The Road to Success (from Family Business Magazine)
The massive rise in grey nomads has created a wave of business opportunities. Aquarius Motorhomes is one company that has found a niche market catering for these travellers. We profile this innovative Australian company.
Value for Money ‘A-class’ Motorhomes
There are an estimated 350,000 recreational vehicles touring around Australia right now. Another 17,000 caravans will be sold in the next 12 months, 80% of them to over 50s. Grey Nomads are big business, Alan and Alison Imrie have all their needs covered. They cater for all sorts of Grey Nomads from their Batemans Bay base through their caravan dealership, but they also have the luxury end of the market cornered.
Alan and Alison head up Aquarius Motorhomes, formerly Coachmen Motorhomes Australia, with a reputation for providing good quality, value for money ‘A-class’ motorhomes. “Most of our customers are couples who want to have the freedom to pull up wherever they like,” Alan says. “From 55-70 is our basic demographic. Some of them even sell their houses and we send on their mail.”
The Australian Market Favours a Quality Finish
Alan’s journey into the luxury motorhomes business began when he travelled around America about eight years ago and noticed there were people touring in recreational vehicles (RVs) that were not available back at home. He saw the opportunity and worked to gain a dealership with Coachmen Motorhomes, buying a production run of 20 vehicles.
He soon found the Australian market favoured a quality finish rather than an American-styled product and he invested considerable effort to improve the vehicles once they arrived here, refitting the interior with quality materials and furniture to meet higher expectations.
Alan says Australian motorhome owners are far more discerning than the average owner in the US and Aussies are keen on being self-sufficient and like to be able to pull up wherever they want, rather than within the reach of an extension cord. So Alan oversaw the fit-out that included stand-alone power systems supplemented by solar panels and conversions to low carbon footprint LPG.
After a few years of developing a presence within the market place and getting to know the ‘grey nomads’, the motorhome company Alan had been aligned with split its American-based business and he decided to leave the Coachmen dealership. Coachmen RV had sold the motorhome production side of the business and Alan sounded out the new special vehicle section to help him develop a custom-designed model, the Aquarius, to offer a premium product for Australia. (The Coachmen split has been compared to the Toyota/Lexus business division and, essentially, Alan remained connected to the Lexus luxury equivalent.)
“We originally outsourced the right hand drive conversions once the motorhomes arrived in Australia, but now they are manufactured especially for us, and come in right hand drive, after our engineers travelled to the US to explain how this is done,” he says.
But what is an ‘A-class’ Motorhome?
The result of the purpose-built process is the most economical A-class motorhome in the world, according to Alan. But what does ‘A-class’ mean? There are three classes of these vehicles: ‘A-class’ means purpose-built vehicles where the driver’s position is on the same level as the living areas. With the ‘A-class’ the driver and front passenger chairs revolve to become part of the lounge area. ‘B-class’ means an adapted from a conventional van while ‘C-class’ is distinguished by a bed/cabin area that is fitted over the existing van or light truck cab.
Free Camping with all Modern Features
The Aquarius Motorhome not only gives the end user the freedom to free camp for up to three weeks, utilising features like solar power and the large water tank capacity, but also has all the modern features (De Longhi Appliances) with the largest kitchen bench space in an Australian Motorhome to date. The design distances itself from the existing American-style motorhomes with curved bamboo cabinetry, a large open-plan kitchen, neutral toning with leather dining/lounge chairs. As Channel 7s Great Outdoors presenter Di Smith, says, “I’ve lived in apartments smaller than this – you have to see it to believe it.”
Alan says when he first sees Grey Nomad couples, he knows the “blokes all think they are going to buy the motorhome” but as soon as the women see all the space, the De Longhi appliances and convection microwave oven they take over the buying power. Luckily there is still plenty on offer for the boys. “It is more economical to run than a large four-wheel-drive on diesel or petrol,” Alan says. “It has been designed to allow couples to ‘free camp’ for up to three weeks because you’ve got the LPG and you’ve got the solar with three 132 Watt panels.”
“We design each luxury motorhome specific to the customer’s needs and wants.”
“The product hit the market place early in 2011, with its release at the Melbourne Trade Show in March, with a wonderful response. We continue to work alongside our customer base for their input, as the end user, to develop this product further, and design each Motorhome specific to the customer’s needs and wants,” Alan says. “We invested a significant amount of effort to ensure the highest quality motorhomes that could make any interstate trip extremely enjoyable, safe and comfortable.”
And Aquarius is not done yet, Alan and Alison are gearing up for the launch of a new model, not bad for a small company with about 10 employees, based in Batemans Bay, New South Wales.