I was never an academic at school, in fact I was quite disengaged. I left school a skinny, pimple faced, immature (physically and mentally) quiet kid and I had no idea what I wanted to do. The last thing on my mind was wondering what damage I was doing to my planet. All I wanted to do was surf, hang out with mates and go fishing. Little did I know all these years later, I would be the owner of a camping store, have a personal brand The Camping Guru and have spent the last 24+ years living and breathing all facets of the camping retail industry. Between experiencing an economic boom, a G.F.C, feeling the hard hand of commercial greed and being a part of the information technology evolution – it’s been a wild old ride.
Before I get into my story – I must tell you, the most exciting thing I have been a part of is the education I have had around “Great Quality Camping Gear” and the social responsibility it delivers to our camping community. For me, great quality has two very rewarding benefits.
1. It will deliver better camping experiences time and time again. Giving more back to nature experiences = a healthier and better quality of life for our families.
2. Great quality is now more important to than ever before – it lasts longer and therefore creates less waste on our planet… period!! More on this later….
Just like eating, drinking and walking – camping for me was something that I did long before my earliest memories as a child. Up until the age of 7, growing up in remote country Victoria I have vivid but intermittent memories of camping and fishing on freshwater lakes, reservoirs, the Murray River and high in the hills of the Grampians. I spent hours by dads side chasing the allusive trout in trickling streams or redfin in his mates dams (they did know you were there dad… didn’t they?). Dad just loved getting outdoors and loved nature. If we were in front of the TV, it wasn’t the footy we were watching – it was something like the Leyland Brothers or an African wildlife documentary and there was always a running commentary from the old boy along the lines of: “Watch this kids, this is amazing!” Even today, dad can tell you some ridiculous statistic or rare behaviour of an animal that we’ve never even heard of or seen.
A move to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in the early 80’s saw mum and dad buy a retail business called the Big Mower in Beerwah. Every workday afternoon and saturday morning we spent at the shop as kids. It would appear I was destined to be in retail forever! My parents were extremely hard workers who did long hours, it was here where I started to understand what great service is all about.
Living in Beerwah meant we were within a stones throw of the most diverse and amazing camping environments you’ve ever seen. From the pristine sandy beaches of Fraser Island, the picturesque Borumba Dam in the small township of Imbil, the natural beauty of the rainforest at Booloumba Creek and occasionally on the rarely chartered river system at Harry’s Hut north of Noosa. I had a mentor say to me once that so much of what we do and enjoy later in life comes from environmental conditioning as a kid! Of all the great health benefits I received from camping as a child, it is my love for the peace and quiet, seclusion and sounds I hear when getting back to nature that makes me crave more of it each and every day. My only question now is, why don’t more people see the importance of this for their family? In a modern day world that is filling our busy lives with computers, I think it is of more importance than ever. I think it all gets back to balance! So before you tell me you are too busy – let me remind you of something way bigger than you! Our kids future – i.e: ‘their health’ is at risk and I’m not just talking about their physical health either! If you leave this story with one peace of valuable information, get your kids back to nature, give their brain the opportunity to wind down and reboot… it needs it! They may not appreciate it now, but I guarantee you, they will when they get older!
Mum and dad were looking for something new to do in the early 90’s. With one sister still in high school and another at Uni and / or traveling the world, mum and dad decided to start a camping store. I still remember dad saying “we love camping, why don’t we open a camping store?” Mum being one to go with the flow and with dad’s creative mind, Camping Country was born.
My folks signed a lease, ordered in some stock, and organised product training from a few of our new suppliers. Dad being highly creative, designed a brand and some cartoon imagery on the front of the shop – at that stage we were on the main drag into the Maroochydore town centre. Timing was impeccable, we were right at the beginning of economic growth in Australia – dad organised a little bit of mainstream advertising, we opened the doors and people started to slowly walk in the doors. I was in my element! I had spent my entire childhood camping at any spare opportunity my parents had and here I am surrounded with fun and exciting stuff!
We’ve all heard it before, when it comes to turning your favourite hobby into a business. If you love fishing… don’t open a fishing store – you’ll never get the time to do things you love and your passion will become something you despise. I disagree entirely! If you are able to find the balance to do both and if it is genuinely a passion… it will most definitely flow through to the customer. When a customer walks into Camping Country Australia, I want them to know they are talking to a camping expert – someone that has camped their whole life and knows their products inside out.
Sadly, in the modern day world of the internet, we now have large companies that employ amazing marketers who can create a public image that actually contradicts and/or distorts who they really are.
I decided a number of years ago to buck this trend and tell people who I really am! It’s authentic and it’s real. Quite simply, I take a camera with me when I go camping… I bring you along for the ride with me. There is nothing to hide and our image as a family business is an exact reflection of who we are. Someone that loves camping and knows it inside out.
I left a campground last year and saw two massive industrial dump bins full of cheap and broken gazebo’s, scissor folding chairs, airbeds and even a few 4WD awnings – so much of it was barely a couple of years old!! Then last night on the local news – up popped a story on the cheap camping rubbish that had broken, dumped and been left to rot at one of our favourite camping spots… Inskip Point (entry way to Fraser Island for the readers outside of the Sunshine Coast). This all stews me up inside to no end – after all my parents brought me up to understand the value of buying a quality product that lasts!
Unfortunately to maintain endless growth, too many companies in the camping industry (big and small) are producing some disgustingly poor quality product… for the small manufactures it’s out of desperation to maintain some market share, and for the large corporates it’s because they understand how to maintain their profits (endless growth), a short life cycle has to be built into their product.
The earth is heating up and disappointingly, we’re doing everything we can to make this worse by producing more cheap crap and burning fossil fuels like never seen before. It’s a game our natural world cannot win – it’s simply not sustainable. There is too much strain between the corporate product manufacturers / retailers need for endless growth and the planets need for a breather.
So what is the point of sharing this story? We’re in a world where we cannot avoid impacting our planet. At some stage we need to live, go camping and buy some new camping gear, and what we do each own, is the power to make smarter decisions when doing so!
To use high-quality camping products is not only responsible, it’s a way to pay respect to the user, the use of the camping goods and Mother Nature!