Kiwi campervans making big inroads in the US
1 August 2010
Minibago v Winnebago - Kiwi campervans making big inroads in the US
Leading Kiwi campervan rental company Escape Campervans now has 100 vehicles on the highways of California, just two years after introducing its graffiti art-styled vans to the US market.
One of the company's original founders, Andrew McGregor, now based in San Francisco, says the company's unique hand-painted campervans and simplified 'no-hidden costs' rental agreements are proving a winner in the US.
"When we first started Escape in 2003 in New Zealand, there was nothing like our product on the market and, after some investigation, we discovered the same opportunity existed in the US.
"It was also a positive for our customers - they could continue their New Zealand experience with Escape in the US, and vice-versa."
"When we first hit the ground in Los Angeles in 2009, it was a terrifying, crazy place. We had no contacts or knowledge of how we were going to pull it off.
"It's a lot harder to start a business here in California so we had to quickly learn all about insurance, business licenses, legal pitfalls and the US way of doing business. We were very fortunate to have a US-based Kiwi friend and partner guide us through the choppy waters.
"We also had a job convincing locals who were skeptical about the compact size of our campervans, but they were never our target customers.
"They thought we were crazy as we tried to explain how there was a bed, foldaway table, fridge and kitchen in a small van and that travellers rented these for months at a time. It was a classic case of our Kiwi Minibago versus their US Winnebago.
"But we are in fact targeting the same market as we do in New Zealand: mainly discerning backpackers from Holland, Germany, Switzerland and the UK who want a bit more adventure and freedom on their travels. Now we're also seeing an increasing number of Kiwis who are taking advantage of the high New Zealand dollar."
He says that when they launched in the US they also realised there was an advantage in keeping pricing and rental agreements simple for the customer.
"We were baffled by the archaic language, ambiguous terms and conditions, insurances and all the hidden costs of the traditional operators. It took us a while to figure out how much people were actually paying."
McGregor says the key to the company's success has been its low, transparent pricing and its unique hand-painted campervans.
"It's worked beautifully for us in New Zealand, and here in the US our vans are also painted in themes representing local culture and scenery. Our next goal is to have 200 campervans on the ground in the US by 2013, and we're feeling confident we'll pull it off."