Ultimate Off-Road Campers Podcast: Episode 1

28 Nov 2019

Owner of Ultimate Off-Road Campers, David Rodgers, took a few minutes out of his day to have a chat with us about his first year owning the iconic off-road camper trailer brand.

EQ [00:00:00] Welcome to the Ultimate Off-Road Campers podcast. Now, I should have said inaugural because we've never done one of these before. So if this goes horribly pear shaped, there's only one person to blame. And that would be the owner of Ultimate Off Road Campers, David Rodgers, because he allowed me to do this. My name is Eamonn and I do some of the marketing for the Ultimate Off Road Campers brand. And I think with the company in that sense for quite a number of years. So it's not about me because about a year ago, David and his wife Bronwyn got up out of bed one morning and decided, what do we do today? And someone in the back of their head said, "hey, why not go out and buy Ultimate Off-Road Campers? I believe they're on the market". So a year nearly a year on from that, I'm here in the room at the moment with David. He's looking at me thinking, you better not ask me anything too difficult, which I won't because he pays me. David, good afternoon. Welcome.

DR [00:00:54] Thank you. I guess as they say, everything becomes my fault when you're at the top so fire away.

EQ [00:01:03] All right, great. OK.

DR [00:01:04] And then I'll work out if I'm going to pay you later.

EQ [00:01:06] We're off to a good start. OK. So as I said a year ago, David, you yourself and Bronwyn decided to commit to buying the Ultimate Off Road Campers brand that had been around for 20, 20 odd years, 24 years. So you've come along the last twelve months. So a good decision.

DR [00:01:23] Yeah. Look, it's been a challenging decision. Might be a better way to call it, but I think a great decision as well. We've really enjoyed it. Great product. Meeting all the customers has been really good and we've managed to get to one of the musters and met people at that. So, yes, so far I think it's still a good decision. Time will tell.

EQ [00:01:41] Well, good. And and obviously, you know, there's been some public enhancements, we'll come to that later on. We'll talk about the product a little bit later on. But you've said you've enjoyed it. You went to the muster. Was that your first muster?

DR [00:01:53] Yeah, I've never been to one before. So we last minute decision to head up to South Australian muster and had fantastic weather and got to practice setting up in a few times in the way of that, because we took the new camper trailer home and I had a set up competition when you arrived and we didn't want to look like a total gumbies, so we had a few practice runs on the way. I have to admit, nah, was a great weekend and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

EQ [00:02:17] Now, bearing in mind your own Ultimate Off-Road Camper trailers, did you get a gold medal? Did you even get on the rostrum with the with the set up and take down? Are you still are you still a newbies? Are you still learning?

DR [00:02:28] Oh, look, I think we sort of our time somewhere come in the middle. So I think we weren't the slowest. We weren't the fastest because we didn't get the prize. But, you know, for where we're at, I think we did pretty well.

EQ [00:02:38] Yeah, well, listen, you know, I the course based on my preamble, I would agree with you. You did extraordinarily well, I believe. Over the last twelve months, and it's worth pointing out, you obviously have a lot of other business interests - Emu Camper Trailers. You've got Blue Water, got Didgeridoonas, you've got several other businesses in your in your portfolio. So taking on Ultimate at that particular time would have been a challenge and you kind of sort of pointed to that. But but what is, in your view, what has been the biggest challenge for you, for the group over the past 12 months?

DR [00:03:11] Well, I think anyone in the camping industry is in for a challenge in the current economy due to just the it's pretty challenging out there. I guess people are watching where they spend their money. So I guess, you know, when you can sort of take anything to market and it sells, it's pretty easy. But once people start becoming fussy, you've got to have the right product. So I think having the Ultimate Campers brand in our range has helped us, you know, cause some markets you go to and the premium market buyers are there and sometimes you go there and as only the guys that don't have a lot of money and they want the low end. So having from cheap products through to the expensive product, I think has enhanced our base of products and helped us in this tougher time. But look, certainly it's still a challenge across, I think for everyone out there at the moment to be, you know, you're happy to be just paying bills really, rather than worrying about making hay you know.

EQ [00:04:01] Yeah. I mean, that's, that's a fairly you know, that's an honest, very honest answer. I think, I think people would appreciate that. I mean, from from getting a little bit into the product, because that's where I want to go. But getting a little bit into the product. Your background and you spoke about it very briefly in a video that we did, you know, several months ago. But your original background within Fiji and stuff like that is pretty much in the rag trade, right? So that's where we've seen a lot of canvas developments. Now, don't get too much into it because I want to get into it in much more detail. But just generally, that's that's where your background has been and that's contributed to making these first initial changes to the product.

