ive years ago, Brad von Oven had a not-so-uncommon American dream: To own an RV and go camping with his family. And in 2019, the dream came true! Not only that, but it turned out to be an unexpected opportunity to bring in some extra income to pay for his kids’ college tuition. And it didn’t stop there. Soon Brad and his good friend David Reese were partnering up to run Perry RV Rentals in Warner Robins, GA, which has quickly become a lucrative operation with a fleet of 25 RVs, 10 golf carts, and all indications pointing to continued growth. How did these two entrepreneurs start up a successful RV rental business? They'll be happy to tell you!
Q: Brad, tell us the story of that little dream you had to own an RV.
Brad: I would go to the Georgia National Fair and I would walk through checking out all the campers and I just wanted my family to have a camper. But we really couldn't afford that payment. So, I prayed about it for probably two, three years. And I told my wife, I said, "I really truly believe I could rent this sucker out, and we would be able to cover the payment." And she was very skeptical, but she said, "You know what? I trust you, Brad. Let's go for it." So, I bought my first camper, which was a 2019 Forest River Cruise Lite. And the very first month it rented out for three nights and I covered the payment and probably put $50 in my pocket.
The next month, it rented out four times and netted a thousand dollars. And I was like, "Oh, my gosh." It started booking like wildfire and that’s when I realized we were sitting on a gold mine, because we live right near the Georgia National Fairgrounds. They pull in thousands of people for dog shows, pig shows, horse shows, cow shows. You name it. And these don't just happen once every three months. There are at least two shows a month. People love to park their campers as they attend the shows. And that’s where we come in.
David: We rent our campers for $400 for 3 nights. When renters get to the fairgrounds, their camper is set up and ready to go. It’s like an Airbnb—they open the door, the keys are there, they get a little welcome card with their name on it. The convenience of being there at the show itself, and the camaraderie they have with their friends under the canopies, it's the whole experience.
"I told him, 'Bro, you need to get a camper. I'm making money.'"
Q: So you started out with one camper. How did it grow into the fleet you have today in such a short time?
Brad: Soon after I got the first one, my son decided he wanted to go to Liberty University, which costs a fortune. So, I said to my wife, "Let's buy another camper." Once I bought that second camper and I was netting about $2,000 a month, we bought a third camper. That’s when David moved up from Valdosta and I told him, "Bro, you need to get a camper. I'm making money." He bought one—but here’s a fun fact: To this day he has never been camping!
David: No desire to go camping. For me it's all business.
Brad: We were two separate companies at first—Perry RV Rental and Middle Georgia RV Rental. Then David came to me and said, "Why don’t we rent other people's campers out for them?" And I said, "Because of the liability!” Well, he pulled out a whiteboard and said, "I'm going to show you the difference between us owning all the campers as opposed to us consigning other people's campers."
David: The biggest hurdle was figuring out the insurance. What happens if we wreck somebody else’s camper? What happens if a renter starts a fire? But we realized it’s all about renter's insurance. All of our camper owners and customers have MBA Insurance, which not only covers the camper personally, but it also covers it if you rent it out.
Brad: Once we navigated that hurdle, we combined as Perry RV in March of this year, 2022, and we grew from five campers in March to about 20 by the middle of May. That happened through a lot of word mouth. So-and-so brought their camper on, they told two of their friends, those friends told four friends and it just blew up.
Q: It almost sounds too good to be true!
Brad: It’s not for everyone. It’s a lot of work. Bringing these RVs back and forth, cleaning them, and setting them up, is a lot of work. And we have to manage additional growth carefully. We want to make sure all of our owners are having a great experience renting their campers with us. If I add 50 more campers, they won’t get rented out as much. So, it's supply/demand, making sure that we have the right amount in the fleet.
Q: How do you clean the campers in between renters? Do you have a service?
Brad: No. We actually are the service. We wipe down everything and vacuum. We take all the linen to a laundromat about 20 minutes away; once it’s all clean we bring it back and stock everything back up: six towels, six washcloths, two hand towels. Leave the keys hanging on a hook.
Q: What's the average amount of time that it takes you to clean a camper after it's been used?
David: It’s all done in about an hour and 20 minutes. We hired someone to help us clean as well. I’ll clean up to 5 of the campers, Brad will clean up to five, and our laborer, Matt, will do five. The other ten campers in our fleet are 75/25 partners, which means the owner cleans it, they do thework, so they get 75% of the income.
