Today we are looking at a business that has become popular on social media, the business of converting a panel van to a camper van.

What is a camper van?
A campervan, sometimes referred to as a camper, caravanette, or motor caravan, is a self-propelled vehicle that provides both transport and sleeping accommodation. The term describes vans that have been fitted out, whereas a motorhome is one with a coachbuilt body.

Market Need
There are a few different ways to look at the problems this business solves. Instead of needing a vehicle and a caravan you just need a vehicle that is much more convenient. We can also look at it as a cheaper motorhome or as a motorhome without the high cost.

Solution
The conversion business is massive and the main advantage is creating something for cheaper than what it would cost to buy the original item, we see this with shipping containers that have been converted into shops, offices, homes, toilets, and hundreds of other stuff. That is because the thing that gets converted provides a foundation to build on. In this business, a panel van, mini van, microbus etc. is converted into a living space.

In the case of the panel van, we have the vehicle with a pretty decent payload (almost 800kg on the Nissan panel vans while the VW Transporter exceeds a metric ton) and most importantly space. Many commercial vehicles already have a lot of “amenities” air conditioning, outside temperature indicators (show me a house with that feature standard), cup holders, fold-down LCD’s or even space for big TV’s, 12V sockets to charge phones, etc. And if you fold the seats down you have the same size rooms as the apartments that sell for R1m in Cape Town and that apartment can’t take you to work.

Because this is such a trend, there are hundreds of videos for inspiration.

There are even some Toyota Siyaya style conversions (known as a HiAce in civilised countries) where the local death traps are converted into camper vans:

Business Models
Like any other conversion, this can either be offered as ready-made or it can be offered as a service. Ready-made you buy the van (take ownership), convert it and then resell it. As a service, you offer this to people who want to convert their vans. The ready-made option offers the opportunity of higher profits but the risk of having to wait a long time for the van to sell,  conversions on the other land offer less profit but with more certainty.

There is also an opportunity to provide “accessories” for camper vans, like desks and furniture:

Target Market
Leisure
Now traditionally in this business, it is seen as a leisure vehicle used for travelling, where the people just stop and sleep in a national park or open space. Obviously, that lifestyle is not popular in SA as you are more likely to be robbed and murdered than to have a peaceful night’s sleep. So you will see these types of vehicles used in places where there are campsites to rent and by campsite I mean an open piece of ground and you just park and sleep.

Living
There is another thing we need to look at, the cost of living in SA is too high and many are hardly coping. There might be a market there, for people to live out of a van. We know that homelessness has increased we see it all around us.

Are we going to see an increase in trailer park spaces where families will live out of caravans? This is not outside the realm of possibility; a campervan will suit a single person or couple in this situation. If we look at the trajectory of SA, you can put a fork in the economy so done it is, there is no more talk of reviving the economy, to increase manufacturing capacity to create jobs, etc., all the talk now is about “universal basic income” free money for doing nothing. They have given up. We are already seeing unemployed graduates begging at the robots, next is business executives living in a van down by the river and that is where this business comes in.

You are probably thinking I’m joking or being facetious I’m dead serious, if you look at Cape Town, the money you pay for living in a chicken coop, crazy rates, water and electricity more expensive than in first world countries, living in a van down by the river seems pretty attractive. If it were safe enough I would do it myself.