Six years ago, Chad Ball wanted to go on an RV vacation.
Seeking an escape from the stress of a downturn in the Alberta construction industry, in which he worked as a project manager in the home building industry, Ball and his wife Cherie wanted to go camping in the Rocky Mountains as an inexpensive getaway option.
But when they inquired with local RV dealers, the Okotoks couple learned it would cost almost as much as a beach vacation.
So they talked to a neighbour about renting his trailer, but that idea was shot down because of the additional insurance required by the owner.
In the end, the two borrowed a trailer from a friend, taking note along the trip of how many trailer and motorhomes sat idle in people’s driveways or sat dormant in storage lots.
The impression of that experience inspired Ball and his wife to create a new online sharing economy startup called Wheel Estate, an online marketplace that connects RV owners with people looking for an affordable camping vacation—call it an Airbnb version for campers.
The service was launched in Alberta last year because it is home to 350,000 camping rigs.
|Camping at Kekuli Bay between Vernon and Kelowna. Photo: Contributed|
“Alberta is the province with the most RV owners in Canada and the next biggest markets are in B.C. and Ontario, which we are focusing more on expanding into this year,” Ball said.
The concept is simple—the website connects RV and trailer owners willing to rent their vacation rigs to earn extra income with people looking for an affordable camping vacation.
The initial launch with 30 trailers for rent has now escalated to more than 600, with Ball’s idea to make Wheel Estate a nation-wide service.
“There are some similar models in Ontario but nobody has come up with this idea for across Canada,” he said.
“From an RV owner’s perspective, they are seeing this as an opportunity to earn extra income for something on average is used 14 days out of the year and sits idle the rest of the time. It has started what I call rentpreneurs, people who see the value in buying more than one trailer and offering them for rent through our website.”
But great business ideas can sometimes struggle to reach fruition, and Ball says Wheel Estate had one major stumbling block—insurance coverage.
“We couldn’t find any insurance underwriters to see the financial feasibility of what we wanted to do, and for people to get the extra insurance privately was just too expensive,” Ball said.
“We then got a lucky break whey Lloyd’s of London expressed an interest but it ultimately took about four years for that to get ironed out to where we could launch the company last year.”
As the connecting element, Ball said Wheel Estate controls the money transaction, holding back the fee to trailer owners for 48 hours after pickup to ensure their obligations were delivered on, and not releasing the security deposit for 48 hours after the trailer’s return to account for any potential damages.
And they encourage both parties to share their stories online for the knowledge and awareness benefit of others.
The company also forged a relationship with the RV roadside assistance service Coach-Net to provide help if renters get into trouble on the road, whether it be mechanical or how to work a camping unit’s given features.
Ball said the RV sales industry has been somewhat cool initially to their website service, in part because it competes with a given dealership’s own rental business and people may shy away from investing in a new trailer or motorhome.
“We are disruptive by nature in that we are changing what has been an established norm of how things work, but we don’t feel this is a zero sum game. The RV dealers don’t have to lose in order for us to win,” Ball said.
He feels the more opportunity people have to access a camping vacation, the better the chance they would be motivated to ultimately buy their own trailer or RV unit, particularly if they can earn rental income from it.
“It’s not really about trailers so much as it is people making connections with one another and what that can mean to people’s lives,” he said.
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