Australia to see a more mature Jucy

First published in New Zealand Herald 8 April 2015

Australians, like Kiwis, love to go on road trips. The campervan and motorhome industry is thriving and each year retired legions of grey nomads hit the road in ever-growing numbers.

I don’t imagine New Zealand’s Jucy is primarily interested in this group, as retirees are more likely to buy their RVs outright.

However, they’ll be very interested in the young families, international travellers and university students who favour shorter holidays, tend to rent vehicles and represent a combined 50 per cent of a $168 million Australian industry.

According to IBISWorld, Jucy has indeed made a mark with an estimated 4.8 per cent Australian market share. It seems like they’ve only just scratched the surface.

Jucy has been in Australia since 2008, though it’s really only the last couple of years that I’ve noticed the distinct campers here in Melbourne.

The same can’t be said for New Zealand. Over the years, on every trip back the green and purple vehicles seem to have multiplied. I’ve watched the Jucy brand with interest, both in New Zealand and here in Australia, wondering if it would resonate with Aussies as it seems to have with Kiwis.

I spoke to Tim Alpe, one of the two brothers and founders of Jucy, to ask how business is going here in Australia. (Co-founder and brother Dan was in the US launching Jucy there.)

Given the Aussie passion for campervans and for national tourism, it seems like Jucy would be a good fit and according to Alpe, the brand was well received from day one.

There’s the proximity of course, but more importantly when Jucy analysed its customer base they found their biggest customers in New Zealand were in fact Australians. Given many of the European wholesale travel operators that send Jucy New Zealand business send three times as many people to Australia, it made a compelling case.

Jucy in Australia is half the size of its New Zealand operation but Alpe is excited about tapping into the potential and significantly growing the Australian business. The “well-oiled machine with a funky front end” currently has 750 vehicles on Australian roads built by tapping into existing customers and relationships that were already in play.

“At the start, we launched slightly differently in Australia,” says Alpe. “We went in there and did deals with local suppliers and they handled the business for us while we paid them a fee to turn around the vehicle. After one year we quickly understood that if we wanted to be serious we had to own the customer experience ourselves. Our brand is unique to Jucy, it’s excitable and people relate to it and share content, so we focus heavily on creating that community as that’s where we get the business.”

Jucy set up their Australian head office in Brisbane, not for any strategic reason according to Alpe, but simply as a way to access the Eastern seaboard where the majority of road trip clientele are. They now have an Australian GM (a Kiwi) and sales reps, but marketing, sales, finance, IT, innovation and social media is run out of New Zealand.

Though Alpe tells me it works well now, I’d imagine with greater success and growth, the Australian office and its independence from New Zealand will be reconsidered. As it is for many New Zealand companies that reach that next stage of the maturity cycle.

Alpe also believes Australia has made them tougher and prepared the business for going into the US.

“People who go into Australia thinking it’s exactly the same as New Zealand have rocks in their heads,” he says. “As much as we’re similar, we’re equally very different. In New Zealand, we may compete with one another but we have a real respect for other businesses we go up against. In Australia, it’s a lot more dog-eat-dog. It really toughens you up and has been the biggest eye opener for us. If you want the business you have to go after it and be prepared for competitors to tell lies about you and back stab. It has hardened us.”

Jucy has done a great job to create a unique position for the brand and I bet if you asked their customers to define them in a few words they’d all say the same thing: fun, quirky, low cost. It reminds me of another company that started out as a cheeky challenger. Virgin.

Virgin is very different now to when it first launched, rebellious and full of promise. Nowadays Branson’s baby is trying to find its place somewhere between industry-shaker and mature corporate.

In its own way Jucy too has reached the edges of maturity. Those young backpackers they launched to aren’t spending as much and new, older markets show greater potential.

One of the challenges for Jucy will be maintaining that distinct identity and sense of fun while targeting a more mature customer segment that may want something a little more subdued from their rental.

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