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The Story of NOMAD Happy Campers

Jacquie Heading

April 27th, 2021

Hi i'm Jacquie, owner of NOMAD Happy Campers. I want to tell you a little bit about me and why I started my business. I was born and raised on

Cape Breton Island and spent many summers in Ingonish. I grew up around the hospitality industry. My grandparents were inducted into the tourism hall of fame for their lifelong contribution to the industry and my parents met working together at a hotel. I worked in the industry locally, in western Canada, and I worked on Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. I’ve always been an avid traveler. Ever since my parents took me and and my brother to Spain when we were 11-12 years old, that’s where I caught the travel bug. I’ve been on short trips to Europe and the US but my traveling really took off when I studied at California State University Northridge for a year through CBU’s exchange program (Hey, Alpha Phi sisters!). I lived in the Bahamas for a year after that,

then spent a month in Bali, Indonesia, a month in South Africa, and a month in Australia. As a kid I couldn’t wait to move to a city. But, now that I’ve traveled, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Nothing else compares to Cape Breton. There’s just something in the air… literally, you can smell it as soon as you walk off the plane, fresh air and trees. There's a reason why we have a buddhist monastery tucked away in the highlands, there's something tranquil about the Cabot Trail. As someone who’s familiar with the industry and had their fair share of traveling, I’m eager to share my experience and bring a fresh new business to the community. There will be growing pains and kinks to be worked out along the way, but I’ll take feedback and continue to better the business.

In February 2020, I was traveling in Australia while also researching hostels. I had spent the previous year working on a business plan to start a multifunctional hostel in Sydney (NS). Once there, I quickly fell in love with campervans and needed to

bring them to Cape Breton. I prefer campervans over hostels because they are more private, combine a travellers need for accommodation and transportation, are perfect for road trips, keep you close to nature, and are cozy and fun. I suggest traveling by campervan and periodically staying in hostels to meet like minded people (and do laundry). I shelved my hostel business plan, bought a little notebook in Tasmania and started writing my new plan during a flight to Sydney (AUS).

In March of 2020, COVID-19 spread rapidly around the world. Although we didn’t feel any sense of emergency in Australia, Canada and the US were shutting down their borders. So, my boyfriend (who had been working in Australia) and I, booked emergency flights back to Canada. We spent our last few days in Australian isolating in our campervan and I realized it was a pretty COVID friendly way of traveling. We were so lucky we left when we did because that sense of emergency made its way to Australia after we left. During my two-week quarantine, I had nothing else to do but start researching how to make a 4-season campervan business in Nova Scotia. The business plan I wrote in my little travel notebook projected me renting a prototype van for June of 2020 (that ended up being off by an entire year lol).

I spent the year researching the economy, infrastructure, tourism reports, and how to build campervans from cargo vans. I realized that there is no better time than now (2021) to start this business. The Cape Breton highlands are suppose to introduce winter camping this coming season, Ski Cape Smokey has new owners who are creating a world class skiing/outdoor hobby destination, Nova Scotians’ want staycations while the pandemic passes, and driving the Cabot Trail is the ultimate road trip experience. I want to give a shout-out to CBDC (Coastal Business Development Corporation). I joined their small business development program in October 2020 and they were a great resource. The program kept me accountable and on schedule with weekly reports. The program also provided me with workshops in accounting, law, etc. which was very helpful.

I wanted to start my business with three vans but the looming threat of a lockdown from COVID-19 worried me as a first-time business owner. I paused the idea for a few weeks when I received the commercial-auto insurance quote (nooooot what I was expecting ). I had to rethink some aspect of my idea and made many adjustments to accommodate such an astronomical price. After making the adjustments, deciding to use RVezy for the first van, I decided the business was viable and it was time to get financing. At this point, COVID-19 numbers were fluctuating, the Atlantic bubble 2.0 burst, the insurance quote was double what I was expecting and my timeline was slowly shrinking. I decided not to give up. I made a plan to start small and launch a prototype van for June 2021. This way I could get feedback from the community and grow to fit their needs. The little business plan I started in my notebook in Tasmania grew to an extensive 36-page document. I submitted my business plan to the Sydney Credit Union, Small Business Loan Guarantee Program. I really wasn’t sure what the bank would say during a pandemic, but I received a very supportive and encouraging call back from the Credit Union saying they loved the idea and wanted to work with me! And just like that, I was in business. I felt like I had come a long way from winning a Sydney Credit Union marketing competition at NSCC a few years ago, to now doing business with them.

I quickly secured a gently used 2019 van. While the paperwork for the van was being finalized, I posted on the NOMAD Happy Campers social media accounts that had been sitting empty for months. The feedback I received within the first 48 hours was incredible. I had over 200 followers in two days and people messaging me wanting to know more. I’m working hard to build the van, create a website, and an experience worthy of the community.

Nova Scotia needs a business like this and I’m happy to be doing it. I have plans to expand to Halifax in the future, but I was adamant to make Cape Breton home base. I'll open for bookings soon. Thank you to everyone for their support and patience, I have been slow on social media because I’m building the van myself and I wasn’t expecting such a strong following so quickly! But I couldn’t be more grateful.

I hope to look back on this post a year from now to see how the business has grown.

Stay happy, campers

Jacquie Heading

NOMAD Happy Campers

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