I can’t imagine anyone will forget the year 2020. It was a year of struggle for many people in many ways – financially, physically, and emotionally. With the shutdowns, we sat down and did some math to see if we could survive the season without rentals and still make payments on our trailers (now a fleet of 4). As it turned out, once parks opened, camping was the new toilet paper and our trailers booked quickly. Sadly, we had to say no to many people who were last-minute planners. Camping provided families a place to go and connect with nature and each other but be socially distanced from others. They could travel in their own vehicles and enjoy a safe vacation because our trailers offer a private bathroom with shower. (No more urgent bathroom breaks on the road… simply pull over somewhere safe and your bathroom is attached to your vehicle!) We worked long hours to super-clean the trailers for the coronavirus, even though we already prided ourselves on cleanliness. We stopped doing same-day turnaround to allow air replacement. We had already talked about avoiding same day turnarounds because we also found there were enough people who returned late from their trip that it caused too much stress on flipping it if any repairs were needed (and there often are!). And customers like picking up their trailer early for their trip so they can get on the road and arrive in the daylight. Early pickups benefit us too, as we can go about our day once the trailers are gone. We offer these flexible pickup and dropoff times and our customers truly appreciate it.
How our fleet grew…
We booked our first trailer as much as we could and we reinvested most of our earnings into new trailers. We also convinced a friend to share a trailer (so we actually own 3.5 trailers, not 4 as I said above).
We also have a few consignors who rented from us, then bought their own, and asked us to manage their trailer for them. We learned a LOT from our first consignor. It is not an easy relationship! We learned that we have to be very explicit with terms, so have drafted a new contract this year to tie up loose ends. Consigning is a blog in itself!
New for 2021
After 2020, we were able to purchase another trailer for the 2021 season. We decided that our fleet was lacking a trailer meant for 2 people (all of our trailers sleep 4+). The space used for bunk beds is now more storage for a couple who might be looking for a longer trip. The trailer is lighter and about the size of our next smallest trailer. For me, having a spot to put everything without having to shuffle things around reduces stress and that is important for my vacation! We ordered this trailer last August and just got word that production started (winter 2021). Delivery is sometime in April, just in time for the camping season. Phew! Trailers are the new toilet paper. Ontario Provincial Park bookings are up 93% from last year, so finding sites is proving challenging.
We were not looking for a cottage. At all. But a cottage beside two of our friends came up for sale and we decided to go for it, and add it to our rental business. Unfortunately we nicknamed our first trailer “The Cottage” because it is so big – we may have to rename it as it has already caused some confusion. The water-front cottage, “Castaway North Lodge”, is located in the Haliburton Highlands area on Lake Contau. To help us enter the short-term rental market, we bought a book titled “Vacation Rental Mastery” and I discovered something awesome. So many of their “must-dos” are things we already established with our trailer rentals. Thanks to our Disney model of customer service, we did not have much more to do that we don’t do already! Lesson #1: this is a cleaning business first. I learned this early with renting trailers. It feels like you are a house cleaner. And at first this annoyed me, since I hate cleaning my own house, let alone multiple trailers. But the first thing people notice in a hotel or other rental place is the cleanliness. It matters, and it matters a lot. So we now have a 4-hour process for cleaning the inside and outside of each trailer after every rental. Fun times!
Something else the book mentions with short-term rentals is the vast competition that is out there, so your place has to stand out. The way to do this is having a theme. This was easy for us, since we follow the Disney model and our company name is influenced by their private island “Castaway Cay” from our much-loved Disney cruises. So it just made sense to have a nautical theme! It makes design choices easy too. Blue and white with splashes of red and gold. This makes for a good flow from room to room and photographs very well! We are super excited and have the summer fully booked already. 🙂 We have plans in the fall to change the heat source so that we can rent year-round. It is beautiful up there in the winter and we hope we can share this with others.
Hali & Andrew