Monday 25 March 2019

Driving entrepreneurial spirit with Celtic Campervans

Celtic Campervans wants to expand market share in the US where there is already a strong culture of family vacations in RVs (Recreational Vehicles for touring). Stock image
Celtic Campervans wants to expand market share in the US where there is already a strong culture of family vacations in RVs (Recreational Vehicles for touring). Stock image

Alan O'Neill

Recently, I spent a few days in Vienna, facilitating a strategy event for the CTBTO, a UN organisation working to ban nuclear testing worldwide. The group was made up of 45 individuals from 40 different countries, representing all continents. Being the only Irishman present, I was inundated with curious questions over evening dinner and drinks about Ireland. I proudly 'sold' the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East.

The enquiring questions progressed to infrastructure, facilities and accommodation. Because I've worked with countless hotels and pubs in Ireland, I answered with a degree of authority and confidence. But, when the questions moved to camping and availability of campervans for hire, I have to admit that I found myself unsure.

Coincidentally, on my return I had reason to discover that the industry is actually thriving. From my time going on mobile home holidays to France, the commonly-held view at that time was that camping sites in Ireland were underdeveloped and if campervan hire did indeed exist as a service, it was very much under the radar. Well, I was wrong.

This week I visited Celtic Campervans in The Ward, Co Dublin. Owned and operated by Stephen Bradshaw and his son Stephen, the company started out in Limerick in 1990 with four vans. When the directive to route US flights through Dublin came into force, the company moved to Dublin. It now operates a fleet of 35 high-quality 2017/2018 units, with 85pc of its business coming from overseas markets. That mainly includes continental Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Celtic Campervans wants to expand market share in the US where there is already a strong culture of family vacations in RVs (Recreational Vehicles for touring). The aim is to have 100 units in the next five years.

Another of Celtic Campervan's goals is to grow the domestic market. Having test driven one of the six-berth units, I will definitely be booking when my grandkids come home for the summer. The premium standard of kit with seating, beds, kitchen, toilet and shower, storage, safety measures and overall comfort is quite encouraging.


Celtic Campervans has a strong sales and marketing blueprint, using a push-and-pull strategy centred on about 30 international tour operators. By nurturing long-standing relationships, they 'push' their tour packages with them. Strong activity on social media drives the consumer to 'pull' from their local tour operators. And as for 'belt and braces'? They have their own website booking facility for direct retail sales.

Sales are good. The challenge however is that they feel that they're on their own. Campervan hire in Ireland is relatively new so it doesn't get the same level of attention. That applies to banks, to insurance companies and to marketers. It's not the same as car-hire and camping. For example, the residual value of a campervan after say 10 years, is much higher than normal depreciation models might suggest. Likewise, the insurance risk is low due to the nature of the customer demographic. In essence, the business model is not fully understood and, over the years, Stephen has had to apply his strong character to engage and convince key stakeholders to come on board.

Challenges overcome

Every industry has its macro challenges, which might be around legislation, regulation, technology and so on. Yes, for sure, you might dedicate some of your time to influencing and lobbying for changes in your respective industries or joining trade associations. But if you find yourself relying or depending on others, you may have a problem. I would always advocate for 'getting on with it' yourself.

As an entrepreneur and master of his own destiny for a long time, Stephen Bradshaw is a firm believer in 'just getting on with it'. what struck me most about this company, is the character of the man himself and his impact on the business. This week I thought I'd talk about some traits that entrepreneurs share.

1 Being visionary. Stephen's conviction from the very beginning of the business was that the potential was enormous. His ambition and positivity has never faltered.

2 Following a fire that wiped out the business in 2000, over the following five or six years he fought against the odds to have his insurance claim overturned - having been denied initially. That resilience was powered by his integrity and firm belief that what's right, is right!

3 Getting finance and insurance cover was a challenge for years. Because the business is so different, it was not fully understood. With great tenacity, Stephen relentlessly tried to get bankers and insurers to come out and see the business for themselves. With a stroke of luck, the CEO of a leasing organisation became a personal customer and saw the model for herself first-hand.

4 In all of my client assignments, I focus on culture and check to what extent 'customer' gets sufficient attention. Celtic Campervans are focused on giving a great customer experience at every touchpoint ... from airport pick-up to drop-off. And that culture starts at the top.


I attended the recent Pendulum Summit. I came away inspired and motivated by the rags-to-riches stories from the likes of Michelle Mone and Jo Malone. There are always strong messages of hope from such famous and visionary people who value resilience, tenacity, positivity, and being disruptive. We too have great examples of success. It's in our Irish DNA and doesn't always have to be measured in millions of euro. You may be one too.

Alan O'Neill is a change consultant and non-executive director. For 25-plus years he has been supporting global and iconic brands through change. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

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