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How this Cairns man turned one car into a successful sharing fleet

When former automotive expert Cameron Gowing from Cairns noticed that car rental companies were selling swathes of their fleets off during COVID, he saw a gap in the market. He’s now renting out 35 cars through Car Next Door, making solid returns through savvy purchasing and marketing strategies.

Jessica Pilon-Summons

Cameron listed his first vehicle, his own BMW X5, on Car Next Door in May 2020 during COVID lockdown. He got three bookings that first month, and soon realised he could get a healthy return on investment “really quickly” if he acquired more.

“We only had one car in the family at the time and it was during lockdown, so I was sitting around at home bored, wondering what to do,” he says. “I've got a couple of properties on Airbnb so am used to the sharing element, so thought I’d give it a crack.

With my first booking, I actually was a bit shocked that someone had called me to tell me they had booked my car for tomorrow.

Then the bookings started coming thick and fast so I was taking a bicycle everywhere and I thought ‘this is unsustainable. I can't be without a car, I've got two kids, the wife and myself, I need to get around’.

“So that's why I bought a second car. The rest is history.”

Cameron, who has held international senior positions for the likes of BMW and Nissan, has been adding to his fleet on average, one car a week, and says the return on investment is “pretty quick”.

Although he does list vans and higher-end vehicles - including BMWs and a Mercedes - on the platform, he spends on average around $5,000 or $6,000 per vehicle, generally Japanese hatchbacks such as Toyatas and Hyundais that are more than 10 years old.

“I've had months where it didn't make sense to have the cars as there have been some sitting around and not very active, but that was mainly during lockdown, maybe because of where the cars were parked, and the hit to domestic tourism,” he says.

“But the return on investment now is pretty quick, to be honest. It's healthy and I think it’s because I haven't bought very expensive cars or focused on cars that are younger than 10 years old.

“I’m generally just focused on the cheaper Japanese hatchback cars. They're the ones that people are comfortable with and they do a good job on the platform so I'm not investing a lot per unit, so accordingly, the return on those cars is pretty healthy.

“I even listed my wife’s 2013 Volkswagen Golf on Car Next Door last year as it was hardly being used. It cost $11k to buy and has made more than $5500 so far, making it a really good investment, and it has lots of brilliant ratings on Car Next Door.”

Cameron says it’s also important to think about where people can access your vehicles, and parks his around the city in tourist-friendly locations.

“I've actually got relationships with some of the five-star hotels where I communicate my cars and their availability through their brochures,” he adds.

“The hotels are very happy to have another supplier, especially one who is conveniently located right outside their front door of the hotel, because there are so few cars here in general.”

Semi-retired Cameron thinks the good reviews from borrowers on Car Next Door helps with bookings, along with his rates, which are much lower than the traditional rental companies.

According to car rental comparison site vroomvroomvroom, the average daily rate to hire a Toyota Corolla hatchback in Cairns starts at $215 a day, whereas a similar car from Cameron’s fleet starts from just $9.95 per hour, or $24.95 a day.

“My competition is the car rental companies, not my peers on Car Next Door,” he adds. “I believe a lot of people think that their competition is the other guy on Car Next Door, but I don't think that's the case.

“Car Next Door is completely different to anything else. Obviously, when people are choosing us they're also looking at car rental companies, but invariably, when they've used Car Next Door, they find it's a much more modern, attractive approach.”

Cameron also offers discounts to loyal customers.

“I have one or two customers for whom I offered a discount because they were regulars. I had to manually change the price for those bookings - but Car Next Door is building a feature into the product so that car owners will be able to automatically offer discounts for longer-term bookings,” he adds.

“But generally, most of my customers are tourists from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. They are holidaymakers, so one-off borrowers, as such.”

“I love the fact that my cars mean that people can explore Cairns and get out further afield, up to Port Douglas and around North Queensland. It’s such a beautiful part of the world - I’m happy to be helping more people enjoy holidays here.”

Cameron’s Top Tips

  1. If you’re sharing to earn an income, the best approach is to treat it like a business and your cars as assets, rather than have a personal attachment to each car.
  2. Price to the market. Be aware of what options are available in your area and the seasonality of the business. Be conscious of when it's peak and off-peak in your area, and price accordingly.
  3. Buy cars that are most suitable for your customers, not necessarily for your own personal tastes. The most important thing is having a reliable and safe car for people to drive.

Cameron's story was recently featured in the Australian Financial Review, How to make $15,000 a month sharing your cars.

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