Interview: Annah Todman of Wanderlust Camper Co.

Glamping Business speaks to Annah about her company Wanderlust Camper Co. which hires out camper vans with a glamping vibe, which are hand-built for the perfect holiday experience.

What inspired you to set up your business?

My husband and I are very passionate about travelling, road trips and having adventures in campervans. Since we’ve been together, we’ve always had some sort of live-in vehicle, starting off with an LDV pilot that we converted ourselves some 10 years ago (in which I had to kneel on the floor to cook), we moved to more conventional live-in vehicle types; we had a vintage VW Transporter, but found that was much too small for us when we had a baby and it became onerous having to pop the top up every time we stopped, but was great for our first major roadtrip round Europe, some 2,500 miles reaching north Poland before returning.

Then we had a rather large 6-berth motorhome, which was brilliant for space but not at all for manoeuvring or fuel consumption. I guess we outgrew that after a 2,000 miles roadtrip to Bavaria and back when our daughter was 2 and realised how much fuel we’d consumed.

Next came a caravan, that I couldn’t drive on my licence type and our hearts just weren’t in it like they had been with a campervan. We decided to put our experience in what we had learned with the pluses and excluding minuses from each type of vehicle and go back to the drawing board, creating our own bespoke campervan ourselves so we would end up with exactly what we thought suited a family meaning we could move about in, with fuss-free beds.

It was also a creative opportunity to decorate the van with a glamping vibe, bunting and lights to make it feel special. We felt this was a winning formula and thought it would be great to share our unique, handcrafted and personalised campervan with others. The time was right to look at starting our business; renting out the campervan as our daughter had just reached school age and the idea of creating a business that I could do mainly from home and be there to collect my daughter from school was very appealing. Seeing how quickly our original campervan Sally became within 2 months of setting-up, we realised we could replicate the formula, create more campers and set the wheels in motion for our business.

How has your actual business aligned with your original plan?

Our original plan was to let Sally the campervan out for hire and to see how popular she was and produce more unique, handcrafted campers if it worked. It became evident quickly that she was well-loved, and feedback showed that our customers appreciated having the opportunity to hire an affordable camper, than was good quality and well made, with it being clear we’d put lots of thought in to the layout.

We’ve not moved from that ethos. We’re not trying to imitate factory-made, off-the-shelf campers, there are plenty of them about and our hearts wouldn’t have been in the project if that was the case. Our ethos was to showcase the handcrafted aspect with an excellent finish –  thus hopefully avoiding the home-made look and lean towards the glamping feel.

Having had a successful first season, we feel that we will stick to our guns on what we are wanting to do. That said, we had originally thought we’d make subsequent campers different and thus appeal to different markets so our second camper we decided to only make a 2 berth and make it a little more roomy with a big sofa and a built-in loo, whilst she was popular, she just wasn’t as popular as the more homely, family friendly feeling that Sally provided, plus of course, being only 2 berth meant the market was significantly reduced and excluded families. This has reinforced us in to focusing on the family market, however they still work well for couples.

What sort of customers do you normally attract?

With an open-mind at the beginning of the season, truth be told, we weren’t entirely sure who are target market was going to be. Sally the original camper had put a smile on the faces of our family and friends when we’d shown them the finished article. Particularly as some were either sceptical of the idea or just not getting it, we knew Sally was a hit when we got great genuine feedback and saw the smiles. However, we weren’t entirely sure if there was going to be a particular type of customer. Now, reflecting on our range of guests from this season, the clear majority were families with young children who were looking for the next step up from camping. That said, we’ve had quiet a few couples who are heading off to music festivals as the campers suit the music scene well too.

The most surprising, we’ve had two different 80+ year olds taking the vans. One was celebrating her 80th birthday and had a bucket list of things she still wanted to enjoy so asked her daughter to take her on a road trip round Wales. The other couple took their grandchildren on a little break and we thought that was just fantastic. As we moved towards autumn and even this winter, we’ve had more couples with their dogs hiring the campers as I’m sure all dog-owners know, options can be limited where you can take your dogs on holiday and what better way than to travel in a camper with your four-legged friend.

What is your USP?

As our campervans are converted from mini-buses and individually styled and handcrafted – each one is bespoke and entirely unique. We can confidently say there are no other campervans the same and most campervans out there are factory-made. There is a big self-build market but they in themselves tend to have a look that differs from our campers as often they are made as live-in vehicles for their owners. The fact that my husband has hand-crafted them, and I have styled them immediately makes it a special lovingly made and well appreciated vibe. I’m told by our customers that they feel cosy and comfortable, which we are thrilled to hear.

What pitfalls if any have you come across over the years?

As with any new business I’d imagine, there are the exciting bits and the less exciting bits and probably the less exciting things get put to the bottom of the pile. The creative part and meeting and talking to our customers are the good parts that we enjoy.

Being thrown in just as the season had begun meant that because we were so busy we got swallowed up in not being as well-prepared as we thought in terms of the all-important systems. We have spent this, our first winter season playing catch-up. As our fleet has increased too we have had to invest in automated systems and more pre-planning – without it, we know we would not be able to manage the forthcoming season.

It’s also a huge learning curve and there are lots of things you have to learn quickly, which can mean many late nights but we feel it will be worth it in the end. Almost a term in this academic year, I’ve already been able to spend more time after school with my daughter so it is definitely worth it. That said, when she goes to bed, it’s back on again till late trying to tick off the jobs. I think it’s fair to say one of the pitfalls is the mountain of paperwork that goes with this industry, the bookings, payments, confirmations and insurance processing. I would not have imagined it would have been so much before we started and it enforces why we feel entirely focused on becoming automated ready for 2018. This will speed up bookings, however, we don’t want to lose the personal touch that we feel we offer as we build up a good rapport with our customers and can provide ideas they might benefit from for their trip.

What if any plans do you have for the future of the company?

Our campervans are booked in for a big make-over this winter so our campers have a recognisable fresh branded look on the outside but they will all retain their own individual unique design inside.  We’d like to increase the fleet and also look to offer event accommodation. I’m enjoying researching this ready to create event packages for parties, weddings, hen-dos and stag-dos. We’re fortunate that we live in such a wonderful part of the country for being in the great outdoors with some brilliant activity opportunities – the world is our oyster. We’ve begun talking to some great partners with a view to offer exclusive and unusual event deals and there are some fabulous places on our doorstep. We’re conveniently located for the Forest of Dean, Brecons, Malvern, Cotswolds and straddle the border of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire so there are a plethora of amazing places and business to partner with. As well as outdoor activity places, we’re very fortunate that there are some great food and drink brands based close-by that we have begun talking to, to provide some lovely goodies for our guests, such as local fruit juices, wines, beers, produce and cakes, bakes and breakfast goodies. Watch this space – we’ll be beginning to reveal our new suppliers and partners in the New Year.