Kimberly Kampers Brings Off-Road Aussie Towable to States
Kimberly Kampers Pty. Ltd., which holds about 35% of the Australian retail market for off-road folding camping trailers, is ramping up its presence in the U.S. following the signing of a free-trade agreement between the two countries that went into effect in January 2005.
Kimberly Kampers Pty. Ltd., Ballina, New South Wales, manufacturer of the King Kamper folding camping trailers currently being sold by three western U.S. outdoor sports retailers, is looking to add several dealers to sell the durable popup initially designed for off-road use in the rugged Australian Outback.
A key to Kimberly Kampers increasing presence in the U.S. – even in a small way – said Managing Director Bruce Loxton, was the signing of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. “That allows us to export to the United States without any import duty, and for us to get supplies – batteries, chargers, wheel hubs, braking systems and fasteners – from the United States duty-free,” he said.
Although posting sales of $10 million in Australia last year, by any measure Kimberly Kampers North American penetration is exceedingly small.
The company initially imported eight King Kampers to the United States in 2003 and since has sold nearly two dozen more. The units are marketed as Kimberly Kampers in Austraila, named for the Kimberly region of Australia, a rough, yet scenic region of the country. About 1,600 popups carrying the Kimberly Kamper nameplate have been sold in Australia since the company’s inception in 1995.
King Kampers are exported directly to its three U.S. dealers – Slee Off Road, Golden, Colo., and individuals Rob Hart in Mesa, Ariz., and Greg Stanley, The Dalles, Ore. Loxton said that Kimberly Kampers intends to sign only five to seven dealers in North America, and will include an unusual clause in its dealer agreement – requiring each dealer to take the camper into the field at least once a year. “We want dealers who will live and breath our product,” he said.
Such hands-on camping by Kimberly Kampers’ founder, Ian Canon, who began marketing the company’s products in 1994 at Australian caravan and camping shows, led directly to their development. “The company was founded because regular tent trailers and popups just weren’t rugged enough on a cross-Australia journey,” Loxton said.
The acid test involved visits to his daughter who managed three ranches in a remote area of Australia. “He found that when he’d go out there three times a year, taking a camper with him, that they weren’t holding up,” Loxton said. “He got involved designing the camper because of his own personal experience.”
Loxton, with an automotive and industrial manufacturing background, acquired the company when Canon retired. “I really had a vision to take off-road RV production and be the premier supplier from a global point of view,” Loxton said. “But not only in the U.S., but the Middle East is a good potential market, as is South Africa, although there are a lot of products there similar to this. And finally, Europe.”
Loxton eschews talking about King Kampers in terms of comfort or amenities. King Kampers are for off-the-road use and can handle just about any weather condition. “We focus purely on off-road use,” Loxton said. “We want to give people a true camping atmosphere. King Kampers set up quickly and you get to go wherever you want to go.
“There is a good market in the U.S.”
Loxton said King Kampers appeal not only to the romantic notion of wilderness camping, but also to the reality of it. “Fifty percent of people who own a camping trailer don’t off-road very much, but they dream about doing that. The other 50% are hunters and fishermen who are out there all the time,” he said. “We want to appeal to both sets of customers, but particularly to those customers who really will use a King Kamper off-road. That’s why so far we’ve been concentrating on the outdoor sports shows.”
The one-piece polyethylene shell makes the cabin virtually waterproof. “King Kamper can go through a 31?2-inch-deep river, and the inside won’t get wet,” Loxton said. The RV is designed with a double roof to boost insulation and reduce inside condensation and is equipped standard in the U.S. with a diesel heater.
This spring the company will release a hard-sided version of the popup for sale in Australia only.
Loxton lives in and maintains an office in Sydney, but commutes for three or four days a week to Ballina, New South Wales, about 700 miles to the north where the unique King Kamper is manufactured.
“That’s not a trip that you drive,” he said. “The flight only takes an hour and it’s less than $60 U.S. each way.”
Loxton comes to the States three our four times a year and this winter attended outdoor sports shows in Denver, Phoenix and Southern California.
Kimberly Kampers’ manufacturing complex in the coastal community of Ballina is self-sufficient in regard to the materials used to build the camper. “We do all the steel and canvas in our factory,” Loxton said. “We cut it, we weld it, we assemble it.”
Units are shipped two at a time in a container “with only an inch to spare,” from a port about 100 miles north of the Kimberly Kamper factory. “My freight cost to L.A. is just slightly more than shipping to Western Australia,” he said. “Once we get to the United States, the freight costs go up substantially.”
At this point, Loxton said he has no plans to build a factory in North America, citing cost. “If it becomes economical to manufacture in the U.S. we would,” he said.