Business Magazine

How We Set up a ‘Glamping’ Business

By Dwyledotcom @dwyledotcom


Happy Days Retro Vacations: How we set up a “Glamping” business

One of the biggest mental hurdles that you are likely to face when deciding on making a career change is “How can I make a career change when I have children?”

Therefore, I have nothing but admiration for anyone that has decided to “go for it”, whilst still having young children to support also.

Purely by luck, whilst researching a family holiday recently, I stumbled upon the Happy Days Retro Vacations and was fascinated to read about Kevin and Jenni’s story, who had done exactly this; set up a Retro UK holiday business, from scratch.

Keen to know more, I contacted them immediately to find out about their business and was delighted when Kevin Armstrong accepted my offer of doing one of Dwyle’s first interviews.

So following on from Sue Garret’s story, read on to find out how Happy Days went from being a dream to very much an everyday reality. It’s all very inspirational stuff.

Tell me a bit about you and your business?

Happy Days Retro Vacations is based in the Dorset countryside. We have four refurbished Airstream caravans, which were built between the 1950s to 1970s. We started out finding the first one on EBay and then later found someone that could source them for us.

When did you start?


Who is involved in the business?

Myself and my wife, Jenni.

What did you both do before?

I did a myriad of things. But my last job, before we made the move, was in Online Advertising. Jenni used to work in TV Advertising. My first job was actually working as a DJ over the weekend but I soon realised that I couldn’t do that forever. So I did a weekday course on boats to ‘learn a trade’.

I then met Jenni and moved to London and as you would expect, not much boat building goes on in London, so like most people, I fell into Sales. This meant that I sold all sort of things. Training, Mobile Phones, Conferences, Exhibitions, Recruitment. You name it, I sold it.

What are your working days / hours now?

Ha Ha Ha Good question. As and when. The hours are no diarised time. People think we only do a couple of hours a day! It’s seasonal though. In the summer months, Monday and Friday, which are our changeover days, this will start at 8am and finish 9 or 10pm.

The other 5 days a week, I will spend at least 2 hours onsite doing daily checks. Plumbing, Health and Safety etc.

Sunday evenings are extremely busy for us as it’s the time of the week that customers tend to think about their holidays. So our Sundays evenings are spent dealing with enquiries as they come in. The laptop is always on someone’s lap.

We do this as we know that a holiday is a luxury item. If someone is considering spending their money, we have to react quickly. If takes 2 days to answer, they will have changed their mind or found someone else that would have given them the information.

There is also always a project that is carrying on in the background. At the moment, I am renovating another 1970s Caravan.

Sounds like hard work! Where did you learn all of this and who does what?

I deal with nuts, bolts and mud. Jen will do curtains and laundry mainly! If you go back 24 years. I was always building something out of pallets etc. and constructing trucks. Also, being an apprentice boat builder taught me a lot.

All these skills ‘layer in’ as you go along. I am the handy one. I always had a tool box and I have always try and “do it yourself” when you can. Jenni does the office side of things. 9-5, 6 days a week.

Happy days

Happy days

What made you change your life?

I was nearly 38, when I was involved in Motorcycle accident (on my beautiful ‘vintage’ Vespa!) I got hit by TWO black cabs which meant I spent nearly 6 months at home. Poor Jen was like a single parent to our two young children for that period of time as I couldn’t actually move for 5 months.

As they said in Withnail and I, there was “a moment of clarity”. Whilst I was back on the road to recovery, I just thought “I don’t want to do this sh*t anymore”. I was done with commute and wanted some Work/Life balance.

So are you done with Motorcycles now?

No! – As soon as I get some pocket money, I want to get another scooter. I am from the NW originally and when I was a kid, was used to watching all the scooter rallies going up to Blackpool.

I was all about the style. I live in the past. 1970s scooters. 1950’s caravan. I also collect choppers bicycles!

In respect of making a change, did you know what you wanted to do? If so, how did you know?

We was living in a lovely part of London called East Dulwich and had lived there for 13 years. It was sort of like a bump over the head.

I know I needed to find something else to do then one day, we went a friends BBQ and one of their neighbours had one of these “silver shiny things” (Airstream caravan).

I was intrigued and one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I was yelling “Come and look at this Jen! I need one of those.”

