We were lucky to catch up with Gail Jillissen recently and have shared our conversation below.
Gail, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. We’d love to have you retell us the story behind how you came up with the idea for your business, I think our audience would really enjoy hearing the backstory.
I have always enjoyed camping and used to arrange camping trips with my friends nearly every month. For me it is a form of therapy as I come back feeling refreshed and ready to get back to my daily routine again. When Covid-19 started, my husband and I were forced to close our business we had been running for 13 years so we had to start thinking of what to do next. We noticed, with everything shut down, there wasn’t much to do, but you could still go camping. I realized that I was probably not the only one getting cabin fever, and if I had the right camping trailers, other people would want to use them too. In fact, even now camping is still one of the safest ways to go on vacation compared to staying in a busy hotel or taking a packed flight somewhere. There were many places to rent travel trailers, but most of these trailers are heavy and usually large. I started researching camping trailers and decided I wanted to have trailers that first timers and people who did not drive huge trucks could tow too. We purchased our first trailer, which was a nuCamp TAG teardrop, and started renting it out. At first we were a little nervous, because there was nothing similar available in our area and we didn’t really know if people would like a small camping trailer instead of the huge trailers that everybody else was renting out. Soon we found out that our renters loved our tiny teardrop, so we added another, and then decided to go slightly larger and get a trailer with a bathroom. We ended up creating a fleet of eight easy to tow, high quality, stylish camping trailers. Our smallest trailers can be towed by small SUVs, and our largest can be towed by our Toyota 4-Runner and similar size SUVs. Many of our renters go camping at the California coast campsites, national and state parks, and even boondocking on BLM grounds in California and neighboring states.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
My husband Jan-Carlo and I run this business together as a team. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and have tent camped all my life. Jan-Carlo is Dutch and went camping a lot with his family and friends throughout Europe. We both enjoy working outside, spending time together and meeting people (who are mostly happy because they are excited about an upcoming trip or just got back from one). Camping in a trailer is much easier than a tent, and I love the convenience and comfort of having a bed instead of sleeping on the floor. We have mattress toppers in all of our trailers to make them more comfortable, and the trailers with bathrooms come equipped with kitchen and cleaning supplies. When we choose trailers, we look at size, weight, layout, and of course, quality. It’s a bonus that they look stylish too. Our smallest and lightest trailers are our TAG teardrops. We have Moonbeam, a 2021 nuCamp TAG Boondock with solar panels on the roof, queen size bed inside, and outside kitchen. It is only 14 feet long and weighs 1415 lbs unloaded. We have 2 other TAGs (Sunset and Ocean) that weigh 1284 lbs each unloaded. This means that if your car can tow 2000 lbs, you can rent one of these trailers. Sunset and Ocean do not have solar panels installed, but we do offer the option of renting portable solar panels, a generator or a battery pack/inverter for your trip. The next size up is our TAB teardrop trailers Pearl and Summit. They are both 15 feet long, weigh under 2000 lbs unloaded, and have a small wet bath inside. A wet bath is a combination of a toilet and shower. Pearl has an outside kitchen in the clam shell, and Summit has an inside kitchen. Both Pearl and Summit have solar panels installed. Going slightly bigger, we have Spirit, our Mini Max. Spirit is 17 feet long, has a bigger bed, bigger wet bath, and an inside kitchen and weighs 2320 lbs unloaded. It is also equipped with a solar panel. A generator is included if you need it. Our largest trailer is our Intech Sol Horizon Rover. It is 19 feet long, weighs 3350 lbs unloaded and sleeps a family of 4, has a large wet bath, inside kitchen as well as a slideout rear kitchen with griddle. The large panoramic window is amazing, making you feel like you are right in the middle of nature. We also provide a generator with this trailer if needed. Our Intech Sol Dawn Rover is slightly smaller than the Horizon but still has the large panoramic window. All of our trailers have air conditioners, which work on shore power or with a generator. To make camping even easier for our customers, we supply brake controllers, hitches, hitch balls, and adapters so all a renter needs to have is a vehicle with enough towing capacity (they are welcome to ask if they are not sure before they book), a 2 x 2 inch hitch receiver, and a working 7 or 4 pin receiver. Before renters come to fetch their trailer, we clean it inside and outside, put on fresh mattress protectors and fitted sheets, put in toilet paper, toilet tablets, and cleaning supplies, make sure there is enough propane, torque the wheels and check the tires. When they arrive, we teach them how to hitch and unhitch the trailer to their car and also show them how everything works. Dumping is not required but we show renters how to do it in case they need to. We are only a phone call or text away if they have any questions during their trip.
Any stories or insights that might help us understand how you’ve built such a strong reputation?
We clean and repair our trailers ourselves, and use them as often as we can to make sure they are in excellent condition. Customers like our honesty, flexibility, friendliness, patience, and availability if they have questions while out camping, and our genuine interest in their camping stories when they get back.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
Both Jan-Carlo and I have made changes many times in our lives. We have both lived and worked on 3 continents, adapting to situations and challenges as they came along. The most recent was when we had to close our very successful Spanish Immersion Preschool that we ran for 13 years due to Covid-19 as we had staffing issues like many other businesses had. It was sad that we were never able to open the preschool again, but we are excited about the new opportunities of running a trailer rental business. Through starting and running our own businesses, we have learned that you need to be willing to work hard and put in a lot of time and effort, especially at the beginning. You also need to be flexible and able to adapt if you see something isn’t working a certain way. Mostly you should be honest. People really appreciate that.
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