Nika Shneyder was a college student when her dad realized his preference for RV camping over tent camping, particularly in the beautiful, California hillsides and parks. Quick to purchase an RV and then see the entrepreneurial opportunity an RV offers when not in use, he approached his daughter, an economics major at University of Southern California, about running an RV rental business.
Initially, Nika was hesitant, doubting there was a market for those interested in renting an RV and, even if there was, how does she find them? RVshare to the rescue.
Once they listed their RV on our platform, the inquiries came rolling in — enough so that she was able to evolve the business into a full fleet with SEVEN luxury RVs. You read that right, seven RVs, each fully equipped with every amenity you need for an easy, hotel-like camping trip and a digital manual loaded with text, image and video tutorials [to accommodate your favorite way to learn] tucked away in the glove box.
Let’s learn more about Nika.
Evolution From Tent Camper to RV Rental Fleet Owner
Tell us about your experiences as a camper.
Nika Shneyder: I grew up going to camps, and my family would tent a lot. Every year, we would go out to Big Bear. Actually, we tented so much, we had a spot reserved for us. Anytime we called, they said, “Yeah, come on over. We have a spot for you,” even during the busy season, which was really nice.
So when did RVs come into the picture for you or your family?
Nika: [Then], my dad’s friend bought an RV, and my dad went RVing with him and he said, “Whoa, this is amazing.” So he calls us and says, “I don’t ever want to set up another tent ever again. I want to continue camping, because it’s so much fun, but I’m too old for this.”
So he went online and did a lot of research, found a good company, a good RV that we could purchase. And he landed on these Mercedes Winnebagos. He said, “They’re reliable vehicles; let’s purchase one.”
How did your RV purchase evolve into an RV rental fleet?
Nika: He asked me if I wanted to own an RV rental company — rent them for profit. And I said, “Dad, who are we gonna rent to?” He said, “Let’s see how it goes.” Next thing I know, there’s an RV in our driveway.
Do you know what types of features your dad was seeking in an RV to purchase, specifically since he thought that he’d be renting it out, too?
Nika: Oh yeah, totally. We wanted something reliable. We wanted something luxury, and also something small enough that any person can drive, because the bigger they are the more difficult it is to drive. We wanted something that you could take to a parking lot and park anywhere.
These guys are small enough to where you can park them on the street too. We wanted it to be comfortable for two people or five people, and that’s how we landed on this RV.
You had just graduated college when your dad came to liking RVing better than tent camping, and that if he was going to purchase an RV for personal use, he was going to try to rent it out as a business. What were your initial reactions to the idea of running an RV rental business?
Nika: He told me that he wanted to rent RVs out. I said, “Dad, you’re crazy. Who’s gonna rent an RV?” And I called up all of my friends and I said, “Hey, would you guys want to rent an RV?” And they said, “RV travel? No, we don’t do that. We do Airbnbs. We stay in hotels.”
So I called him and I said, “I don’t know who’s going to rent this.” He said, “Look, we’ll find someone. The math makes sense. And worse case scenario, if we don’t find someone we’ll just have an RV and your mom and I will go camping.” And that’s how it went.
So then how did you eventually find renters and how was the first rental experience?
Nika: We listed [our RV] on RVshare. Our first renter, Jeff, we pulled up to his house, and of course his house is all the way up in the hills with super narrow streets. We’ve never done this before; we never rented, so we delivered the RV to his house, he came out. He was super enthusiastic, really friendly. We went through the whole orientation; that took two and a half hours because there’s a lot to learn, but he was a really good sport about it.
He returned the RV — [it had a] little bit of damage — but we figured it out, and we fixed it, so everything was okay. But from that point on we were like, okay, let’s [create a] tutorial and teach them how to do everything. There was definitely a learning curve, but I wouldn’t have asked for a better renter. He was really, really great.
How did you market your available rental RVs?
Nika: Well, actually people found us, and that was really great. First, by being on RVshare. Clients would just see our vehicle listed there and they would contact us to see whether or not it was available. I created a Facebook page. We also did get on Yelp, eventually. So I didn’t have to do a lot of [personal] marketing at all.
How did RVshare help with the marketing?
Nika: Oh my gosh. I mean, if it wasn’t for RVshare, we wouldn’t even be able to build a company out of it. The fact that we listed on RVshare, and they were able to give us clients, that was it. That was the basis of it all.
When you listed your RV on RVshare, what did you say about your RV to get people to rent it?
Nika: We offered what, at the time, not a lot of people offered. First of all, home delivery. Most places, companies, even a lot of [RV owners] say, “Hey, I have an RV, come to me.” And it’s fine; that’s the standard of the industry. But we said, “It’s okay, we’ll come to you,” and that was really, really great.
We [also] said, our RVs are luxury; they’re nice; they’re new; they’re clean; we stock them really well, and provide everything — bedding, shower towels, full kitchenware, all the appliances. [These are] things that typically other companies provide as well, but charge for it. We don’t charge for it. It’s already included, and it makes the renter feel really good that they don’t have to think about anything. They just have the RV delivered to their house.
