Friday, June 7

50 Years of Cub Campers – A History

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Cub Campers is one of the great Aussie success stories. The camper trailer manufacturer which employs 60 people and has a multi- million dollar annual turnover is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. From its humble beginnings back in 1968, (when a four bedroom Sydney home cost $20,000), Cub has weathered the storm of several economic recessions and rising competition from the Chinese import market.

When Cub started out half a century ago, there were around 50 manufactures of caravans and camper trailers. Of those, only two survive today namely Cub and Avida (formerly Freeway, then Winebago). Household names like Viscount, Millard, Chesney and Coronet have all disappeared.

Cub has remained in the same family, the Fagan family, from its first day of operation. It is still 100 percent Australian owned and its camper trailers are manufactured by Australian workers at its factory in Western Sydney using Australian steel and Australian canvas.

The Cub camper, which is known for its quick easy setup and off-road capabilities has come a long way since the 1960s. The Cub is a sophisticated, robust, and luxurious camper trailer that can take its owners to the far reaches of the Australian outback. There are six rear-fold models in three different sizes, catering to both the on-road and off-road market. The most recent addition to the range, an off-road forward fold camper, is a finalist in the 2018 Camper Trailer of the Year Award.

This Aussie success story began when retired pharmacist JK Fagan purchased a small block of flats and with an adjoining box trailer business in Lakemba in South West Sydney. The idea was to rent out the flats and outsource the business – but when JK’s son Roger came on board, he had other ideas.cub campers lakemba

Roger saw the potential in the RV market. He invented what is believed to be the first soft floor camper trailer called the Trailer Camper. It was little more than box trailer with a canvas roof – but it would be the start of an Aussie RV empire that would go on to produce 20,000 camper trailers, and counting.

Since that first camper, Cub Campers has been market leaders in camper trailer innovation. In the 1970s, Cub were pioneers in developing the off-road camper.

“The process was more of an evolution rather than a one off design” says Cub co-founder Roger Fagan. “We used to manufacturer horse floats and sell them to buyers in Western Queensland. The roads there were very rugged with lots of corrugations – so we had to strengthen the chassis and suspension to make sure it could cope with the conditions. We then adapted that design to suit our camper trailers” Fagan says. Since then Cub has remained a leader in the off-road market.cub campers drifter

In the 1990’s Roger invented the ezy-wind system that revolutionised camper trailer setup, making it quick and easy than ever before. This invention allowed Cub to expand its market to cater to the booming grey nomad sector. Roger also invented the first deep-sided “Spacevan”, now the Longreach. This innovation gave Australians the ability to venture off the beaten track with the comforts and roominess of a caravan – without the bulk.  In the RV market, Cub has a strong reputation for being easy to setup, light to tow and practical to use. Those simple but key qualities is why Cub has been around longer than any other camper trailer brand.

Cub’s longevity has not come easily. The business has experienced the ups and downs of several recessions. Roger says the toughest period was the 1980s when there was a massive downturn in the caravan and camping market. At the end of the 70s there were about 35,000 RV units being produced in Australia. That figure plummeted to 6000 by the end of the 80s.cub campers nullarbor

While many of Cub’s competitors went bust, Roger entered the export market. It was risky move but it paid off. At a time when Paul Hogan was starring in Aussie tourism campaigns and Crocodile Dundee was raking it in at the box office, the Americans couldn’t get enough of Aussie made. Roger even found himself the star of his own news story.

Roger, who has now retired has handed the business over to his three adult children. His son Shane, Cub’s Managing Director, began as a factory worker at Cub more than fifteen years ago. “I remember Dad just walked me into the factory, showed me the saw for cutting steel and said ‘you’ll work it out’. There was no favouritism.  I just had to join the production line and learn,” said Shane.

The Pendle Hill Factory.

The next big challenge came began after 2000 when Chinese imports began making their way into the Australian RV market. Once again Cub knew it had to react to changes in the market and as a result, it expanded its operation and purchased a three-acre premises in Western Sydney. There, they established a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and became pioneers in computerised automation.

“It’s about keeping our overheads down” says 41 year old Fagan. “Pouring money into high quality machinery has paid off.” “We are also pushing ourselves to remain leading innovators in the industry. Our design team, also based at our North Rocks factory is constantly working on new ideas and concepts to revolutionise the camping industry.”

Shane, next to the portrait of JK in Cub’s current North Rocks factory.

The factory, in North Rocks near Parramatta in Western Sydney, employs around 60 people. Cub also has showrooms all around Australia. Cub also recently hired its first CEO, Simon McMillon to oversee the next phase of growth.

“I was attracted to Cub as it is a classic, authentic Australian company.  Our strong customer focus combined with our high quality, easy to use products means that were are in an excellent position for growth and plan to be here for at least 50 more years” says McMillon.

Now in 2018 Cub is looking to the next 50 years and has some big plans in the pipeline!

An extended history of Cub Campers originally appeared in issue 31 of ROAM magazine. Find out more or grab a subscription here.

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