DR [00:04:37] Yeah, you have been thirty five years or so in the rag trade has helped through clothing, through to tents and swags and stuff as is helps having that experience. And then. So we've been able come in and look at the canvas side of Ultimate very quickly and expand on the possibilities with different fabrics and different designs. That was I guess early on the board for us to change.

EQ [00:04:59] Now, I've spoken to you on several occasions and I speak at a hundred miles an hour. You put me, as we say, in Ireland in the ha'penny place. That's just that's the place right down the back somewhere and no one sees me. But you think like that as well. So that's why that's why you talk like that, you think like that. So when you first when you first took over Ultimate, when you Bronwyn sat down and said, this is the move for us. This is a good strategic move. It's a good product in the right marketplace. And then you came in, you looked at the product. I remember having a chat with you and you just blew me away within the first ten fifteen,  you didn't start talking about what you were going to do to this product and how you're going to do to the product. And in fairness, you've done quite a bit of that in the first twelve months.

DR [00:05:44] Yeah. Look, I think you always want to do more than you think. Everyone thinks they're gonna be more and you end up doing less. I think it's the same with your staff. You wanted to work faster and they tend to work less as well. I'm pretty optimistic.

EQ [00:05:58] But not me.

DR [00:05:59] Well, you know, I'm sure you work twice as fast. But look, you know, I think part of optimism is that you dream big. And if you don't quite get as big as you dreamt it, at least you got most of the way there. And I think we've we've come a long way. I would like to achieve more, quicker. But I've also look back and go, hey, we actually have quite ticked a few boxes and made quite a lot of changes. But, you know, I still have plenty of things I'd like to keep doing and hopefully we are ticking them off as we go quickly.

EQ [00:06:28] Yeah. I mean, look, I I've written some pieces, obviously, on the Web. There's a blog for the website. If you're on the Web site, go and have a look at the blog. But I think we counted up. Oh, I can't remember. 40 something, 50 something changes from very, very small things to very, very big things. And we won't go and ask you to go through the entirety of that, the full amount. But off the top of your ahead. I mean, because I know I remember talking to you first and some of the stuff you were talking about was the minutia. It was this was almost like those things you hear about Steve Jobs, about, you know, not allowing anyone to talk about the screen or things like that until they actually had the typography. right and stuff. So the minutia is important to you. There was little screws in those little brackets and little things I don't understand. And they drive you along, so what's your favourite little thing and what's your favourite big thing that you've done or that you and the team have done?

DR [00:07:18] Yeah. Well, look, little thing on this. This morning I went down and had a look at the little clips that we have for clipping on the mounts that we use in the tapes. Initially we'd tried to zip ties and, you know, Z clips and different types of clips. And a lot of them were either they'd bite your fingers or they'd be a little bit clunky to put on. And we ended coming up with a new design and it's something very simple, but it works after having all the hard ones. And then you get the one that works. You think, well, that that really works well. So just seeing that hand over today and the customers saying, oh, well, these worked so well, it's you sort of appreciate the effort that went into that little tiny item. But, you know, so we've gone through quite a lot of R&D on some of these components to get them to do work I guess as well as they are now.

EQ [00:08:02] Yeah, I've seen Ross and Ross is our R&D guy. He looks like an R&D guy. But I've seen Ross. I remember you saying to me, this is a piece and it's a bracket. And it was 3D printed. Now for me, I'd never seen anything that was 3D printed in my life. So I was more interested in the fact that this was a real squashy thing that could actually be be made in a 3D fashion. But that's the kind of stuff that you're doing here at Ultimate now, is that it's not scribbling on the backs of envelopes and kind of getting bits and trying to bolt together is actually using that kind of technology to imagine what it should look like on the final.

DR [00:08:39] Yeah, well, I think 3D printing is going to be bigger and bigger in the industry and even before I took the company over, one of the customers themselves are being printing small components for replacement parts. So, you know, it would only enhance the idea that, hey, this is a new technology coming into manufacturing. And we're just sort of we've got three 3D printers now and we print componentry that you don't have the volume to go out and manufacturer in a good price point or if you sometimes they're so expensive to make and you could get it wrong the first time. That's where the 3D prototype you do it wrong, it didn't cost you much to throw it out the door and print another one. So the 3D printing has been great fun and can get distracted because you sit there look at the thing watching it print. But no, it's it's been great fun developing all those mounts. So that was another project, getting all the mounts of the poles to where they work well, you know, just very functional and trying to speed the set up of the tent.