Brad: And we just bought seven acres, two minutes from the fairground, where we’ll put six washer and dryers, which will significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to do the laundry and restock everything. And that property is where we’ll also be able to store all of the RVs.
Q: Your price for RV rental is so reasonable—couldn't you charge more?
Brad: We could, but the big box companies are way more expensive because they're charging for insurance, cleaning fees, propane fees, site fees. If we can put some savings in the customer's pocket and be able to put more money in the owner's pocket, we’re good. Here's the thing: We don't just want to be five star on the price. We want to be five star on everything we do. If customers rent from us and they say, "My gosh. Not only did they have the lowest price, they have the cleanest campers and the best customer service. Brad and David are so accommodating.” We both live right here, which means if someone calls with a problem, we're 10 minutes away. We've replaced TVs, microwaves, Keurigs. That kind of customer service just cannot happen without being this close by.
David: I even brought a swimming pool out to a customer. She was here for a week-long rodeo in the middle of the summer. They couldn't leave because they had horse showings. And they said, "David, if I paid you, would you stop by Big Lots and get me a swimming pool?"
"We don't just want to be five star on the price. We want to be five star on everything we do."
Q: Let's delve further into that whole idea of customer service. BookingCentral is a key part of a seamless customer experience. So how did you discover the platform?
Brad: I’m an IT guy, so I knew what I needed in a system: a calendar that would show every camper that was booked, that would only show the customer the campers that were available. I needed a way to integrate my payment system into the software. I was going to build the software myself but that would've taken quite a while. So I started looking at RV fleet management software. And then I got an email out of the blue from BookingCentral, saying, "Hey, are you looking for booking software for your new RV business?" And I'm like, "Actually, I am. Can you hit me up with a demo?” I saw how it worked and it was pretty much everything we needed.
Q: So, you mentioned a lot of the different features on BookingCentral. Is there one that stands out to you?
Brad: From an owner's point of view, it's the customization and the manipulation of any booking. We can see all the bookings and make changes on the fly. If someone says, "Hey, I booked camper one in March, but I'd like to switch it to camper two," that change takes us five seconds. All our RV owners have their own login, so they can see the calendar. They can see who rented their camper on which dates, and in the notes I'll put what show they're attending so they have those details when they deliver the camper to the fairgrounds. BookingCentral makes it very easy for our RV owners to feel like they're part of the company.
David: The functionality takes on all the backend, so we can concentrate on the customer, delivering the RV, setting it up.
Q: Tell us how you use the Broadcast message feature.
Brad: The night before renters leave, I send a broadcast message through the BookingCentral software that says, "Hey, checkout's 11:00 AM. Please make sure there are six towels, six washcloths, two hand towels. Take all your belongings, empty the freezer and fridge, sweep out the camper, and have a great trip."
It’s also great when there’s bad weather, because people will take the golf carts and go tooling around the fairgrounds and the canopies will be out. We’ll broadcast message to people to get back and please close the canopy, so it won’t get damaged in the storm.
Another way we use it is, Let’s say it's two weeks from a show. I have three golf carts left to rent. We broadcast that out to every customer because they all know someone who’s going to the show, and they get the word out to other folks and then the golf carts all get booked very quickly. (Request a demo so you can see for yourself how BookingCentral's broadcast feature works).
Q: Speaking of golf carts, why did you decide to expand into that area?
Brad: Our customers kept asking about them. We realized, man, we should buy a couple golf carts.
David: Renting two golf carts makes us about the same amount as one camper. And the turnaround on a golf cart is so much quicker and easier.
Brad: The plan is eventually to have a golf cart available for every RV.
Q: What’s the learning curve been like, becoming RV rental operators?
David: A big learning curve was with the propane tanks. You can go through almost the whole summer on two tanks of propane. But when the winter hits, you're getting calls. "Hey! I have no hot water." "The heat’s out."
Brad: We learned we need to check the propane routinely. We also learned about greasing axles on the RVs.
David: Because we are pretty much the caregivers for people's RVs, we try to make sure the campers are getting maintenance, service, everything that they need to have longevity because they're our bread and butter.
Q: What would you say is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Brad: Well, in a camper there's something called a black tank. That's where all the pee-pee and poo-poo goes. You’ve got to clean that sucker. And as you're cleaning that sucker, you're taking a hose and you're hooking it up to what's called a black tank flush. And that's putting water in the tank. Well, If you don't do everything properly, you’re going to get covered in feces. And it is the absolute worst thing, but every RV owner has made that mistake once. Every single camper owner has a funny story about the black tank, I promise you!
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