Paul Tuffery has a small business renting caravans. It started up almost by accident when he and his wife Eva rented their first caravan to a friend. Jill Malcolm visited the couple in Kumeu.
Why did you buy your first caravan?
The first was a pop-top that I bought for $5000. I was working for a food relief programme in Whangarei and driving buses for Ritchies Coachlines. Eva and I lived in Auckland but the two jobs were based in Whangarei, and so I used to spend the weekdays up there and come home at weekends. At first, I stayed with friends, but that couldn’t go on forever, and I ended up buying the pop-top. It didn’t work out as it was absolutely freezing in winter. I sold it for $7000!
I then bought my first proper caravan on Trade Me from a private owner in Whangarei. It was a small two-berth ABI caravan, built in England in 2000. Despite being older it was (and still is) very comfortable and in good condition. The layout and fittings were ahead of their time. I lived in this for quite a while but eventually I wanted a bit more space, and I became tired of having to make up the bed from the two bench seats every night.
How did you come by your next caravan?
One day out of curiosity I was wandering around a dealer’s yard in Whangarei to see what was available. I got chatting to another man who was doing much the same. He mentioned that he was thinking of selling his Bailey four-berth Pageant Series 6, if I wanted to take a look. I did, and liked it and bought it, with the intention of replacing the ABI. But before I had got around to selling the ABI, a friend asked if she could hire it from me for a few months as she needed a quiet space. That arrangement suited us both, until she lost her job in the Covid 19 lockdown and couldn’t afford to pay the rent. She brought the caravan back. So now I had two caravans. In September last year, I gave up my jobs in Whangarei and came home permanently. I now drive a school bus for Ritchies. We live on the Kumeu property, in the tiny house I built four years ago. Luckily, the property has plenty of space for parking.
Now you have three caravans. How did that come about?
I started thinking that instead of selling the ABI it might be a good idea to hire out the two caravans to augment our income. While all this was going on Eva made a decision. She had a little money sitting in a bank account and earning very little interest. She thought why not buy one herself and get me to rent it for her? We found a well-presented 2005 fourberth Elddis Xscape 540, which was being sold privately by a dealer on behalf of his mother-in-law. Eva bought it and that is how we ended up with three very nice caravans, and the beginnings of a business that we named Escape Artists.
How did you go about marketing?
I did a bit of research and came across Camplify, an RV sharing company. It was free to join, with no charge for listings, and offered comprehensive insurance. The marketing is done through the company’s website, and intending clients are vetted. The charge is 11 per cent per booking. Within a week of listing with Camplify, we had six bookings. We later decided we would go with their premium package, which has a monthly cost but has advantages that Eva and I thought were worthwhile.
Between Christmas 2020 and April this year, we had 40–50 bookings. Surprisingly, the busiest month was April. We thought things would have tailed off by then, but we still have bookings coming in for the rest of the year. The company is very easy and pleasant to deal with, and the people who book through them are the same. I am gregarious by nature – I enjoy the interaction with clients, and watching them heading out in one of our caravans to have some wonderful adventures.
How much work does the business require?
It keeps me busy. The main workload is the maintenance and the cleaning, and there is some bookwork which Eva takes care of. I am meticulous with the way I present the caravans. Even when a caravan has been returned in spotless condition I still do my own cleaning. Each clean takes me about four hours. So far our clients have been very good at returning the caravans more or less as they found them. One man was so thorough he had even blackened the tyres. l think people respect the fact that the caravans are immaculate when they go out, and want to return them in a similar condition. All the feedback we’ve had so far on Camplify has been five-star.
The other area I take care of is repair and maintenance. Luckily I’m a handyman and can tackle most things. Caravans require regular maintenance and being able to do this myself saves a lot of money. Clients have often not towed or lived in a caravan before, so I give them a thorough operational briefing and pass on some of the tips and traps of caravanning and towing. I am also aware that this can be a lot for people to take in at one time, so I make myself available from 7am to 7pm so that renters can ring me if they have any questions.
Have you added anything to the caravans?
There are always things to attend to and small improvements to be made. I fitted a solar panel to the Elddis, for instance (the Bailey and ABI already had them) and I am about to fit 12-volt USB ports to all three.
How do you see your business evolving?
We are looking at offering longer-term rents during the winter months for people who for various reasons might want a static caravan for extra living space. We intend to grow the business so eventually we will have about 10 caravans for hire, and it will be my full-time work.
Do you have any advice for others looking to buy an older caravan?
Well, the obvious thing is to look carefully at how clean and tidy it is – inside and out. This indicates how it has been looked after. I also suggest having a dryness check if you are not sure you can recognise water damage yourself. Leaks can cause devastating damage. Check the chassis for rust and make sure the tow hitch is in good working condition. Also, make sure the warrant of fitness and the electrical and gas certifications are up to date.
To book one of Paul’s caravans, visit camplify.co.nz/member/134682.