Luke Sutton remembers pretty much every day, every show, every cent he had to save and every milestone he has taken his company, Drifta, through.
Drifta has become a household name when it comes to camping and camper trailer kitchens, and you can be guaranteed when striking up a conversation of all things camping that the Drifta name will pop up sooner rather than later.
Where it all started…
While Luke seems to have almost every square inch of his two-acre property covered in sheds to manufacture the scores of products he holds under his brand name, things weren’t always so spacious or all-encompassing. Nope, Luke started in the far more humble premises of his single garage in his home town of Blayney, NSW.
It was in that garage that Luke knocked up his first 300 camping kitchens and began working the show circuit to sell his wares. He recalls not having enough coin to pay for fuel on his return trip from many shows unless he sold enough product while he was there. Those early days for Luke preceded the boom of camper trailers, so most kitchen sales were for tent camping.
It wasn’t until some years later, after noting that many camper trailer manufacturers’ kitchens at the shows he attended were pretty basic, that he began to tap that market. Luke’s offering of a ‘better’ kitchen was quickly taken up by many trailer manufacturers, and he received firsthand requests from customers based on their personal needs (mostly increased benchtop space), which helped no end in developing his products over the following decade.
The inspiration for Drifta
Stepping even further back in time, Luke recounts his days of working as a mule packer in the US, where he rode a horse and led up to a dozen pack mules that carted (among other things) a simple camp kitchen. It was this early job, combined with a road trip around Australia in an old Ford Falcon panel van with little more than a swag and a few bottles of water, and with no kitchen, table or chairs, that gave him the initial idea of creating a fast-to-erect, simple and effective camping kitchen.
Initially, he made himself a kitchen, followed by kitchens for his mates and then, after word got around, some years later he found himself in business in his Blayney garage. It took the persistence of his brother, Ben, to get him to rent a factory premises, hire a helper, start churning out more products, and to really get ahead. While Luke resisted for some time, he did succumb to his brother’s business foresight and, as a result of Ben’s encouragement, there are now thousands of happy campers out there sporting Drifta products.
During his earlier Australian travels, Luke had met Kiyomi, a non-English speaking Japanese tourist at Uluru (Ayers Rock back then), who was stranded halfway up the rock. Luke helped her out, left a phone number and contact details, and went off on his driftin’ way. To cut a long story short, years later they met up again, married, travelled the world, had a son and now work together at Drifta.
Funnily enough, Luke has only been to Uluru twice – the first was when he met Kiyomi and the second was to ask her to marry him. Even funnier were Kiyomi’s parents, who, at the time, gave her about three months until they thought she’d change her mind about swapping her Ralph Lauren for Blunnies and Akubras. As far as they were concerned, there was no electricity in Australia, or washing machines for that matter! My, how wrong they were on all accounts.
While Luke grew the business in his first factory, it didn’t take him long to realise he needed even more space and a dedicated factory to house a spray booth, together with his ever-increasing manufacturing equipment.
Building the kingdom in Gloucester
While looking for land to build his kingdom, he chanced upon the New South Wales town of Gloucester, where he has now been based since 2003. He now employs 30 staff, most of whom he has apprenticed or trained. Gloucester was an ideal mid-north coast spot (just inland) perfectly situated to travel to many of the 4WD, caravan and camping shows that Luke attends.
The extra space has allowed Luke to greatly expand his business of not only camper trailer and camping kitchens, but also rear drawer units for 4WDs and camper fitouts. While he builds a variety of off-the-shelf units, he specialises in one-off custom units for pretty much everything. Basically, you design it and he builds it. This section of his company has proven so popular that it occupies its own shed and has its own manager, something which Luke has had to concede, given his massive expansion.
Plans for the future
The latest project, Luke’s DOT (Drifta Offroad Trailer), has seen yet another purpose-built shed erected on his premises, which enables the camper trailer to be built in-house – sheet metal work, welding, bending, guillotining – the lot. And he is utilising a modified roof-top tent, which is yet another idea he got while travelling in the US with friends.
Luke is happy to admit his love of Toyotas; his early travels were with an old Troop Carrier, in which he and Kiyomi covered much of Australia. Unfortunately, that old Troopy saw an early grave via countless millions of corrugations, but Luke does have a similar model in his parking lot next to his 76 V8 Cruiser (his personal favourite), Prado, HiLux, and BJ and mid-wheel base Cruisers, all of which have been decked out with his Drifta gear, except for the old black Troopy, which has the daily duty of delivering Drifta goods to the local post office.
Luke’s son, Kaito, has also taken the reins, helping out behind the scenes with videos that he has filmed and produced to help advertise the Drifta brand. Perhaps, in time, the name will be changed to Drifta & Son but, regardless, there seems to be no stopping the once empty-pocketed horseback-ringer and traveller.
Luke’s perseverance and his focus on staying Australian made as much as possible to help keep young people in the small town employed, is to be commended.
Phone (02) 6558 2328 for more information.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #536 April 2015.