Chad and Cherie Ball were struggling during the 2008 recession but still wanted to take their family on a vacation, so they started looking for more affordable options.
“We turned no farther than our neighbour’s driveway and we saw his trailer that literally just sat there for months on end, not being used,” Chad said. “So we approached him and said: ‘Hey, not using your trailer? What are the chances of you renting that out to us?'”
The neighbour was up for it, but raised a question about insurance: if the trailer was rented out, wouldn’t it require commercial insurance coverage?
That started a six-year process for Chad and Cherie. The Okotoks couple wanted to make short-term RV rentals easy and accessible for Canadians. On a 2010 camping trip with friends, they noticed lots of trailers that weren’t being used and wanted to find a way to benefit both trailer owners and potential renters.
“We passed about a dozen RV storage sites and they were all full,” Chad recalled. “It being a long weekend, we thought that was odd.
“We thought: wouldn’t it be nice if there was a website that could just connect trailer owners — so that they could offset the cost of ownership and put some money in their pocket — and also give people like us an affordable way to vacation?”
That’s how WheelEstate was born.
It’s an online peer-to-peer marketplace. Think Airbnb or VRBO for vacation trailers. WheelEstate is fully insured and has partnered with other companies to offer roadside assistance and tow-vehicle rentals as well.
“We look at it as empowering people,” Chad said. “Because, before we existed, you could only rent out your trailer with an expensive commercial policy. Now we look at empowering people as micro-entrepreneurs and it also strengthens the local economy.”
So far, there are about 35 trailers available to rent on the WheelEstate site and close to 1,000 users have signed up.
“They’re really relieved to find out that they could make some money on the side and also meet their neighbours essentially and create those relationships that they’ll keep coming back every year and rent their trailer again,” Cherie said.
“We started [the company] out of necessity, to solve our own problem in a downturn,” Chad added. “We’re right back there in another recession. We’ve had people that have listed on the site and told us that it’s kind of the difference between making their mortgage payment right now and staying in their house — as a way to participate in the sharing economy.”
They say the business is Canada-wide although it’s mainly focused on Alberta right now.
“Out of the one-million RVs in Canada, there’s 350,000 out our backdoor here in Alberta,” Chad said.
“It’s that idea of access versus ownership,” he added. “We always like to say: ‘Own the experience, rent the trailer.’ I think that resonates with a lot of people.”
Watch below: Thanks to an Alberta couple, RVs are now part of the peer-to-peer online marketplace. Emily Mertz has more on WheelEstate.
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