When Andrew and Sarah Altschwager had enough of Melbourne city life and working tirelessly at their kitchen manufacturing business, like many young families they sold the company and the house, packed up their life and hit the road in a caravan.
They went in search of a new life, and after spending time on the New South Wales mid-north coast, they wandered all the way to the top of Queensland before realising the area around Coffs Harbour was their favourite destination. The mix of ideal climate, beautiful beaches and pristine mountains has that effect on a lot of people. The region has boomed over the last few years and continues to grow at a frantic pace.
Because the family had enjoyed the caravanning lifestyle so much, Sarah and Andrew wondered if they could instil some of that enthusiasm into selling caravans. “We thought, let’s find a yard and start selling vans. How hard could it be?” Andrew is always up for a challenge.
By pure happenstance, Andrew knew the manager of Jurgens Caravans through work in the building industry, and in 2008 the pair hatched a plan to establish the first Jurgens dealership in Australia under the Caravans Coffs Coast banner.
As time passed and the dealership grew, Andrew and Sarah's previous experience from building, design, customer service and high work ethic flowed through to the new operation.
“We recognised from the first day that customer satisfaction would be our prime goal. A happy customer is the same in any business, and we work hard at making every purchaser an advocate,” they said.
Within a few years, the Coffs Coast team looked to put their own mark on the industry and found a caravan builder in Melbourne to make a van to their specification. Andrew put his expertise in joinery and design into practice in a range of gnarly offroad vans, and the Southern Star brand was born in 2012.
In 2014 Andrew upped the ante and commissioned Jason Grech at Titanium Caravans to build his exclusive models. Since then the range has expanded and evolved into a selection of ultra-tough rigs with appropriate head-turning looks.
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Caravans Coffs Coast has grown into one of a few dealerships that specialise in offroad and dirt road vans, and the family has the off-grid experience to guide buyers. The 19ft 6in ATX on display in the yard is the family getaway choice towed by a tricked-up 200 Series ‘Cruiser. Titanium owner Jason is similarly enthusiastic — it was his Patrol and Hardcore Offroader gracing the cover of Caravan World 598.
With demand growing, Andrew and Sarah have expanded production of their brand with the new Wildtrack through Eden Caravans, to bring two options that have similar builds and design features. Both brands feature Henrob self-piercing riveted C-section 25mm aluminium frames with composite premium cladding. The roof is one piece, insulated composite construction, which eliminates joins to reduce the possibility of any water leaks.
Andrew told Caravan World that he chose an alloy frame because it can’t rot, and the Henrob riveting method is foolproof and immensely secure, as each fixing is permanently locked in with a mushroomed head that can’t vibrate loose. This system allows for a super-strong, lightweight alloy frame with plenty of flex.
Andrew is so confident in the build quality he backs his brands against any offroader in the market. “These vans are purpose-built to withstand the outback, and we are up to $40,000 under the opposition,” he told us.
Caravans Coffs Coast only uses manufacturers who back their product 100 per cent and have a full offroad warranty. All offroad vans are also set up to free camp with a 200Ah Enerdrive lithium battery pack powered through a total of 510W of solar power, and Andrew will only trust Cruisemaster Independent Suspension for adventuring in the outback.
The dealership is seeing gradual changes in the industry. About 70 per cent of buyers are still retirees, but plenty of the younger crew boasting a well-kitted 4WD are looking for a van to match the offroad capability.
These days a vibrant Caravans Coffs Coast Facebook page boasts thousands of followers and has numerous families and couples sending images of their travel from all around the country.
The business is very much a family affair — Sarah handles all warranty while daughter Emma takes care of administration.
“We have now established an enthusiast team of employees who put in a huge effort to help all our customers leave our yard with a new offroad caravan and also a huge smile on their face,” they said.
The dealership has a bright future ahead and is experiencing tremendous growth, it has just expanded and doubled its sales yard with extra office space and more staff.