Pitching an idea became a dream come true
So I got completely distracted while researching James Woodford from Youcamp before our recent interview.
I haven’t been camping for years and all of a sudden I have a list of potential family holidays I want to do around our area that’s as long as my arm thanks to their website featuring amazing camping and accommodation options on private land.
It’s one of those ideas that you really wish you had thought of. It’s genius in its simplicity.
James and Prue Woodford grew up loving the outdoors and camping, which has continued as adults.
They have a property in Southern New South Wales and realised that camping on private land is often the most relaxing, and certainly the most scenic experiences that people can have.
“We thought wouldn’t it be great to bring land holders and travellers together?” James said.
“A lot of land owners are quite conservative about allowing people to come onto their land, mainly because people are worried about what’s going to happen on their property.”
So how does it work? James admits it’s a bit like a dating site for campers and landholders!
Property owners upload photos and a blurb on their property onto the website and then travellers can search for a range of different criteria, including whether they can light a campfire, or take a dog.
It allows the property owner to set the rules and what price they want and travellers are able to search for exactly what they want. (Personally I want to camp by a creek; it turns out there are many more than I thought around Central Queensland!)
Camping options are in the biggest demand, but there’s also listings for different kind of accommodation like shearing sheds, retro campervans, cottages and camp houses.
Despite having matched thousands of landowners and travellers through their website, James says he can put his hand on his heart and say they’ve never had a serious problem brought to their attention, only two minor incidents with litter being left onsite.
“I think farmers have been very surprised with how much they get out of this, apart from making a bit of extra money,” he said.
“They are being exposed to different kinds of people they wouldn’t normally get to meet. One example that we thought was really lovely was a family from the far west of New South Wales whose children did school of the air and they wanted people to come and stay with them so their kids had other kids to play with.”
“We’ve also had retired servicemen suffering from post-traumatic stress who really needed some peace and quiet and not to be bothered by other people in campgrounds. Another group has taken autistic children camping. There’s been such a range of heart-warming examples as to why this is important. “
Youcamp went ‘live’ in 2013 and aim to have a thousand properties listed by the middle of next year.
“The year before last we started to negotiate with the Super Retail Group (they are Australia’s biggest leisure retailer and they own Rebel Sport, Great Outdoors, Boating Camping Fishing),” said James.
“They took a 51 percent share in our business and so we are now partnered with them and while we were initially nervous about losing the community feel that everyone really likes about Youcamp, it has allowed us to really improve our website and make it look a lot more professional and we (Prue and I) are now managing directors, so we still have that sense of ownership and control.”
“We are just two ordinary people, landholders, who really only dreamed about what it could be, or what the potential of this business was, so getting some secure financial backing in place was really a dream come true.”
And what have they learnt with the experience of dealing with big corporations so far?
“How important open communication and expressing what your expectations are, and being prepared to lift your own level of professionalism,” he says.
“We are more aware of statistics and how many people we are reaching because the pressure is on to ensure it’s a viable business.
“When you start in small business, you have to be as frugal as you can. Small businesses suffer under debt. There’s no point reinventing the wheel- we had a look around and the closest model to what we wanted was AirBnB.”
Initially James and Prue had approached the Super Retail Group themselves, and said were just lucky that they saw the potential and how influential Youcamp could be and chose to move the partnership forward.
It hasn’t all been idyllic though- James and Prue were in the news earlier in the year when a particular NSW local council questioned the fairness of what they were doing.
It’s actually a very interesting conversation about their process with big business and the ongoing challenge of regulation.
Listen to the full conversation on the podcast here.