next five years, I have no doubt that they will achieve their ambition.
One of Celtic Campervan’s goals is to also grow the domestic market. And having test driven one of the 6-berth units, I will definitely be booking some time when my grandkids come home for the summer. The premium standard of kit with seating, beds, kitchen, toilet and shower, storage, safety measures and overall comfort is quite encouraging. I just know the craic will be great and I’m planning an itinerary already. When there is so much to see on Ireland’s ‘Route 66’, I can relate to why some visitors would like to be completely mobile and self-contained.
Celtic Campervans have a strong sales and marketing strategy, using a push and pull strategy centred on about thirty international tour operators. By nurturing long-standing relationships, they ‘push’ their tour packages with them. And their activity on social media is strong which drives the consumer to ‘pull’ from their local tour operators. And as for ‘belt and braces’? They have their own website booking facility for direct retail sales.
Sales are good. Their challenge however is that they feel that they’re on their own. Campervan hire in Ireland is relatively new so it doesn’t get the same level of attention. That applies to banks, to insurance companies and to marketers. It’s not the same as car-hire and camping. For example, the residual value of a campervan after say ten years, is much higher than what normal depreciation models might suggest. Likewise, the insurance risk is low due to the nature of the customer demographic.
In essence, the business model is not fully understood and over the years, Stephen has had to apply his strong character to engage and convince key stakeholders to come on board.
Every industry has its macro challenges, which might be around legislation, regulation, technology and so on. Yes for sure, you might dedicate some of your time to influencing and lobbying for changes in your respective industries or joining trade associations. But if you find yourself relying or depending on others, you may have a problem. I would always advocate for ‘getting on with it’ yourself.
As an entrepreneur and master of his own destiny for a long time, Stephen Bradshaw is a firm believer in ‘just getting on with it’. what struck me most about this company, is the character of the man himself and his impact on the business. This week I thought I’d talk about some traits that entrepreneurs share.
1. Being visionary. Stephen’s conviction from the very beginning of the business was that the potential was enormous. His ambition and positivity never faltered.
2. Following a fire that wiped out the business in 2000, over the following 5/6 years he fought against the odds to have his insurance claim overturned – having been denied initially. That resilience was powered by his integrity and firm belief that what’s right, is right!
3. Getting finance and insurance cover was a challenge for years. Because the business is so different, it was not fully understood. With great tenacity, Stephen relentlessly tried to get bankers and insurers to come out and see the business for themselves. With a stroke of luck, the CEO of a leasing organisation became a personal customer and saw the model for herself first-hand.
4. In all of my client assignments, I focus on culture and check to what extent ‘Customer’ gets sufficient attention. Celtic Campervans are totally focused on giving a great customer experience at every touchpoint… from airport pick-up to drop-off. And that culture starts at the top.
I attended the recent Pendulum Summit. I came away inspired and motivated by the rags to riches stories from the likes of Baroness Michelle Mone and Jo Malone. There are always strong messages of hope from such famous and visionary people of resilience, tenacity, positivity, and being disruptive.
We too have great examples of success and glory. It’s in our Irish DNA and doesn’t always have to be measured in millions of euros. You may be one too!