EQ [00:09:37] And it's funny because when I post stuff on Facebook or whatever and you make sort of some vague, vague reference to where this piece might be, it's almost like a kind of a Cluedo piece for it for the owners because they're trying to figure out where it might go. Very often you find it only takes two or three goes for someone to say, oh, that will probably fit in the x and it will probably connect with y. And you go, "damn, yes, they knew that one." OK. So all those little bits. I was I was quite intrigued by the little sort of 3D printed bits. Now, the big thing and I'm putting up words in your mouth, the big thing has been the 360 tent. Now, my own personal favourite before we got to the 360 tent has to be the easy-fold bed because that was of the bugbear of Ultimate Off-Road Camper Trailers for the best part of two and a bit decades. And you've sorted that one out. So well done on behalf of everybody. Thank you very much, David. But that was my own personal favourite. But the whole 360 canvas has been revolutionary obviously because it hasn't been happened before. But this in particular, tell us a little bit about how you imagined that and what you have to do to sort of bring it together.

DR [00:10:47] Yeah, well, look, I think the Ultimate camper can sort of be set up anywhere on rocky ground and because the pulse systems are mounted off the camper, that was always a great concept for me. And I thought, well, as I expanded to the outside kitchen, there was sort of a need for shade over that area. Well it will nice to have shade around this side or this side? And we certainly saw what we went all the way around. And that's sort of where the concept comes from, saying, well, people want shade and also a quick set up because once you get past halfway, it's almost just as quick to go all the way round, because if you've only got one side, you got to support it with poles in the middle. Once we went all the way round, we could use the same amount of poles because we didn't need the poles in the middle. So I think it's come up well. It took three, four tents, it wasn't like first time up as well. And, you know, it tends to costly. So it's a costly process compared to a 3D printed component that cost you a few dollars, you're throwing away thousands and thousands of dollars of fabric when you get them, get the shape wrong. Trial and error. I think it's still refining bits and pieces, but we're really excited with the product now and how it's working.

EQ [00:11:58] Can I ask you as well just about that, the material that's being used, it's different to the original canvas that was being used as a does a shinier feel to it. I mean, I'm probably using completely their own technical jargon here, but it's definitely different feel to it somewhat. What's that material about? What does it bring to the party? Why is it different?

DR [00:12:16] Well, I guess one of the concerns we had with a large area of owning would be that if it gets wet and stays wet it out, pack it away, wet canvas, it can always be very dangerous to get mould. And the silver coating we have on it doesn't absorb the water, it lets it run off. It's also highly reflective and is a lot cooler to be under, but it also sheds water better, doesn't wetout and it was easier to clean. So with those properties, which is a better choice to use for that roof area and lower maintenance, again, we're trying to make this thing easy to use, easy to set up and reduce problems that can happen with some other canvas products out there.

EQ [00:12:57] And I won't expect an answer on the next one because we don't necessarily give away anything. But I know you're thinking about, you know, more enhancements as every time we look at it, you think about something new, don't tell us what they're going to be, release them and Rosehill perhaps. But there's more stuff you think gonna happen with this camper over the next year.

DR [00:13:19] Look, I think I don't stop and I think we'll continue to develop the product and keep refining. And then the plan will be to add range to it when we can when we can get a chance to relook at moulding and other types of products. We will expand on it. But right now we're just refining the product and waiting for the market turnaround and then we can look at what can be done then.

EQ [00:13:42] Now, you as I said, I've met you over the past twelve months or so. I would certainly describe you, I think workaholic sounds always negative because it has connotations with the word "holic", chocoholic, alcholic. But you're certainly someone who enjoys work and you're passionate about work and you like to keep busy. What is a normal day? Just not not in not in relation to Ultimate Campers, Ultimate's one of your brands. What what's a normal day when David Rogers gets up and the brain ticks in? What happens for the rest of the day? Is it work, work, work, work, work. Is it?

DR [00:14:13] Look, it's really, I guess when I get out of I start to think about work. That's it. It's just work. And I'm in that mindset. I get off if I'm in work mode. It'll just be work until I basically go to sleep mode at the end of the day. But I can switch off. So if during the day someone comes, we're going to have lunch out. I can sort of switch off of this fishing trip. I can switch off so I'm fully in or I can actually go a step out and go fully out. So I just don't often step out as often as I need to or like to. And particularly for family time, that that's a challenge, that I'll still be working late when the wife's rang and texted a few times saying dinner has come and gone, you're going to come home and see the kids at all. I have to watch that. But when I get home, if we play games on switched off is good, but sometimes switching that switch, on and off is a challenge.

EQ [00:15:01] Do you think is that because you're an engineering brain, you're a creative brain, so therefore it's different to being a manager who managers, just manages right so. The managing director like Alan Joyce, he'll probably sue me for this because I've met him and I know him. He manages but doesn't fly planes and he doesn't think about the design of planes. And he just manages, he manages people. And I'm sure he's a workaholic as well. But I guess what I'm trying to get at is you're quite a creative person. So you're constantly thinking about the product' constantly thinking about product enhancement, constant thinking about making it better, not just all the bits which I know you do, which is think about the business and its positioning and all that. Is that part of it? Is it constantly thinking about new things? Is that what keeps you?

