Campwagon was incorporated January 1st 1973 and its founders mr Lucien Barbeau and Johan Roy have since been the two main owners. Van conversions had actually been initiated in 1969 in a craftsman work fashion: “We knew that the future would be in the world of leisure. We had to trigger interest from automobile dealerships to buy our product and keep it in inventory; then participate at a few trade shows in order to attract public interest of the time for this new product, which was the motorized leisure vehicle.” Comments mr Roy. The business managed by the two partners and a single full time employee started modestly in 1973, in a new 40’x40’ building.
In 1974, due to public enthusiasm and a busy order book, a first extension was built that made the plant 100’x40’ and the hiring of six plant employees and a secretary. The second partner then left his former job and joined the business full time. In those days, the three titans of the auto industry then noticed the promising market the leisure vehicle could bring in eastern Canada and various circumstances concurred to allow Campwagon to benefit from their trust at that particular moment. This was imperative in order to receive massive deliveries of vans to be converted.
1975 was a decisive year : a new plant was built, more spacious with a demo room, located directly on highway 20 in Bernieres (ie on the Trans-Canadian highway slightly west of Quebec city). This new location contributed to making the product known to thousands of drivers who use the Transcanada daily. It had a major impact on our expansion. We then also diversified our product lines: in addition to manufacturing the traditional camper, we added the “Van de Ville” (approximately meaning “Urban Van”) targeting a different potential customer.
In 1976, new extensions are added to the plant again when the business partners decide to perform in-house some activities that used to be outsourced. That year, the conversions for the commercial market, such as the promotion vehicles, mobile sample trucks, etc., increase substantially.
In 1977, again another extension is added and the plant now measures 300’ long by 40’ wide and now features an additional 60’x50’ surface for offices and demo lounge. As early as 1975 plans for future plant extensions had been made so the assembly line was compatible with such add-ons. 1977 marked the introduction of a new product: ambulance conversions. A new provincial law made it compulsory for ambulances to be made from a van.
In 1978, a new type of vehicle is introduced: the mini school bus.
1979 : sales continue to increase and the plant is at full capacity.
After the 1979 record sales, the market starts to decrease in 1980. Then 1981 and a part of 1982 are heavily affected by the economical crisis. The car market is severely disrupted by this crisis. Many car dealerships shut doors and go bankrupt. The three north American auto giants loose billions: Chrysler comes close to shutting down. Campwagon, worried and shaken by the situation sees its sales drop dramatically. Only the market for commercial conversions holds and keeps the company in operation. Campwagon reacts quickly and in order to keep plant and office spending at minimum, the majority of employees are let go, investment is interrupted and operating costs are cut down.
The second half of 1982 sees a discreet economical come back. The partners expect a reinforced market for the coming years and decide to select new personnel that shall meet additional selection criteria to ensure that one is not just a specialist in his own field but also the best. Campwagon becomes more determined than ever, the customer is more savvy, the quality improves, the product is refined and sales increase.
1983, safety regulatory requirements are stringier for the mini-bus and this imposes additional research and investments. At the end of 1983 Chrysler releases the mini-van (called “Auto-Beaucoup” in the speaking market). In just a few months Campwagon adapts its two main products, the camper and the “van de ville” to this new compact vehicle. A new plant extension was required. This time to create a second assembly line dedicated to the mini-van. Success is immediate.
In 1984, Campwagon surpasses its own production and sales records by converting more than 950 vans, which makes it the biggest van converter and the No.1 in Canada. In October 1984, the Campwagon team was awarded with two industrial merits during the event “Small and Medium Business Week”: “The Business of the year” and “The Best Come Back” following the economical crisis.
This nomination results in an increased publicity in local and regional papers. The company is getting more known by the larger public and begins 1985 stronger than it has ever been before. The market is excellent, demand is high and the sales and production teams perform at 100%.
Consequently, in 1985 Campwagon sells 1100 conversions. The introduction of the new Astros, Safaris and Aerostars converted into Van de Ville is added to the already existing product lines offered by Campwagon. Sales exceed all previsions.
The business is now well structured and employs many university graduates and offers work to 60 people directly and 35 indirectly. The sales department now counts four professionals working for the sales director; one buyer, one quality manager, one administrative controller join the management team; and production is structured with team leaders working for a plant director. Accounting and inventory control is computerized in the summer of 1986. It allows for stricter and quicker control. It is important to underline the team spirit that runs in the business, as well as the pride personnel has at performing professional, precise, and quality work. Campwagon attends to approximately a dozen trade shows a year such as : Car, Recreational Vehicle and Camping trade shows in many cities (Montreal, Quebec Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax) in order to catch the potential local public attention. Visits to car dealerships are performed continuously during the whole year in order to promote the commercial market as much as the recreational one.
Campwagon’s evolution does not end there. Benefiting from the experience built over its 13 years, Campwagon starts catering to the US market in 1986. The company attracts the interest of distributors and exhibits at trade shows such as in Boston and Atlanta. This triggers the sales of school mini-bus and campers in our neighbors market. The expansion in the United States is unlimited and New England captures the attention of the company in the short term. Campwagon is incorporated in the United States at the end of 1986 in Burlington, Vermont under the name Campwagon Corporation, a subsidiary of Location Voyages Vacances Inc.
It is also at the end of 1986 that Campwagon buys all the molds and inventory stocks of their largest competitor from their first years in business (Funcraft Industries Ltd). Immediately the Campwagon « Suncraft » brand name is born. Hence the business widens its product lines by offering a lower price range solution that is less luxurious but that maintains its great functionality and the quality trademark of Campwagon. This allows to attract customers with smaller available budgets.
Campwagon also operates a short-term vacation rental service under the name “Location Voyages Vacances inc.”. This branch aims at establishing franchises in the Montreal region with some serious prospects in sight. Already U-Haul rents Suncraft vehicles, thus competitioning Campwagon campers.
As 1987 begins it is imperative that we attack the Montreal market on site. Many efforts have been deployed to open a sales point in Montreal. We are searching for a strategic location. We need to build a sales team on site. As soon as Montreal will be established, we intend to extend toward Ottawa and Toronto.
A Campwagon van on the road represents the company image which is why managers are constantly searching for the latest trends in the industry. New materials are constantly introduced following thorough research in order to offer customers a product that is continually undergoing further refinement, more comfort and more durability. After sales service, lead times and quality control are subject to continuous improvement which occupies a priority position with our management, for now and for the future of the business. In order for Campwagon to maintain its no. 1 position, all energies are dedicated to quickly adapting to the constant changes of the vehicle market to in order to stay ahead of concurrence. In order to be ready for upcoming challenges, management has not hesitated to invest in additional land surface and real estate adjacent to the current plant for further expansions.
Future is bright for this enterprise and its owners are enthusiastic about its future projects.
Extract from an original document created under the direction of mr Johan Roy around 1987.
This text was lightly adjusted and reformatted by Nathalie Barbeau in September 2018.