Two childhood friends from Ballymoney have turned their passion for travelling into a business venture thanks to the support of the Go For It programme in association with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
This project is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) programme.
Matthew Pollock and James Bleakly launched Karen & Co following a camper van road trip to Morocco. In 2018 the pair set off in a minibus they had converted themselves, which they named Karen the Convoy with the Sahara Desert as their final destination.
During their trip they posted daily updates of their journey, garnering a huge following on social media. On their return, they recognised a gap in the market for camper hires in Northern Ireland and decided to set up their own campervan rental company.
James said: “Karen & Co is a campervan rental company where old school minibuses are converted into camper van. These vans are then rented out to the public, allowing them to travel the coast of Ireland and UK.
“We named our first ever van Karen! The type of vans that we normally have are LDV convoys and we immediately thought Karen and the convoy sounded catchy! Now our fleet has grown so it’s become Karen & Co – that’s where the name came from.”
Matthew said their biggest achievement from Karen & Co has to be the customer satisfaction:
“A lot of our customers have rented three, four, some even five times so it is great to see that people are enjoying it.
“The most rewarding things is when our customers return after doing a big trip around Ireland and tell us how much they’ve enjoyed it – it brings a lot of job satisfaction and immense pride in what we’ve built.
“It is great fun growing your own business and seeing yourself progress. It really is very rewarding.”
According to James no two days are the same at Karen & Co commenting:
He said: “Our jobs can be very different every day, it all depends on what’s happening at that time.
“There could be two or three vans arriving back that require a quick change over so we could be cleaning vans, doing bits and pieces of maintenance and getting them ready to go back out on to the road. No two days look the same!”
The business partners first discovered the Go For It programme when they saw a post on social media:
“I had seen various social media channels promoting the Go For It programme and at the time I was googling to see if there was any funding available for small businesses. That’s when I came across the Go For It programme and gave the team at Causeway Enterprise agency a call.”
The Go For It programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors through Northern Ireland’s wide network of enterprise agencies. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise
Matthew said the business advisers at Causeway Enterprise agency couldn’t have been more helpful and provided them with all the tools they needed:
He said: “From reading the business plan we were able to see an overview of the business and were able to see further ahead to where the business is heading, where we should be allocating money and different things that we might not have thought of.”
For anyone thinking of starting their own business Matthew said if you believe and are passionate about what you are doing then there is nothing stopping you:
He said: “If you know what you want to do, there will be challenges ahead but if you are passionate about your product or your service, I’d definitely say go for it.”
Adam Wallace, Business Advisor at Enterprise Causeway said: “Matthew and James perfectly embody the ethos of the Go For It Programme – combining the right people with the right product strategy.
“They may have started their entrepreneurial journey in aiming to reach the Sahara Desert but have ended up creating a successful business venture, with six unique product offerings for holidaymakers and party goers to enjoy.
“It’s fantastic to see the growth they have achieved within the last couple of years, and I wish them all the very best with their continued success.”
If you have a business idea you’d like to develop or if you are thinking about starting a business contact the Go For It team on 0800 027 0639 or visit: www.goforitni.com.
Karen & Co is a campervan rental company where old school minibuses are converted into camper van.