WHEN, back in 2015, Rob Dawkins felt he was in a position to afford to fulfil a lifetime ambition by buying a campervan, he was taken aback by the cost. Even a second-hand model came with a chunky price tag.
Still, he was in funds, and decided to take the plunge, so he bought a VW campervan which gave him and his partner, Alexandra Black, many hours of fun driving and lingering overnight throughout Scotland.
Not long afterwards, a pal asked if he could rent their van for a week-end trip. A deal was agreed and after the van was returned Rob’s entrepreneurial disposition started him thinking that there was, in the East of Scotland, a gap in the market for campervan hire.
Today, with a 14 strong fleet of VW and other make campervans, Big Sky Campers is an established Scottish campervan hire company based just outside Edinburgh at the Port of Rosyth in Fife. Conveniently located for transport links, it offers all-inclusive luxury campervans, pet-friendly campervans, free, secure parking and transfers from public transport links.
Said Rob: “As campervan and outdoor enthusiasts ourselves, we want our customers to experience all the freedom and fun of a campervan holiday in our beloved, beautiful Scotland.
“We have a small and lovingly cared for fleet of campervans sleeping between two and four people. All our campers, each one of which has its own name and personality – and no logos – are kitted out with everything our customers need for their trip, including bedding, towels and camping accessories like solar showers and outdoor tables and chairs.
“Unlike some van hire companies, we do not charge for add-ons, except for portable toilets and additional drivers, so the prices we advertise are the prices customers pay.”
Demand is currently strong with only limited availability between now and November. Customers, Rob and Alex have found, are particularly attracted to the North Coast 500 and also to travelling over the sea, usually by bridge, to Skye.
“Most people who hire go north where there is lots to see and enjoy”, said Rob. “The majority of customers are non-Scots. Pre Covid, 70 per cent were from overseas and that is building again, but currently customers are mostly UK-based.
“We don’t go for massive, big motor homes, since they don’t tend to do well on Highland country lanes.”
Turnover for Big Sky Campers is currently around £0.5m and Rob and Alex’s plan is to keep on growing. While conscious of the environmental impact of diesel vans they are looking at going electric but the type of models needed are not really out there. In addition, adds Rob, there would need also to be a significantly big uplift, especially in rural spots, of charging points.
“We are constantly looking at how we can improve and have lots of ideas for growth. Early summer of 2022 has seen lots of last-minute bookings and we are regularly signing customers up for 2023, many of them for significant events including weddings and honeymoons.
“We charge a nightly rate and we are at the more expensive end of the market but believe we provide the best vans and the best service. On their return all vehicles are sterilised and valeted.
“We have the capacity to undertake basic maintenance on the vehicles since our team is pretty experienced in the sorts of thing that can go wrong and we also have a good relationship with a local garage which services the vans twice as frequently as normal vehicles.
“It’s rare to have a breakdown, though occasionally vehicles get bashed. I’ve spent quite a bit of time tutoring overseas visitors about driving on the left-hand side of the road but, very occasionally, some customers can get a little confused.”
The company has been a client of Russell & Russell for just over one year and the experience has been a good one, not least because of R&R director, Rosslyn McMaster’s awareness of the campervan market.
“Big Sky Campers is a classic example of an entrepreneurial business which Rob and Alex have grown from a flash of inspiration into a company which provides a major boost to Scotland’s tourist industry. It is a business that is, literally, going places, and we are delighted to help them along the road with our financial advice”, said Rosslyn.
Said Rob, “we clicked with Rosslyn and though it took us a while to extricate ourselves from our previous advisers, partly the result of Covid, we believed R&R would be able to help us run the business more efficiently. And so it has proved.”