Aussie Traveller celebrates 30 years in $2B caravanning industry

From ‘flat out making a wage’ to averaging 10 percent year on year growth

From one 200m² Brisbane facility in 1988 to over 9000m² across two warehouses today, Aussie Traveller has transformed its business from a two-person operation with just one product for sale, to a substantial business with more than 50 staff members and over 2,000 SKUs.

Michael and Gabrielle Freney, Aussie Traveller Directors in front of one of their warehouses in Clontarf, Queensland.

Over the last three decades, the only Australian manufacturer of both custom awnings and annexes, and retailer of caravan and RV components and accessories, has taken a few knocks in the ever-changing industry, but it’s this “Aussie Battler” attitude that has seen the business grow from strength to strength.

Founder and Director Michael Freney said today’s caravanning and RV industry is vastly different to how it was in the 1980s.

“Back then, family holidays were spent at beachside caravan parks every May, August and December. Caravanning was affordable and offered a chance to reconnect with nature and with each other,” Mr Freney said.

“It was also the mining boom era where there was no town planning or dongas available to house people. They all stayed in caravans and awnings and annexes offered respite from the four walls of the small van, while being protected from the elements. Caravan production grew very quickly during this time!”

The first Brisbane show Aussie Traveller attended in 1988

“The 80s really were the peak years for caravans – up to 37,000 caravans manufactured each year in Australia. After that, it dropped to around 4,500 caravans manufactured in 1991 and since then steady growth to where the industry has been producing 20,000 to 22,000 units of caravans, campers and motor homes.”

It was also a time when the business relied on caravan shows to sell its products, in an era pre-internet.

“The caravan shows brought in a good 70 percent of our annual revenue in the first ten years of running the business. Shows were exclusive and people travelled from all over to look at vans, awnings, annexes and accessories and ordered on the spot. We would then spend the next few weeks travelling to visit show customers at their home, to measure up their touring vehicles up for awnings and annexes. These days, shows form another part of the research phase alongside digital research, but the number of options on the market make the decision making stage much harder. We also measure and fit in our own facilities now!”

While the market was strong for Aussie Traveller’s products, travel, manufacturing and labour costs were significant and Michael still recalls the first year he turned over a profit.

A Sydney show setup around the mid 90’s.

“We were flat out making a wage when we started. It wasn’t until the mid 90’s when we were able to advance our manufacturing equipment and streamline processes that we started seeing profits for the first time and then replicating that consistently. I’d say we’ve averaged about 10 percent growth year on year over the last three decades,” he said.

In the early years, Aussie Traveller serviced a retail market, as Australians bought their van without aftermarket accessories which are now fitted as standard. What started as a retail business had to swiftly change course when caravan and RV manufacturers started installing awnings, air conditioners and other products before handing over to the customer.

“Realising that our market was declining around the early 2000s, we had to change tact with our business model and start working with manufacturers and dealers to sell our products. In addition, we developed a market with community service vehicles such as police, ambulance and the fire brigade who all need access to shade on outside duties,” Mr Freney said.

“Today, the whole industry is worth about $2 billion. It’s with great pride that our little Australian brand plays a small part in the industry’s growth alongside some huge players in the market.”

Aussie Traveller recently celebrated 30 years at the Queensland Caravan, Camping and Touring show. To find out more and to view their range head over to aussietraveller.com.au

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