We teach them how to use it, do the paperwork and off they go. They don’t have to worry about bringing the bedsheets, any of that.
Your single rental RV did so well that you evolved into a full fleet. Can you talk about that evolution, how you acquired more vehicles and grew?
Nika: When we started we didn’t have a Facebook or anything, we just listed on RVshare, and I had more clients contacting me than I had vehicles available. I would be really good. I would update the availability and everything, but still clients would contact me and say, “Oh darn, I really wish you had this available. I would really like to take a trip with my family.” And we said, oh there’s a market for this, so we got another RV. And again, same thing, too much demand, not enough supply. We got another RV, and another, and so now we’re at seven and we’re definitely still growing, just because there’s a lot of demand and a lot of clients want it.
So your first rental funded the business’ growth and development?
Nika: The first RV my parents had the money for; they just went out and bought it. Then, we started turning a profit from the first month right away. We would save up that money; we were really, really frugal — do all the deliveries ourselves, no employees, nothing. Eventually, as the renters were coming in, we collected enough money to go out and purchase another RV, and enough money to buy a fleet.
In general, how booked are you? And, what are the seasonal ebbs and flows?
Nika: It is a seasonal business. Of course, being on the west coast the weather here doesn’t get too bad, so we have renters all year around. But in the winter we do feel a slow down. So our slow months are October, December, January, February. I skipped November, [because it] is Thanksgiving and a lot of people travel for Thanksgiving. In December, we also have clients renting for Christmas and New Year’s. Sometimes, clients will rent not even to go on trips, but just to park it outside of their house to have family sleep there. Sometimes they just need additional room. January’s a bit of a slow month for us. January, we just take a lot of trips ourselves.
March is when [business] picks up again. April is one of the busiest months out of the entire year. I think Easter, spring break, and also just the weather is really nice and people feeling they need a break.
The entire summer we’re booked. I mean back to back to back to back. We actually have to tell our clients, “No, we can’t book you because we need to schedule some times for our vehicles to be inspected and serviced.”
Advice to Renters and Owners
Speaking of renters, are there any red flags for people to whom you won’t rent to?
Nika: It’s always funny to me when clients call me and they’re like, “Hey, I’m gonna pay you all cash, okay?” And I say, “No. We do a background check. We need you to pay with a credit card, because this is an expensive vehicle that you’re taking.” So definitely when a client is really insistent on only paying cash right away, no, no thank you.
Do you have any advice for renters?
Nika: I prefer that clients will ask questions more so than assuming they know everything. Because we’ve had clients like that, where they say, “Oh, I’m a pro. I know how to do everything.” Every RV is slightly different. You still need to learn how to do some things. So I welcome questions.
Any other advice for renters?
Nika: If I could advise one thing for renters it would definitely be book your campgrounds first and then find an RV. Because although there are a lot of campgrounds and a lot of RVs available, I’ve had a couple of situations where a client rented an RV because they were just so excited they found the prefect RV and they wanted to make sure no one else booked it, but called me and said, “I can’t get a camping spot.”
So we had to move their dates around or sometimes I’d help them find a campground elsewhere. Especially if you’re going to a big park or any national park, make sure you have your campground spots reserved right away and then find an RV.
Any advice for owners who list on RVshare?
Nika: Customer service. I’ve talked to other owners and they’re almost rude to their clients and very cut-to-the-chase. Like, “Why don’t you know this? You should’ve known this already.” And no, so many people who are renting RVs, they’re first-time renters, and they’re nervous — and that’s okay to be nervous. It’s your responsibility as the owner of the vehicle or the owner of the company to make sure the clients feel at ease, comfortable and confident. Because even though operating RVs is really easy, there’s a lot of buttons to press, a lot of functions. How do you empty the wastings? How do you start the generator? Why aren’t my outlets working? There are a lot of questions.
Is there any advice regarding something you wish you would have known at the beginning when you started your rental business?
Nika: Well, we figured it out eventually, but:
One: do a thorough walkthrough.
Two: make manuals, an instruction list. When we just started, we had clients calling me all the time, which is fine. I was happy to talk to them and I was happy to answer any questions they had, but they would call me all the time. So eventually we got around, we filmed training videos, and we made a lot of manuals. So now clients also feel more at ease. They don’t feel like they’re bothering me, even though they were never a bother. But it’s still … it’s a little uncomfortable to call every time you have a question.
Three: do a good damage walkthrough. Clients will damage RVs; it happens. They don’t do it intentionally. When you’re driving and you hit something, it’s still an accident. But make sure, walk around, take photos, take videos, definitely make really good notes. So that you don’t ever have a situation where a client says, “I didn’t really do that,” but they did. So taking good notes has really helped us move forward and make the uncomfortable situation a little bit more comfortable.