Jen had the ‘Eureka!’ moment and said “we could refurbish and rent these out” and suggested we research how we can make a living from these things.

So we did our research and found that although there was another company doing something similar on Isle of Wight, no one doing this on the mainland UK. So we thought, “Yeah, we can do this in the UK”

How would you describe the process you went through to get to this point?

At the time, the recession hadn’t really hit London. There were crazy house prices, so we just sold up and moved to Dorset!

We bought a house and then moved down in summer, the following Easter the business was up and running.

We knew what the business needed to do when we moved down, so the first thing we did was found a site to store caravans and rent them from. At the same time we were also busy, sourcing the vehicles, learning how to renovate them, as well as sourcing all sorts of suppliers.

One thing that has served us well is that we are both blessed with good vision. When we bought and sold houses, we knew what would sell. We also get a good feel for nice people to do business with.

How did family and friends react / deal with this change?

Our parents were sceptical at first. I don’t think they really got the concept of going off to buy vintage vehicles initially.

Some of our friends must have thought we were bonkers. Were they whispering “have they have lost the plot?” Who knows?

Now we are 3 years in they get it. None of them have stayed in one though!

So how’s it going?

It’s been great. We started with 2 vehicles at the tail end of the summer and are now up to 3.

We are very much part of the “glamping” movement and have started doing something the same time as public are interested in it. Retro seems to be “in” and TV programmes such as Kirsty Allsopp’s Vintage Home and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces are igniting the public interest. 1950’s is High fashion.

The main thing though is that people want to go camping with the kids in a nice way. They don’t want to sleep on the ground when it’s -2.

They want to sleep under the stars, with a camp fire but in comfort. No butlers, but in comfort.

Glamping is here to stay!

How do you manage any drop in earnings to do this?

If you talk to anyone in our situation, the belt is tightened to the extreme.

We have very little disposable income and this will be this way for the next 2 years. We have to watch the pennies.

The season finishes in October and this has to see us through the winter.
It’s a massive drop in earnings and massive change in lifestyle. You give up the conventional 2 holidays, 2 cars and cut your cloth accordingly.

You run an older car. You only buy clothes when you really need it. Luxury items are a luxury and you plow any money you do have money into kids.

We don’t go away on holiday at the moment. But these are the sacrifices you have to make.

What training did you have to do? What new skills did you have to learn?

From me, I deal with gas and electricity. You learn that you don’t mess around with that stuff. You find someone to do this!

We are both lucky as we already had good skills between us as a team. I am practical. Jen is methodical. I cut stuff up. Jen is “do a list, work out costing etc person”.
We work really well together.

What do you miss about your old life?

My friends. That’s it. I miss mates in London. I didn’t think or realize how much I actually would.

Also the Mums mafia do a whole lot of bonding when children are born, so I don’t think Jen realised either. We are only 90 minutes from London, so it’s not too bad.
I don’t miss the commute or corporate bullsh*t!

What are the best bits of your new life?

I spend my days in jeans and a T-shirt!

Being your own boss, means you are your own responsibility and everything is your fault. Even when you do a 16-18 hour day you don’t begrudge it.
The kids are also excellent tree climbers now.

What does the future hold?

Hopefully we will continue to expand a vehicle a year. In 2-3 years’ time we can also hopefully hire someone to do the cleaning. A member of staff! 8-9 vehicles would be the maximum on the current set up.

What advice would you give for anyone in the same position?

1) Don’t compromise
2) Don’t hold back
3) Be fearless – Just have the balls and go for it.
4) We took a leap of faith but we are resourceful people. If it all went wrong, we would have found a job. If it meant one of us pulling pints or other sweeping streets, that what we would have done.
5) Research pays off
6) Do not underestimate doing what you feel is right
7) “Build it and they will come”
8) Your change doesn’t has to one of your key passions. You can try too hard looking for what this is.
9) Look all over the place for inspiration. There will be something that you don’t see every day, that’s kind of interesting.
10) Something has to give. Compromise on time and money as none of these will be the same as your old life
11) No regrets – Nothing worst that getting to 85 and having regrets.
12) Calculate your risks

More information

For more information on Happy Days Retro Vacations, go to or call 01202 567606.

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