When it comes to taking a holiday, most of us tend to spend money rather than thinking of clever ways to make it back in truckloads.
But Melbourne couple Ronny Probandt and Tania Differding say a road trip around the country two weeks after they met in 2005 ignited an idea they say turns over almost $2 million each year.
Heading off on the road together in a $2000 campervan, the pair had no money to put in to their “banged up” holiday home. But Mr Probandt, who was in Australia on a backpacker’s visa, picked up some welding skills and made their van a little more liveable for their 10 months on the road.
“We loved campervans since the day we met, and we loved travelling in them,” Ms Differding told news.com.au.
“As we travelled, a lot of people said they’d never seen anything like [what he’d done to the campervan] … and they were right. There was nothing else like it out there.”
Ms Differding, who was working in marketing when she returned from the road trip, said they decided to do a test to see if their hobby could turn in to a career.
“People kept saying we need to start selling them … and that it was a really good business idea,” she explained.
“So we put it up on carsales.com.au for sale as a test to see how many calls we would get. In 24 hours we got 50 calls. So we quit our jobs and decided to make a business out of it.”
In what Ms Differding said was a “brave move” seven years ago, the couple sold their unit and rented a warehouse in Northcote, Victoria, which they also used as a place to live.
The creation of Achtung Camper was born and despite being a slow burn at first, a few tweaks to their business model soon saw their dream explode.
“Living in that warehouse was worse than camping,” she laughed.
“I have no brain for finance … so the first two years we were dumping every receipt in to a box and had no accounting system. We were making vans but not making any money.
“There were so many parts of the business we didn’t account for … we were running at a full loss.”
After three years failing to get themselves in to the green, the pair decided to relocate their young business to Geelong and double their prices, with their vans now retailing anywhere between $90k – $120k.
“We make around 35 to 40 vans each year, with customers able to choose anything from cushions to suspension upgrades, 4WD add-ons and all the internal fabrics,” she said.
“Our most expensive van cost around $120k, and was a 4WD van so it came with all the extras.”
Breaking in to a gap in the market, the pair said their fully-customisable vans are what appeal to generations young and old; a boom that’s enabled them to make a profit of $330k gross the last financial year.
Instagram has played a big role in the success of the campervan conversion company, with more and more millennials choosing the van life over conventional hotel holidays.
In 2018, Tourism Research Australia revealed Australia’s caravan, campervan and camping visitor economy reached record numbers for year ending as of 31st March, with figures revealing national overnight domestic caravan and camping trips have reached 11.84 million in a 3.5 per cent increase from the previous year.
Caravan, campervan and camping trips also proved popular with a wide age demographic, with the most prominent age groups being the 30 to 54-year market.
According to IBISWorld, revenue for the Caravan and Motorhome Rental industry is expected to increase to $202.7 million by the end of 2020, with a weaker Australian dollar causing more Australians to explore their own backyard.
It’s a trend the founders of Achtung Campers hold close to their heart – especially as they continue to use campervans for half of each year.
“Own business means we can leave a lot,” she said. “We go every year to Europe and do a big trip by using an old motorhome we use.
“Every time we go, we get more ideas and there’s so many more products and materials we can learn about over there.
“So while it’s a holiday, we use the trip as a thinking space as well.”