In December we sat down (virtually) with Micro Biz Mag for an interview about our year setting up LandyCampers, what we've learnt from it, and the challenges of a pandemic in our first year! Check out the full text below:
Every now and then, we get to chat to business owners who have offerings that make us "wow" out loud. And LandyCampers is one of those businesses. We chatted to founders, Max Isham and Bela Boehme on running what is undoubtedly an incredibly cool business, as a couple.
In a nutshell, what do you do?
We are a unique Adventure Vehicle Hire Business from Essex, hiring out a small fleet of meticulously maintained and individually converted classic Land Rover Defenders. Our Landys are fully equipped with roof tents, a lounge in the rear and all the camping gear needed for a self-drive outdoor adventure. All our clients have to bring is their luggage and a sense of adventure and off they go exploring the wildest corners of the country.
Who do you run the business with?
We started and are running the business together as a couple – and managed to be still together.
What makes you different from your competitors?
Since we have lived out of the back of our own Landy, we know exactly what you need on the road to make life easy and camping enjoyable. We have selected high quality gear and made sure that more than the bare minimum is included in the base price of a booking. For example, our powered coolbox, high capacity battery and solar panels mean that you can go offgrid without any extra charges.
Every renter also gets lots of tips for routes and sights in the East of England and our constantly evolving list of ‘LandyCampers approved’ partner campsites to make the most of their trip; creating unique experiences while enjoying the slow roads and low impact travel.
While we are encouraging people to get out and enjoy the outdoors, it is also our duty to preserve nature. Thus, we have made a commitment to make LandyCampers as environmentally friendly and low impact as possible. For example, we work with Ecologi to ‘double offset’ the CO2 emissions of our business operations and our renter’s driven miles, pushing towards ‘carbon negative’ operating and letting our business activities result in a net reduction in CO2.
What inspired you to start the business?
We are both Surf Instructors, love travelling and spent all of summer 2019 living in and out of Max’ 30-year-old Land Rover Defender teaching surfing along the coasts of France and Spain. Some of our clients, a lovely French family of 4, ended up inviting us for pizza in the neighbouring town, under one condition: that we would give them a lift in the Landy. They were so excited, and the kids absolutely loved it, and that was when we thought: everyone should have a Defender to go on a camping trip with, and set about trying to make that option available!
2020: What a year! How has the pandemic affected you?
We were just about to take our first bookings when the national travel restrictions came into force back in March and we lost most of our summer business. Being self-employed and a brand-new business, we did not qualify for any Government support which was quite a blow after just having invested lots of our savings in setting up LandyCampers. But we kept going, adjusted our policies and processes like cleaning and the hand-over to be Covid-secure and once we were allowed to open, we were nearly fully booked from August through to October. With huge demand for domestic holidays and staycation being on the rise, what we offer with LandyCampers was exactly what people were looking for and we are hoping this trend will continue into 2021. We have just started selling gift vouchers that can be redeemed for a camping adventure next year and are hoping these will be a lovely christmas present for everyone who loves the outdoors and a little adventure.
What do you love most about running your business?
Whether it’s teaching surfing or renting the Landys: we love sharing what we are passionate about. It sounds cheesy, but seeing clients coming back with a big smile on their face telling us about how they loved exploring the East Coast in the Landy, were waved at by other Defender drivers and had the best night’s sleep in the roof tent is so worth it. Apart from that, we can be out and about camping all over the place ourselves and can call it a ‘business research trip’. Also, we now have the best excuse to do up our own Landy. After all, she is our original LandyCamper!
And what are the biggest challenges?
Personally, starting a business as a couple can either be great or a disaster. Even after having closely worked together before, finding a way of sharing the workload, helping each other when you get stuck without being patronizing and accepting that we have completely different work ethics ( Bela is German, so “Why is this not done yet???”) is a slow process and needs a lot of open communication. Also, separating the business and the relationship and switching-off at the end of a day needs to be done very consciously.
Business-wise, starting a small business in some kind of niche sector like vehicle rental neither of us had experience in meant a lot of research and running after advice and information: finding the right insurances, being legally safe with our T&C’s and hire contracts and making sure we are following all the required regulations regarding our vehicles was not exactly straightforward. But it only makes us prouder now looking back at what we have achieved in a year.
Can you share one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
We got some very valuable advice from our family in the beginning: Build the business in a way it works for you and pays the bills, but also lets you sleep at night. There are a thousand things at once when you start from scratch and there will always be the boring bits of business plans, accounting and paperwork, but try to make sure your business also enables you to do the things you love: Max for example, being an Engineer and having owned Landys for years, is responsible for the vehicles – that was a no-brainer. But he also is an avid photographer and now has lots of reason to spend time behind the camera taking marketing shots and keeping our Social Media up and running and have his pictures seen.
Thank you to Micro Biz Mag for the opportunity to chat and tell a bit of our story! Check out their website for news, opinion, advice, tips and profiles relating to the UK’s huge freelance and micro business community.