When I say "camping", what comes to mind?
I think of the long road trips out to B.C., playing an endless game of "I Spy" with my sister, pitching a tent at the Sicamous campground and spending the days on the beach.
I haven't spent much time camping since my teenage years. School and work became a higher priority, and I didn't want to invest in purchasing all the necessary camping supplies.
Camping season is upon us, and if you are like me, and you don't want to buy a tent or an RV, there is another solution: Wheel Estate.
Wheel Estate is a peer-to-peer RV rental business that encourages trailer owners to list their RVs and travel trailers on their website, and campers can rent a trailer for the duration of their vacation. It's like the Airbnb for camping.
And the RV market is bigger than you think. Try some of these stats on for size:
- There are over 1 million privately owned RVs in Canada
- There are 350,000 RVs in Alberta
- In North America alone, there are more than 40 million RV enthusiasts
- On average, nine out of 10 travel trailers are used for only 14 days out of the year
- Canadian RV owners on average spend $1.4 billion dollars every year on insurance, storage and maintenance fees
I sat down with founders, Chad and Cherie Ball, to talk about Wheel Estate, its successes, challenges and its upcoming expansion.
Tell me about Wheel Estate. How did this business begin?
In 2008, our family, like many other families, was hit hard by the recession. In 2010, we needed to find a way to hit the reset button. A beach vacation was out of the question.
So we turned to something that we both love: camping.
However, when we went to look at renting an RV, we realized that even that wasn't going to work. So we talked to a neighbor about renting his RV for the weekend.
As we drove through the mountains, we noticed that there were a ton of RVs. And since RVs are only typically used 14 days of the year, we wondered why there wasn't a way to rent an RV.
We started brainstorming the idea of Wheel Estate, and after years of finding a insurance company and building the marketplace, we officially launched in 2017.
I love the name. How did you come up with it?
We truly believed that the business couldn't move forward with a name. Inspired by income properties and the concept real estate, we came up with the name Wheel Estate.
You're expanding across Canada this year. Can you tell me a little more about this expansion?
In our first year, we proved the business model of RV sharing, and this year we are looking to capture market across Canada, focusing on B.C. and Ontario. We already have a few trailers listed in each province, so we are excited about the national future of Wheel Estate.
Every business comes with challenges. What challenges have you experienced and how have you overcome them?
One of the toughest challenges we faced, especially in the infant stages, was finding an insurance company to create a policy for the business. Insurance is a highly regulated industry. You can't insure something you don't own. You can't start and stop policies at will. And you can't sell policies. So after nearly four years of rejections, we found a company in England that decided to take a risk on this business and created a unique policy for us. What's great about it is the RV renter doesn't have to worry about obtaining this insurance because it is included in every booking.
Another major challenge we faced was building a market place. It needed to be affordable and effective. We tried a few different business models. We piloted a subscription model, which didn't work. Now we are using an Airbnb-style model to rent RVs.
We have kids, and so finding a balance between business and family was extremely tough. Sometimes building a sustainable business takes you away from your family. We still don't have this figured out, but we work every day to make sure that our business and your family is taken care of.
Camping in an RV conjures up memories for me camping in B.C. with my grandparents. What are your favorite memories camping?
Cherie: One hot afternoon while I was camping with my family, my sister asked me if I wanted some lemonade. I said yes. She goes into the trailer and mixes what I thought was lemonade. I took one sip and nearly got sick. She gave me Palmolive soap mixed with water!
Chad: every time Cherie and I would go camping, especially in a tent, it would rain. It;s not a particularly happy memory, but it does stick out in my mind. Every single time, it rained. It's funny to think about now.
Where is your favorite place to camp?
We have a couple favorite places.
Mount Kidd in Kananaskis is beautiful. It is a fully treed, full power campground. There is not one single bad site. There is a lot to do, including an interpretive center, hiking trails, Nordic Spa. And it's open all year, so it's perfect for a quick winter moutain getaway.
We also love Red Streak in B.C.. Radium Hot Springs is around the corner, and it feels like you are camping on the peak of the mountain.
What is one thing you want people to know about Wheel Estate?
Wheel Estate was never created to make money; it was created to make meaning. Our job is help people have incredible experiences, make long-lasting memories and build connections with each other.
There is something inherently simple about camping, and we want to encourage people to get back to simplicity, to connect with the people around you and to enjoy our beautiful world.
What is one piece of advice you could give to someone starting a business, whether it's a similar business model or even in a different industry?
Don't give up. It's a good thing that you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. If you can see the steps involved, you are more inclined to give up. Not knowing what tomorrow brings gives you tenacity and the grit to make it successful.
Tell me three fun facts about Wheel Estate.
- We are a husband and wife team, and, yes, we still like each other! Wine may help.
- We believe that customer service is most important. So don't be surprised if you reach out to support, and one of us responds.
- We hire employees based on company values and culture, not your resume. We believe in people who are weird, wonderful and fun. You may be wondering, WHY weird? Weird is a good thing because we encourage you to be your true self at Wheel Estate.
Get in touch with Wheel Estate
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