Movement and Career Opportunities in the caravan industry

Movement and subsequent career opportunities in the caravan industry, by Kate Mitchell

The past 10 years has seen a huge amount of movement in the caravan industry, but my prediction is they’ll be nothing on the next 10.

In 2007, the final year of my bachelor’s degree, the Caravanning Industry Association of Australia (or the CRVA as they were known back then), decided to hold their conference in Brisbane, just down the road from where I was studying. My parents, who owned a caravan park in Armidale NSW, saw this as an opportunity to catch up, so my little sister and I attended and sat on the ‘young persons’ table, as it was referred to back then. It was fitting as there were only a handful of us there and we were so uninvolved in the industry there was no appeal to integrate with anyone else.

Even as a business student at university, I saw no value in pursuing a career in the caravan industry. I couldn’t see any opportunities. I’m not saying the opportunities weren’t there. I’m just saying I couldn’t see them. I didn’t grow up in a caravan park with my parents purchasing the business the year I left home; and during my degree we were presented with speakers & case studies from the economic, finance, media, & political industries (to name a few), even my obsession with the Australian Defence Force was considered a little left field. However, the caravan industry didn’t rate at all… Yet…

After university, I began my career in public relations in the finance industry; I was quickly promoted, and just as quickly became bored as hell. I gave it all up and went snowboarding in Canada for a couple of years and was introduced to the tourism industry while over there. I worked for a few luxury hunting lodges and a dude ranch, and started to see similarities between their (hugely successful) businesses and what my parents had back home. I started to get inspired and I finally asked dad for a job.

He said yes (thanks dad), and in 2012 flew me in from the Yukon straight down to a conference in Hobart to get me motivated. What hit me straight away at this conference was the increase in young professionals in the industry. The table of ten had at least tripled and I started to get a sense of comradery. What also hit me, and maybe it was my ignorance that I didn’t see this before, but I started to get a real appreciation into the opportunities that actually exist for business people in this industry.

When networking at the industry events I noticed many young people had similar stories to mine. They went away for a few years, got qualified, (some) tried their hand working for other companies, and came back to the family business and nailed it. This trend quickly professionalised our industry. But it’s bigger than that. The caravan industry traditionally lends itself to big opportunities for entrepreneurs, combine that with the support of a family business and we’ve seen young innovators really make headway in this space. There’s no reason (hint hint, nudge nudge) these people couldn’t be putting their hands up to present case studies at a tertiary level in technology, engineering, science, digital marketing and advertising. I personally look forward to the day students are considering this industry before their parents tell them to, or they fall into it by mistake…. Bring in 2017…

…And this is what I find exciting. The movement from caravan industry corporates is seeing more professional opportunities present themselves for new comers and experienced business people alike. And I guess that’s why I’ve been asked to write this article.

I was asked to write about the process of being bought out by a corporate after our park was acquired earlier this year; and my role within the business. I was asked to reflect on the transition period and discuss how I foresee staying in the industry now that I am no longer tied to it the way I was previously.

I guess essentially I am optimistic, however I would be lying if I said the transition period from when my parents decided to sell, to when it was sold wasn’t super stressful. While the business was on the market, family conversations turned from practical to fantastical and we got frustrated with that pretty quick. The issue with our sale, and why it was so stressful, is that it wasn’t just an investment opportunity to us. Yeah there was the risk you’d get screwed in the sale (coming up against a team of high paid lawyers is never unintimidating, and sometimes your agent’s best interest are more aligned with that of the cashed up corporate), but this change would also affect where we lived, and then of course there was the compromise of future directions to sort out, and that’s only if sale went through; the hardest factor was dealing with the uncertainty of the sale itself. One of these things is stressful on its own; all of these at once became almost unbearable at times. If I can offer any practical advice for people going through this, it would be to buy a yacht in the Whitsundays to help keep your mind off the rest of the unknowns.

What I am optimistic about is the opportunities moving forward. This industry is currently getting a financial injection through corporate investment strategies within tourism parks, lifestyle villages, manufacturers, digital marketing, and the tech space; and we’ve never had so much access to affordable technology before. Combine these factors and we are presented with enough movement in the industry for people to really nut out what they are passionate about and find their place.

After the sale I was given the opportunity to either jump head first back into the corporate world, or throw caution to the wind and figure out, at the ripe age of 35, what it is I am actually passionate about and just go for it. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the past six months while I finish up at the park.

So I have decided to back myself and have developed my own content creation/digital marketing business I have chosen to operate my business within the caravan industry because I see the growth opportunities in this space, and ultimately like the people.

My marketing strategy will see me travel around the country in my off-road camper trailer and experience the industry from a customer point of view, while operating my business from the road. There’s a huge element of risk in my plan as I fill my house with people I don’t know, and have faith they’ll pay the rent. However I’m hedging my risk knowing the industry has always been good to me, access to technology is readily available, and figuring a little adventure can only be a good thing in our very short lives.

It will be an interesting space for everyone over the next 10 years and I’m personally excited to see the changes. Ultimately I think for young people, careers in the caravan industry have never been so diverse and so appealing.