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Wedubyou, Monflanquin, Aquitaine

23 July 2015

Words: Andrew Birbeck / Image: WeDubYou

Many dream of escape. But the call of a better life in a preferable climate, more often than not, remains just that, an unanswered call. Not so for ex-media executive Tony Martin, wife Yvette and son Scooter. The birth of a child often brings new perspective and a re-evaluation of what’s important. Almost immediately the new parents felt that they wanted, or perhaps needed, a change.

“We were pretty successful but it always felt like the more we earned, the more we needed to earn,” Tony explains. “We decided to step off the conveyor.”

Tony, Yvette and Scooter upped sticks, left the UK and headed for France in their trusty VW Kombi. “Travelling by VW made perfect sense,” says Tony. “That way we had everything we needed, a roof over our heads, we could stop wherever we wanted, take time to explore and house-hunt all at the same time.” The family went on a six-week journey and “ended up buying the very first property we’d seen, a 400-year-old rural water mill – hopefully to help us off grid one day, too.”

Although Tony carried on for a while with what he describes as his “grown-up job”, he and Yvette kept reflecting back to that road trip and the joy of slow travel. “We realised that people may just like the idea of dawdling around in an old van, taking it easy and really taking in the beauty of a place.” And so it was that WeDubYou was born, although no one could have foreseen just how quickly the business would flourish and grow.

“From that first van we’re now aiming to have a fleet of 35 by the end of this year,” says Tony. It’s pretty clear, however, that none of this happened by accident. Tony’s background in tech, strategy and development were invaluable from the outset. “It made sense to build a great website and create a recognisable brand, something that’s fun, evocative and memorable.” PR was key too and, from a first small piece in The Guardian newspaper, enquiries and bookings flooded in.

Fast expansion needs funding and borrowing from banks simply wasn’t an option. Once more Tony’s business experience and acumen came to the fore as he successfully raised vital capital from private investment.

“Incredibly, there is an upside to the banking crisis,” he explains. “We found out that there are companies out there keen to invest in new business who have stepped into the breach. It means that businesses like ours, which may never have seen the light of day, are able to get off the ground and, in time, expand.”

Technology has played a large part too in the success of WeDubYou, not only from their strong online presence but also in the vehicle’s kit-out. “We wanted to keep the all-important retro-feel but with a technological edge. So, although each van is a genuine ’70s camper and we keep the original interiors, they also come with iPads, and iPhones that include travel guides, games, great road music, navigation and various other tools.”

Plans are in the pipeline for mobile Wi-Fi and other innovations so watch that space. When I ask Tony how customers have found the WeDubYou experience, he tells me with an infectious grin, “You know what, we often have people saying it’s the best holiday they’ve ever had. And, it’s really surprised us just how much we love hearing that. It’s a real buzz.”

From that first foray in France the business has now expanded into neighbouring Spain and faraway New Zealand. Tony has his sights set on California, too, for 2016. Clearly the concept has captured imaginations in a unique way, perhaps tapping into the 1960s dream of hitting the open road with no particular destination in mind.

Tony sums it up, “We want our customers to shift down a gear, enjoy the ride and take in the scenery. We reckon WeDubYou is one of the best antidotes to modern life.” When you look at it that way, I think he’s right.

wedubyou.com

Local Knowledge

To eat like a local…
We love Sesame on Rue Gambetta, St Cyprien – a great menu with vegetarian options.

When hitting the road…
Travel light, you’ll get through the airport quicker and into your camper sooner.

The ultimate road music is…
Neil Young, Lorde, Talking Heads, Buena Vista Social Club

The best advice I can give is…
Know your audience. If lots of people like what you like then you’re really selling to yourself. So, ask yourself, “What would I like?”

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