9 min read
The lure of the great American road trip has never been stronger than in the past year. Wide open roads, thousands of acres of national parks to explore — what more could you ask for from a pandemic-era vacation?
When hordes of people suddenly decided they wanted to road trip last summer, demand for the greatest road trip vehicle of all — the RV — skyrocketed. But not everyone wants to actually own an RV, so platforms for renting them were suddenly the hottest business in town.
A recent owners report from peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace RVshare found that 75% of the owners on its platform reported making more money in 2020 than 2019, and 50% of those owners were able to fully cover the cost of their RV with rental income. The average owner on RVshare brings in $16,000 a year, and more people are jumping on the bandwagon every day: 20% of the owners on RVshare joined in 2020, and 14% purchased an RV in 2020 for the express purpose of renting it out.
Outdoorsy, another peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, hit $1 billion in revenue last year, and it saw a 400% increase in bookings on some holiday weekends in 2020. For some of the owners on its platform, what started as a side hustle has enabled them to quit their full-time job or purchase more RVs to rent out. Below, read how four RV owners from across the U.S. who use Outdoorsy have turned a pandemic into a serious business opportunity.
Answers have been edited and condensed.
Brooke and Rob Lykins
When did you buy your first RV?
We bought our first RV in 2017. Rob has always looked for adventure and thought an RV road trip would be fun. Brooke heard “RV” and thought dingy, old, brown, dirty. But after conquering a home addition and remodel together, we decided we could make a dingy RV just as beautiful to travel in. Thus, a new adventure began.
When did you start thinking about renting it out?
We had made this old RV so pretty and fun that friends and neighbors asked if they could rent it from us. Rob, being in the insurance industry, was not interested in this without finding a service that could provide short-term rental insurance for it. Brooke kept on bringing up the opportunity to make a little extra money.
When did you realize you could make serious money doing this?
Within a week of listing our RV, we got a rental. Then we got rentals continuously. We were making a consistent $2,500-plus a month on a 25-year-old RV that we had updated and owned free and clear. For us, this meant not going deeper into the debt hole every month and starting to keep our heads above water. It was a big deal. We bought two more newer RVs and renovated them.
After fees, how much money are you bringing in per month? Was it enough to enable you to quit your full-time job, or do you plan on keeping this as a side hustle permanently?
Our business has grown and changed a lot over the past year. In the last few months our income has seemed a little unbelievable. In the last 30 days we’ve made nearly $25,000 and about $15,000 the month before that. Neither of us have quit our regular jobs yet. We plan to keep this and grow it and see what happens. We currently have five RVs on the platform and before summer will have two more, at least.
When did you buy your first RV?
We bought our first RV in December of 2017. It was a 2018 Palomino Puma 32RBFQ. We bought that RV for the purpose of living in it after selling our house in Smithville, Texas. We were at a point in our lives where we needed to decrease our expenses, and our house was our biggest expense. That combined with the realization that we only used half the house, if that, and we liked the idea of moving to a minimalist lifestyle.
Then you bought another RV and started renting it out. When did you realize you could make serious money doing this?
I realized we could make some serious money in May 2020 when we had every weekend booked, netting us nearly $1,000. After a few months, we started wondering how we were going to acquire more RVs. More RVs equals more money.
We got the idea to rent out other people’s RVs on their behalf — RV rental consignment. Simply put, we’ll take possession, insure and manage the private owner’s RV as a rental, and in return, we split the nightly rental amount 50/50. It took a while to get off the ground, and I had a few stumbles in building up my credibility proving this concept for us. Since September of 2020, we’ve acquired seven consignments that we rent out through our LLC, acquired a commercial auto policy, created a website and have completed nearly 60 rentals, totaling more than 300 nights rented.
This has given me the opportunity to build a business, something I’ve always wanted to do, create my own hours, and spend literally every day with my son.
Any fun customer stories?
We rented to a man named Cayce Rivers and his wife. They spent eight nights in Big Bend for her birthday. Cayce is a local CEO of a meadery called Meridian Hive here in Austin. We ended up connecting after their rental and stayed in contact for a while. I was at the start of actually running an LLC, and I needed some guidance. Cayce was kind enough to mentor me, and the connection made was incredible for me.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned along the way that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
This isn’t really something I learned renting RVs, but my previous job in sales taught me the key to sales is to genuinely, wholeheartedly want the best for your customer, even if that isn’t you. When you can look at a potential customer and advise them that you are not the best option or fit for what they are looking for, genuinely caring about their well-being instead of a sale, then you will feel the happiness that comes with helping someone.
When did you buy your first RV?
I bought my first RV in June 2020. I like the RV lifestyle in that RVs are quite versatile. They can be used for road trips, camping trips, a picnic day at the park, tailgating, hiking trips — so many options.
When did you decide to rent it out?
I first decided that I would start an RV business in September 2019. I was planning my own RV trip, and I realized that the numbers looked very good as a side business were I to take that venture. It has changed my life. I was able to exit my prior career field — I spent 16 years in hotel management and was ready for a change. This made it possible.
How much time does it take per week to run this business?
I have several vehicles in my fleet, but right now I am spending about 20 hours per week on it. As noted, I worked in hotel management my whole career — I am taking care of the same demographic and same customer types I’ve dealt with throughout my career — it’s just that they are renting an RV rather than a hotel room in this case.
What’s something you’d tell other RV owners who are interested in doing this?
I caught on pretty quickly with my prior career background, but I will tell you that almost every RV renter is ecstatic about the idea of an RV vacation — but they aren’t confident in it. If you want to be successful as an RV owner, you have to be a “coach” with the renter. Help them be 100% confident that they can do this. They need help understanding how to do everything before they go. This is new to them.
Why did you buy your RV?
I’m cheap! The prospect of committing to another year of expensive Austin rent pushed me towards the idea of getting an RV, getting some land, building a tiny home while living in the RV and pursuing other dreams (furniture-making) somewhere within an hour of Austin.
Why did you decide to rent it out?
My father passed away three months later, so the pursuit of these dreams got put on hold. I went back to domesticated life — I leased an apartment in central Austin and had to figure out what to do with this RV that I had just bought. So I did some searching and found out about the main RV sharing platforms.
What’s the time commitment like?
The amount of time really depends on the number of turnovers that occur. I have a small fleet of four vehicles and run this operation solo. Depending on how busy things are, it can be as little as 10 hours a week to as much as 60 hours a week. Having never managed rentals before, I was naively optimistic about how much time things can take. Things often do take longer than I expect as with everything in life, but you develop SOPs and get more efficient with time.
Any fun customer stories?
I had an interesting experience helping an awesome couple from New Jersey drive their newly adopted son from Port Aransas back home. This was within the past year, during the pandemic, so this mode of transportation was a good option. I drove from Austin to Port Aransas to deliver the RV to the couple, found my way back to Austin, flew to New Jersey (where I’m originally from and where my mom still lives), picked up the RV, stuffed the RV with my mom’s cooking, and then drove back to Austin, where I ate well for about a month before going back to a diet of processed food.