DR [00:15:41] I enjoy the creative side of it and unfortunately, I'm still responsible for the management. And I'm working on, I guess, getting a management team around to take some of that. I think boring managerial type work away so that I can focus more on the daydreaming about concepts and new ideas and what can be, whether it's process improvement or new equipment. I enjoy that development side of it. I'm not really someone to go there and go, you know, marketing, this does this and, you know, get excited about selling. I'm probably more of the purchasing side. I get more excited about. I was able to buy something at a really good price more than being able to sell something for a really high price. I mean, I made X on this trial or X on this car when I sold it. I don't get excited about is how I bought this car for a bargain or I bought this component for half price because we're buying dozens instead of singles. So I don't really like the selling. So I've preferred to stick to the developing and purchasing side of the business, honestly.

EQ [00:16:41] That's because every answer is done with my next follow up question was gonna be describe your management style. But I think you've done that with then boring you to death about having to talk about that. Now, when you go camping, so let's get back to camping, what are your four-wheel driving skills like?

DR [00:16:58] Look, I probably tend to run along the edge. So, you know, when I was driving it be like they're always awfully off-road vehicles and had roll cages and stuff. And honestly, I rolled three four-wheel drives when I was doing my driving. So, I'd push the cars and the vehicles to the limits or the tracks to the limits and probably go out on days you shouldn't when it's wet. I just don't tend to do that anymore because I don't like seeing the new cars that you have get scratched and damage, you sort of want to stick to the old Nissan Patrol or Cruiser 100 series if you're going to go Bush these days. But that that I had been have to get out there and have another try and I'm sure I'll give it a try before we get bogged somewhere or dent the car up I'm sure.

EQ [00:17:40] Well, the good news is, because you probably made many Ultimate, Ultimate owners who are going to be able to help you on that on the track. They're always out there. Now, when you go camping, what is the must have accessory you guys bring? Now, it can be as glamping as you want or can be as hardcore as you want. I mean, what is it? What's the must have you guys bring?

DR [00:18:00] Wow.

EQ [00:18:01]  Don't say the kids.

DR [00:18:01] I was thinking more like a fishing rod, you know?

EQ [00:18:08] Yeah, go on.

DR [00:18:08] So if I got a fishing rod, I can always nick out and there's always some way there's more water and some fish around. So, I think, you know something to do. I probably don't go away and just switch off and maybe I'd go away sometimes and have a book. But generally to be I've gone somewhere to be like, oh, what's around me, the climb? Or to do? You sort of don't get a lot of time off, and when you do get to go away somewhere, just to sit there and stop and do nothing. You know, it's sort of a waste if you're in this beautiful scenic view with mountains to climb and places to explore. So, try to make the most of it, I guess.

EQ [00:18:41] Okay. Now your favourite location across Australia for camping. And again, it doesn't have to be anything off the beaten track. It could be somewhere you have to pay to go. Who cares? What's your favourite location when you're camping?

DR [00:18:53] We used to like going up into the highlands. I like one and got a station up into that area was great. And honestly, Wilpena Pound over there in South Australia where they call that area out there, got another a name for it. Those two areas I've always enjoyed in just any way remote. I think it was really matter as long as your away and there's no less traffic and there's no one around. It doesn't matter where you are.

EQ [00:19:18] Now, last question, where is on your wish list? So, bearing in mind we know where you like to go, but is there somewhere where you say if I just cross that particular track, if I do, that's what I want to do, once. Is there anywhere that's on your wish list?

DR [00:19:35] Look, probably not anything I haven't been to just those places you've been to that you want to go back to. I've been to a few Aboriginal stations up north that we're right close to, you know, fishing grounds and barramundi grounds and heading up there and just being remote. I think I'm got a wish to go back to some of these places because I've travelled to many places, but quite often you're only there for a day or two. And if you're travelling around, you've set your program I think plenty times you look back and go, I wish I could've stayed back there some few more days, but you've already booked ahead, so I've got a few places around Australia that we've marked from previous trips saying I must get back and spend a week or two in that location. Kakadu is another one.

EQ [00:20:17] Well, David, bearing in mind that I've taken you away from what you love doing, which is working, and I saw that as soon as I came in and you were there standing with Ross, going through another tented piece that I couldn't figure out where it was for the camper. Thank you very much for your time. Thanks for letting us into your working world and also into your mind around what's in store for Ultimate Campers and how you got to where you got to. So we really do appreciate your time. And thank you very much, David, for being on the podcast today.

DR [00:20:47] My pleasure Eamonn, and I can keep doing what I like to do while you go out and do the marketing side for what I don't like doing. So.

EQ [00:20:54] Sounds like I still have a job at the end of this one. Thank you so much. Thanks, David.

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