An Okotoks-based company is connecting prospective campers with travel trailers across the country.
Local couple Chad and Cherie Ball launched their website, Wheel Estate, on Jan. 1. , after seven years of sifting through insurance policies and red tape. It was borne out of their own desire to take an affordable family vacation.
“In 2008, like many Canadians, my family was hit hard by the recession, and by 2010 we found it tough to make ends meet,” said Chad Ball. “Like most people, we just wanted to get away for a weekend and hit a reset button and reconnect with the family.”
They thought camping sounded like the ideal getaway, but Ball said he’s never been a big fan of tenting, so they decided to look into renting a trailer. Prices for units from rental companies were comparable to a beach vacation, he said.
So, they thought they’d look a little closer to home – their next door neighbour had a trailer that spent most of the year on his driveway, so Ball said they inquired about renting it for the long weekend.
“We approached him and he didn’t have a problem with it but his insurance company did,” said Ball. “The thing we didn’t know at the time was once money exchanges hands, the insurance policy you have on your personal trailer is null and void unless you purchase a commercial policy, because it now becomes a business transaction.”
The family ended up borrowing a friends’ trailer for the weekend instead, but on their way to the mountains they noticed a number of RV storage lots with hundreds of units sitting unused on the long weekend.
They started to think – what if there was a way to connect trailer owners to people like themselves, who were looking for an affordable camping alternative?
“At that moment, we realized we were kind of on to something and the idea was born,” said Ball.
They returned home from their weekend refreshed and ready to take on their new business venture – only to be stalled for two years by insurance companies that wanted nothing to do with the idea.
The entire “sharing economy,” like Air B&B, was still in its infancy and unfamiliar to many people, he said.
It wasn’t until 2012 that an insurance broker decided to take a deeper look and work out a policy, which then took another four years to execute.
“So, we’re proud to say we’re the only fully-insured peer-to-peer website for RVs in Canada,” said Ball.
The insurance policy protects trailers against damage, including comprehensive coverage, and relieves trailer owners of the responsibility of carrying their own policy for renting out their units to third parties, he said.
Anyone who wants to rent a trailer can rest assured that a unit listed on Wheel Estate has been verified to actually exist, be in good condition and is insured, he said.
There’s also less hassle with exchanging money – everything is done through the website with deposits and money holds ensuring neither party is able to break contract with the other, he said.
There are currently about 250 trailers signed up waiting to go live on the website, and 100 units live already, he said. So far, 2,000 users have signed up with interest in renting units through the site, he said.
Currently Wheel Estate is set up in very province across Canada, though expansion could be coming in the future.
“We don’t allow listings originating out of the US right now but we’re working on that,” said Ball. “The insurance sandbox is a little different down there.”
He said the best part is seeing people embrace the business and watch people communicate through the website, connect with renters and get the most out of their trailers. It’s also supplying supplemental income for those trailer owners, who have been empowered to become micro-entrepreneurs, he said.
And, renting from local people helps strengthen the local economy, he said.
It’s been a hit with people looking for camping experiences, he said.
“I think that idea of the affordable vacation on the guest side kind of resonates with individuals,” said Ball. “Right now we’re in another recession and I think people just want to get back to connecting with family, because that’s what’s really important at the end of the day.”
Wheel Estate has also partnered with Discount Car and Truck Rental for people to rent a truck that will tow a trailer from the site – something not previously done.
There are also trailer owners who offer, or even prefer, to deliver their trailers to the campground and have them set up for the family to arrive and enjoy, he said.
One of those owners is Wendy Saunders, who has her 40-foot toy hauler listed for rent in Okotoks. She will drive it out to any campground within an hour of Calgary in any direction, she said.
“I prefer it this way, so I can go and set it up and they can enjoy the luxury,” said Saunders. “It’s a triple axle, so it’s not as easy as some single or dual-axle trailers to move if you’re not experienced.”
She has a few bookings in the works and one confirmed for the August long weekend. A family from Medicine Hat attending a wedding at the DeWinton Community Hall will have her trailer set up there for the weekend, she said.
For her, it makes sense to let other families use her trailer when she’s not.
“Our assets depreciate so fast and I like camping and I just think it’s a great way for other people who don’t have the means to go camping to do it,” said Saunders.
She said in her case, it’s difficult to decide whether to camp or to ride her Harley, which is why the trailer sits unused on some weekends.
It’s a shame to have such a beautiful unit just sitting around, she said. She decided to list it on the website because other people could enjoy it like she does and she could make a few extra dollars in the process.
For an extra bonus – it’s a homegrown company.
“It’s a Canadian website and they provide insurance,” said Saunders. “It gives me security and safety in case anything happens and the onus isn’t on me. And I’d rather support them and the Canadian website than anything else.”