After 13 months in a 4WD and camper trailer touring around Australia, Mike and Anita Pavey couldn’t face going back to the corporate jobs they quit to go travelling.
So they didn’t.
Instead, they took all their passion, knowledge and experience about 4WDing and camping and turned it into a full-time small business, launching The Dirt Camper Trailer Sales and Hire in the Adelaide Hills.
Anita, a graphic designer, and Mike, an IT asset manager, left their Melbourne-based corporate jobs in early 2011 to hit the road.
“It was something we both really wanted to do and it was the best thing we’ve ever done,” Anita told The Huffington Post Australia.
“The people we met, the places we’ve seen, it blew us away.”
“We’d done a lot of travelling in our time, and we started doing some writing for Camper Trailer Australia part-time, and really wanted to do that round Australia trip,” Mike said.
“So we turned that writing job into a full-time freelance job on the road, and it paid for some of our trip.
“We’d left our jobs and while we on the trip we’d thought ‘it’d be so nice to not have to go back to those corporate jobs’ -- this was our ticket to get out!”
About 13 months (including an unplanned month stranded in Geraldton in WA), 41,000 kilometres and 26,000 photos later, the Paveys arrived back in Melbourne and knew they wanted more from life than what their corporate jobs had offered.
“When we got back, we caught up with friends in Canberra who ran a dealership for Track Trailer out of their backyard and had worked up to the stage they were the biggest dealer in Australia,” Mike said.
“They convinced us, that while it’s not really a big money-making business, the enjoyment factor was a high and so we went for it.”
“We thought ‘if they can do it, we can do it!’" Anita said.
“We moved from Melbourne back to Adelaide and started off in the shed at our house in Littlehampton. But some people were kind of like, ‘Oh, you have them in your backyard?’. So we thought about opening a shop.
"We had to decide between buying a house and opening the shop and we went with the shop! Life really is too short, so we thought, ‘Let’s just go for it!’”
Customer service is No.1
The Paveys opened The Dirt Camper Trailer Sales and Hire shop and showroom in Mount Barker in March last year, and now stock some of Australia’s top-name camper trailers, hybrids, tents as well as camping products and accessories and help other everyday Aussies get off the beaten track.
“We’ve put up photos from our trip all over the shop, and a big map of where we’ve gone to show people our journey, and they ask us for help and advice about going to some of those places,” Anita said.
“If our trailers don’t suit them, we tell them -- we just want people to get the right advice and matching people to the right product."
“They’re dealing with adventurers here, not salespeople who just want to sell no matter what,” Mike said.
“We have to sell to make a living, but we need to sleep at night too! And we want people to be happy with what they get from us.”
Anita said most of the camper trailers and products they stock were those they’d used personally on camping trips, so they could provide the right guidance and advice.
“We started off with the one camper trailer in the backyard and now we’ve got four different camper trailer businesses on board, and we also do tents and kitchens and accessories,” Anita said.
“It’s all good quality Australian products too, and they’re things we use or have used as well so we can talk firsthand about how it all works.”
She said they decided to continue the hire element of their business so prospective buyers could get a feel for life on the road.
“That was something we did -- we hired a Tvan and tried it out before we bought one so it was handy for us, so we wanted to be able to offer that to other people too,” she said.
The Paveys also give advice about the equipment customers will need to reach some of the most remote and beautiful spots in the country, drawing on their travels to places including the Western Australian coast, the Simpson Desert, the Kimberleys and Cape York.
“We are privileged where we are here in Australia,” Mike said.
“You look at all the places we have here, the beaches, the ranges, the rock -- it’s awesome everywhere, we just want to help people to get out there and discover it.”
Advertising doesn't have to mean big bucks
The Paveys don't employ any staff, so they run every aspect of their business themselves -- from the social media to marketing and advertising.
“We’re on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram and we’ve got a YouTube channel too,” she said.
“The most important lesson we learned about advertising though, and we’ve advertised in newspapers and magazines, and it’s so expensive -- but the biggest one that’s drawn people in for us is advertising on Gumtree.
“Most people calling in or calling up, they’ve seen us on Gumtree. Now we list everything on there, and it’s just been amazing how well it’s worked for us.”
The Paveys said the most challenging aspect of running their small business was not knowing what was around the corner.
“Cash flow is always an issue with small business, and we’ve invested the money we were going to spend on a house into our business now,” Mike said.
“People say the first few years are really tough money-wise, but it’s all been good fun and a good learning process for us,” Anita said.
“We want to be able to have the best products we can, but you’ve got to pay for it to get it in the shop, so that outlay was pretty hard to get started,” Anita said.
“It’s hard not knowing what’s around the corner too -- it can be a quiet week, and then the next week you can sell three trailers in a row. You just never know how it’s going to be -- day to day or week to week, so that’s a bit difficult.
“Like any small business, you’ve got the good and the bad times --- the best thing about a business like this is when someone comes in and you can see their faces light up when they can see what they can do with the products we have.
“There’s times we thought we’d have to go back to full-time work, but I’m glad that didn’t happen because then we wouldn’t be where we are, and doing what we really love doing.”