Columbus Campervans was established by James Page in 2016 and offers tourists and families a unique experience exploring West Wales and the nearby tourist attractions by using a novelty campervan.
Based near Swansea and within an easy driving distance of the award-winning Gower beaches, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and the Brecon Beacons National Park, Columbus currently offers two classic Volkswagen campervans, available for weddings, holidays, short breaks and special occasions.
James is already planning to introduce additional services to enhance Columbus Campervans’ offering including ready food hampers with locally sourced produce wherever possible.
What they did
James is a design engineer by trade and has previously worked with a motor engineering business based in Dafen, Llanelli. He decided to give up his job in 2015 to concentrate on the development of his own business.
“Before I got the business up and running, I took part in a Taking the Plunge workshop through Business Wales. I wanted to see if going into business was the right choice for me and to understand what I needed to know. I also wanted to find out whether there was any additional support such as mentoring, as the one thing I’ve learned in my industry is that this is a lonely trade which makes decision-making that much harder.
Once I decided it was the right thing for me, I put a plan in place. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, so I researched and studied the market until I was confident enough with what I had to do.
I had great support from the advisers at Business Wales, guiding me step by step with what I needed to have in place and what I needed to do, including simple tasks such as registering the company to setting up a website.”
What would they do differently?
“I wanted everything completely in place and ready to be branded as a ‘Business’ before actually starting trading, when in reality you can start off with just the very basics. If you have a mobile phone and a product, you're already there. Because I wanted everything in place, I spent far too much time trying to find premises etc. with no success. I also spent too much time looking for financial support, but, much to my surprise, there was nothing out there!” – James Page
Their proudest moment in business
“There have been many proud moments since starting up the business, from getting our name registered to having my very first hire. I am extremely happy and proud that our campervans have been featured in Visit Wales’ next TV advert!
I will say though, every time a campervan returns with a family or couple smiling because of the great time they’ve had, always gives me so much joy. I want customers to return with special memories, and to think that Columbus is part of that, is very important to me and makes me really proud.”
Do they use Welsh in their business? If so, how has this helped them
“To date, unfortunately, we don’t use any Welsh within the business, although I often get English guests and even a Californian visitor thanking me in Welsh. To feel they’ve made the effort to learn this in order to show their appreciation, is really touching.”
Describe the type of support (financial / non-financial) they’ve received from Business Wales / Welsh Government
James’ Business Wales adviser, Hywel Bassett, conducted a business diagnostic and reviewed his business plan and financial forecasts. He advised on sourcing additional funding and on suitable business banking options. Hywel encouraged James to put together a comprehensive, strategic marketing plan and to consider possible partnerships and negotiation techniques when talking to suppliers.
Hywel assessed the viability of James’s financial plan and advised on business insurance and legal requirements for a limited company. He also supported James in his search of suitable premises for the business.
Following the advice, James set up Columbus Campervans as a limited company and has since launched his own website. He has also been referred to further specialist Business Wales support, including social media and marketing workshops and Superfast Business Wales.
As James had never been in business before and found that it could be a lonely and challenging experience at times, he was successfully matched with a mentor through the Business Wales Mentoring Programme. Max McDermott is currently supporting James with social media marketing, general business mentoring, and guidance on how to utilise his newly built website to its full potential and turn leads into paying customers.
When asked about the relationship with his mentor, James said: “Having a mentor on board has helped me out. Knowing that someone is there for me to help with the simplest or most difficult decisions you have to make, is reassuring. I’ve found in my particular industry, there are very few specialists who you could speak to for support, so mentoring advice is most appreciated.
My mentor Max has not only given me support for the business but has also helped me outside work. I wouldn’t have expected this and I can’t emphasise enough how much I appreciate the support and encouragement he’s given to me. I guess I was very lucky to have such a great mentor You don’t have to be in touch every week or even month but to know that they are there when you need them is encouraging.”
James’s top tips for anyone else looking to start or grow their own business, would be:
- use Business Wales to help you set up and give you support, it is always better to speak to someone with business knowledge
- research and study your market and when you think you’ve done it, do it again
- have a marketing strategy
- social media is extremely important, take part in some courses, you and your company will benefit from them
- have passion in what you do but don’t be afraid to move your business in different directions to maximise your gain