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Sydney entrepreneur hopes to make customers happy campers

·2 min read
Jacquie Heading stands with her first camper van, Disco. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC - image credit)
Jacquie Heading stands with her first camper van, Disco. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC - image credit)

When Jacquie Heading set off for Australia in early 2019, she thought she'd be spending her time at hostels.

The 29-year-old Sydney, N.S., woman was hoping to do research in order to set up a boutique hostel back in Cape Breton. But she discovered it was hard to find transportation to all of the places she wanted to go.

Not wanting to fly around the continent, Heading rented a camper van.

"Once we rented our first camper van I switched business ideas right away because I fell in love with vans," said Heading.

Her plan to start a camper van rental company solidified even more when the pandemic hit.

"We kind of started to get nervous ourselves at the end of the trip and we thought, 'How can we best travel safely?'" said Heading.

"And in our van… we were socially distant from everyone else, we had the safe little pod to go from one place to another. We didn't have to use public transit."

As the pandemic grew worse, Heading caught a flight back to Nova Scotia. She was ready to overhaul her original business plan and to start her new company — Nomad Happy Campers.

She was in good company. Renovating and customizing vans, buses and old campers is now a popular hobby. Some people are even choosing to live in these vehicles as affordable housing.

Jacquie Heading
Jacquie Heading

Heading purchased a newer van as a prototype and went to work redoing the interior. She used sheep wool as insulation and lined the interior with shiplap.

With the help of a carpenter, Heading built benches that could convert to beds for two people, a kitchenette and self-latching cupboards to keep things from spilling when the van goes around corners.

"So I made the most out of my pandemic," Heading said with a laugh.

The prototype has been christened Disco— short for Discover — and it lives up to its name.

"You can't have a van named Disco without some cool lighting, so there's going to be LED lights that go underneath the cabinet which are colour changing and the lights in the ceiling also change colour and they can actually sync to music."

Jacquie Heading
Jacquie Heading

Heading plans to purchase five vans at some point to create a fleet and to offer extras like ski and paddle board rentals. With the travel between provinces coming back soon, Heading thinks the idea has staying power.

"As far as I know, I'm the only [camper van rental] business in Nova Scotia."

Disco is set to launch Canada Day.

Heading said she's proud to be following her family's footsteps.

"I've taken after my dad quite a bit… but also, my grandparents were really big in the tourism industry, and it seems that every idea I have, all of my business plans end up being tourism related as well."

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