Jacek Jaskot on making dreams come true, designing and building camper vans and creating a brand.
Jacek Jaskot is architect by education, designer of motorhomes by passion and profession. The creator of Globe-Traveller brand, well-known on European markets. Associated with the caravan industry since 2009, who has just started his new project.
Some of the readers may have already heard your story, but why don’t you tell us again how it started? How did the idea come to you to build your own camper?
Yes, I have already told this story a couple of times. After renting various camper vans, I began to dream about getting one for myself. I checked the options available in Poland and in Germany, but I soon realised that it would be difficult to get a vehicle for a family of four which would be as functional and attractive as I wanted it to be and still stay within the budget. Most of the available camper vans were too expensive and style of the furnishings and design inside was fit for the generations of our parents and grandparents. So, the only solution was to make my own, personalised design.
Great, but not all the people who cannot find a suitable camper begin constructing one on their own!
Fair enough – otherwise standard camper makers would not make the ends meet.
What sort of a camper did you have in mind?
I set quite a challenge for myself I wanted a versatile vehicle which could be useful in everyday life – suitable for family shopping and outings and would at the same time be comfortable enough for travelling on holiday. In my personal opinion, “enough comfort” involves at least a toilet and a shower.
In 2009, after a half year of a struggle, my camper was ready. It was based on Nissan Primastar (an equivalent of Renault Traffic and Opel Vivaro). It had four seats for driving and two double beds, was 5,4 m long and met my initial requirements.
What did you find the hardestand what was the easiest thing to do?
The biggest challenge was to find a person experienced enough to build the body. I found a small company near Opole in Western Poland who accepted the job, but due to the amount of work and the unique design, the work lasted ages. So, I decided to take the car away from them for a short while and hire woodworkers to do the fitted furniture. The company which had done cabinets for my home seemed just perfect. However, they did not have a workshop big enough to keep the car inside and all the work was done in the backyard. They started the assignment at the beginning of the year and the winter was extremely tough. I took a leave from my company and supervised all the woodwork personally. Every day, after tedious work in the camper, I would come back home feeling like an armoured knight: I could hardly move, because I was frozen stiff after long hours of working outside. I needed an hour in the hot bath to thaw. Nevertheless, it was great fun because the work, although slow, was bringing satisfactory results.
As to the question about the easiest things, my first answer was to be “the design”. But this would not be true. The design underwent plenty of changes throughout the implementation process. I was not aware that furnishing the “shell” had so many limitations. Most of them stem from the structure of the van base. Many reinforcing elements have to be left as they are; you can neither cut nor remove them. The amount of stuff which is under the chassis effectively limits the ambitions and nonchalance of the designer. The cross bars and the longerons always fall in the places where you want to place the plughole from your shower or the vent of your water tanks. Generally, that work taught me that while designing a camper you always need a Plan B – an alternative solution for your original concept.
Did you build that camper just for your family only or had you already thought about commercialising it and making camper vans for your living?
From the very beginning I was aware of the market niches which were just waiting for somebody to make use them, sooner or later. Although my first Nissan was built for my own family, my work mate and I had already been thinking about making more camper vans. After my first one was made, we ordered two extra chassis in case some interested customers would appear. Actually, we never built any bodies on them and just sold them later as they were, with a larger commission than the one we would expect if we sold them as finished camper vans (laughter).
Why you not happy with your fist design? And why did you decide to build camper vans slightly larger than the original one?
My first solution was just a perfect example of a rotten compromise. It met the original requirements but neither of them was fulfilled in a satisfactory manner. The van was too long for everyday use and too cramped for a family of four on holiday. Although the children were still small, our first trip was nevertheless very hard due to the lack of space and huge logistic problems with getting ready to bed and getting up in the morning. People who go for a holiday don’t wish to be involved in such fuss.
However, my work had also positive outcome. I presented the camper at a specialist fair in Kraków and it got the second prize. A number of customers appreciated my functional solutions, the appearance and the quality of the work done on my little camper van. Although there was no demand to buy or to start manufacturing it, some customers asked if I would be interested in making a more typical design on larger chassis of Fiat Ducato or Peugeot Boxer. One of such conversations ended with signing a contract for making a camper van on Ducato L3H2 base. Actually, the camper is now available for sale as it’s owner Stan thinks about getting a new model. Thanks to Stan and a few other persons, my hobby could turn into my job. Another supporter was Wlodek Dunikowski who helped me to find some technical solutions and to resolve many other issues related to camper construction.
A word about further development of production and reaching a suitable manufacturing scale?
Do you want me to summarise the years from 2010 until now in just a couple of words? Not an easy task. It was nine years of hard work, after all.
Stan was the first of many customers interested in personalised camper design. I rented a small manufacturing hall in Mokotów, Warsaw and began to build individually tailored camper vans. However, I had no managerial experience, no sufficient financial backing and no experienced work team. In the result, the future of Neo-Traveller (it was the name of my company at that time) became very insecure. The financial effort was too great. At some stage I had to sell my retirement fund and to cut down all consumer expenses. Enough said. In the autumn of 2010, I decided to stay in business for two months more and then to give up my passion and return to the cosy office work if no significant turn of events occurred. Luckily, it did! One day, a German businessman contacted me asking for a presentation of my camper vans. I went to Germany, I showed him the one and only demo that I had and returned home knowing that a new road for development had just opened for me. My new German partner paid for the presentation of the first Voyager at the Leipzig Fair. The camper van was well received, and it attracted customers willing to buy it.
