Nathalie Bruce has set up her own business, hiring out VW camper vans. She talks to workingmums.co.uk about her experiences.
Nathalie Bruce used to drive a smart car. Two years ago she had a baby girl and try as she might she couldn’t fit her pushchair in the car. So she sold the smart car and went out to find something that would fit her new pushchair-toting lifestyle. She arrived home with a vintage cream VW camper van.
“My husband’s jaw dropped when he saw it,” she says. In order to recoup the cost of the van, Nathalie suggested she could hire the van out for weddings. She started putting the word out to friends and the idea took off. She now has two vans [she’s looking for a third] and a growing business, hiring out vans for weddings, adverts and other events.
Before she set up Buttercup Bus, Nathalie was working as a business consultant in London. It was well paid and her managers were very supportive. When she came back from maternity leave she went part time. When she started up her camper van business she was running it alongside her other job. As she got more and more bookings, she decided to focus all her energy on the business. “It was a tough decision to leave my job, but it seemed a good thing to do as it meant I would have more time to be a mum without constantly having to rush around, getting in at 8am and coming home at five followed by a commute,” she says.
Nathalie says one of the biggest challenges she has faced is over the name of her business. Soon after starting up she found there was another business with a similar name and she had to find another which meant to some extent starting from scratch again to build up a following.
Business is now picking up and Nathalie has weddings booked up to 2013. One wedding earlier this year was held at St Paul’s Cathedral. “It’s the only time I have been able to park in central London for an hour for free,” laughs Nathalie. Fortuitously, a professional photographer was at St Paul’s at the time and asked to take photos which he has sent to Nathalie. She says there were around 300 people outside the cathedral and many wanted to have a closer look at the van and get their photos taken with it. Nathalie had done it up with ribbons which matched the bride’s purple wedding theme.
Another memorable wedding was held in Putney. The bride’s mother had recently died and she wanted her mum’s favourite flowers at the wedding. Nathalie had two free-standing flowering trees placed at the entrance to the van.
A lot of the weddings take place at weekends which means Nathalie’s husband can cover childcare. Nathalie, who has had to get to grips with car mechanics, mainly drives the vans, but has a pool of drivers to fall back on. She wears a “uniform” of red bowler hat, a black dress and red shoes. “It’s different, but not too quirky,” she says. She will do any event within a 40-mile radius of her home in south London, although she says she will consider events further afield.
She believes her business is unique – not because other businesses don’t hire out camper vans for weddings…they do, but not in her area. She says that in addition to a competitive price, she gives people the chance to do a trial drive of the van and chats to them over a cup of tea to give the service a personal touch.
She would have liked to hire the vans out for picnics and anniversary trips, but says she would need a license to drive passengers. This rule does not apply to weddings or funerals. Unfortunately, you can’t get a license for vehicles over 10 years old. In the meantime, the vans are doing some modelling in publications from Marks and Spencer’s magazine and for London Fashion Week.
Nathalie is growing both her business and her family in the next year. Currently pregnant, she says she will have to work around the pregnancy as she won’t be able to take much time off when the baby arrives. For the business, she plans to go into profit and to that end she is upping her marketing. Using her skills from her old job, she has written her own website.
She says she hopes the business will catch on. “Camper vans tend to put a smile on people’s faces,” she says. “You either love them or hate them. They are the marmite of transport.”