Initially, we intended to adopt a business plan well known from “The Promised Land”, a Polish movie about building a business in the 1890ties: I have nothing, you have nothing – which means we have enough to build a factory. To my surprise, this business plan did not work! (laughter)
I had to find a strategic investor for the venture. And I found it. It was a Kraków-based company Elcamp owned by Mr. Sobiesław Zasada. In 2012, we established Elcamp Traveller, a business focused on developing the Neo-Traveller brand of camper vans. The manufacturing hall was opened in Karczew near Warsaw. From that moment on, the camper vans have been sold by a sister company, Elcamp RV based in Kraków. I am sure that without the confidence which Mr. Zasada had in me, and without his conviction that the project would be a success, it would not be possible to create the first Polish camper van. Such business requires huge initial input and the return on investment is not just a matter of three or four years. It is a long-term work which requires patience.
The first years were very difficult. Polish market had been developing quite fast, but it was not absorptive enough to support a manufacturer of camper vans, even a small one. It was not easy to convince customers from Western Europe to buy our products. The process of gaining their trust took a few years. Poland had no tradition of camper van building. People still remembered the little travel trailers from Niewiadów and associated them with our country, but understandably enough, nobody had any associations with camper vans made in Poland. However, after a few years we managed to overcome the reservations of Western customers and dealers. Today the Globe-Traveller camper vans are sold in most European countries. As you can see, in 2015 we changed the name of our product. Undoubtedly the work which we performed together with the teams from Karczew and Kraków brought about measurable success, and we can feel truly satisfied with it.
Did you have any other challenges?
Challenges were aplenty. Our business is to a large extent a pioneering one. I always say that doing business is like completing a puzzle. All the elements necessary for business operation must fit the picture. Manufacturing, sales, marketing, logistics – all of them are gears without which the machine will not move. But people are always the key element in the puzzle.
From the very beginning, we had a considerable problem with finding people experienced in making camper vans. They just were not there. In Poland, we have just a few small companies which try to make personalised interiors but have been established in the course of recent years. So, I felt considerable relief in 2013, when we could hire Norbert Adamczewski as the head of manufacturing. Before that, he had been manufacturing personalised interior fittings for camper vans for nine years, in one of German companies. That man is a total brain box for camper solutions. And also, he never gives up. If Norbert faces a technical problem, he will solve it sooner or later.
Other challenges were the logistics, timely deliveries and finding suitable suppliers. There was nobody in the business we could to ask for references, so we had to check the reliability of our partners in the process. And the effects were sometimes quite painful. However, today we can say that we coped with most of the difficulties and Globe-Traveller has excellent prospects for the future.
From the perspective of your past projects and your current experience, what advice would you give to a person who plans to build his or her first camper?
Don’t do it! Just buy it from a reliable manufacturer…
Just joking. First of all, you have to realise what you expect from your travel vehicle. You have to define your needs. And – unfortunately – get ready for the unexpected. Only those who do nothing commit no errors. Regrettably, some of our errors can be very uncomfortable and expensive, so you have to decide in advance which materials you will use, what fittings do you plan to install and how to assemble everything correctly. The decisions on the size of your bathroom, installing the toilet and saving space around the sink are the matter of individual taste. Most of the people have clear ideas about them. But faulty heating, lack of water or a leaking roof window can really spoil the holiday fun. Nobody can bear such defects with dignity, and nobody likes to listen to the spouse who suggests that an all-inclusive in Egypt would have been more relaxing.
At our first meeting, you gave us a lot of facts about camper vans, building them and about things to remember when buying a new vehicle. What is the most important thing that one has to bear in mind before choosing a camper?
You have to know your own needs. Do you like cooking on holiday or do you prefer eating in bars? Are you anxious about public showers in camping lots, or is it not a problem? Do you normally spend nights on campsites or is it the last resort for you? Are you always on the road or do you prefer to stay in one place for a few days and then move on?
Camper vans which we make are dedicated for active people who appreciate the speed and the facility of moving around and who are not afraid of regions which are a bit more difficult to drive though, such as mountain serpentines or narrow streets in Tuscany.
My standard advice for all our potential customers is that they should first rent a camper and see if they are happy spending their holidays in this manner. Then they will be able to define their priorities. It will be easier to decide if they prefer a spacious alcove which is a bit more difficult to drive or a smaller van which initially discouraged them with its more restricted space inside. After two or three trips, everybody knows perfectly well what is important and what only seemed to be so before the experience came.
How about your plans for future?
Now I am going to surprise you. I am bidding farewell to Globe-Traveller. I will stay there until end June and then I am going to begin a new project. Naturally, related to manufacturing camper vans.Globe-Traveller is not a start-up any more. It is a mature company, a stable brand which requires a different strategy than the one we followed in the first years of its existence. The sales are growing year by year, the production lines are busy, and the development targets have changed. I am happier with the design work and building a business from scratch than with factory management. Also, I lack experience in managing big companies and there have been more and more differences of opinion between the president of our managing board and me, with respect to the vision of the future and the personnel policy. So, I realised that a time had come for a change, and that others should take care of the further development of Globe-Traveller. The Karczew and Kraków teams who successfully contributed to building the position of the company are obviously staying there. They will certainly be able to boost its further development.
I already have a new challenge ahead. Norbert and I will focus on building a new brand. So, keep your fingers crossed and keep an eye on the Internet, as we will soon introduce our new “baby” there.
Oh, absolutely! We will keep a close eye on you! (laughter)
The original interview by motorhome.pl
Translated version for exclusive use by VANgabond.eu by Sławomira Podwojska.
Maybe you are interested in seeing the article: https://www.rvtravel.eu/calatoria-in-europa-cu-motorhome-fara-surprize/