Profile Feature: Luke Bridgford of Overland Campers Japan
For the past 6 years, Luke Bridgford has been Director and Agency Director of Experis Executive, overseeing $3M+USD revenue, personally closing multiple $100k deals in the start-up enterprise technology space. This year, he’s launching his next big thing…and it’s very different!
We sit down with Luke Bridgford, founder of Overland Campers Japan, in our first profile interview with our TokyoMate executive community.
TokyoMate: Tell us about what you’re working on right now.
Luke Bridgford: Overland Campers Japan is an off-road style, 4-wheel-drive camping car. The term overland or overlanding is famous in South Africa, Africa, Australia, America, and South America. It’s a form of travel, usually with a 4-wheel drive, because you will travel great distances and go off-road through deserts, jungles, and mountain ranges. And [the idea is that] you’re self-sufficient—from solar panels to your kitchen setup—you have everything bundled into your 4-wheel drive.
One of the most common features is that you sleep in a roof tent that sits on top of your car. That’s important in countries like Australia, South Africa, America—because you’re safe when you’re elevated above the car. Bears can’t get you. Snakes can’t get you. Spiders can’t get you. Even a flash flood can’t take you away. That’s kind of the whole design and feel. Overland Campers has a strong look and a very strong design. The reality is that no one will do real overlanding travel in Japan [with no serious threats about], but it’s definitely a look, it’s definitely a cool theme.
TokyoMate: What was your first year like introducing Overland Campers to Japan? Since you said overland travel is common in Australia, but not in Japan, what were the hurdles of bringing it over to Japan?
Luke: Definitely market awareness around the roof-tent concept and just how easy it is to road trip around Japan. Japan has all the perfect ingredients to have a safe, easy, and colorful experience. To get from inside the car to the roof-tent when it’s pouring with rain, you might get a little bit wet. My customer needs to have a little bit of an element of adventure.
It’s not quite glamping; it’s one level behind glamping. It’s comfortable, it’s easy, it’s all one-touch, but it’s not full-on camping where you’ve got to build a tent. You've got to try and assemble a tent, pull it down, move it, and, of course, weather conditions could change. The concept is just below glamping for the adventure-minded person, someone who doesn’t mind a bit of a challenge with their experience.
In Japan, there are full RV-style camping vans—those businesses already exist. There are also other camping vans where you sleep in the back of the car. But mine is one where you utilize the roof tent concept and a full outdoor kitchen design means you are closer to nature, able to see the sunrise, sunset, and billions of stars all from a comfortable resting place. It has that kind of difference, and it just depends on what kind of person you are—if you’re comfortable with that or not.
TokyoMate: Speaking of the fleet, what kind of cars do you have right now, and what’s the plan moving forward?
Luke: Right now our fleet includes a Suzuki Jimny Sierra, FJ Cruiser, Landrover New Defender, and, soon, a classic Volkswagen Type 2 Kombi Hippie bus.
TokyoMate: Are you sourcing all the material for your camping cars and building them as well as running your website and marketing efforts all on your own?
Luke: Right now, I’m still alone. I expected winter to be quiet. And I’m using this year as a building year. At this stage, I’m alone, but I’m enjoying the aspect of learning how to do everything. That’s another reason I created this business. I wanted to learn how to do digital marketing, how to build a social media presence. There are so many things that I wanted to learn. I approach this business as any other business, as a chance to learn.
I’m building a lot of custom equipment, but I’m also becoming a distributor for certain products that I found overseas that aren’t available in Japan right now. To diversify the business, I’m moving into equipment for the off-road camping lifestyle and the van lifestyle. I’m moving into those spaces as well.
TokyoMate: Do you think people are craving the experience of going on road trips, of camping and traveling, and just getting a taste of the nomadic lifestyle after the COVID pandemic?
Luke: You just said something significant. Overland Campers Japan is not a rental car company, and it’s not an equipment company. It’s an “experiences” company. The cars and the equipment enable the experience. It’s about reconnecting, recalibrating, refreshing. It’s about getting out of Tokyo, getting back to nature, seeing the country. I see myself as an experiences business, not a rental car business.
TokyoMate: Do you have any secret recommended spots of where to travel to in Japan?
Luke: Absolutely. For the beginner, there are so many good places in Yamanashi and Shizuoka with various views of Mount Fuji. For a first weekend away or the first two or three days, that area is really nice. There are a lot of great locations around there, camping grounds and camping spots, all with unique viewpoints of Mount Fuji.
Also, in those areas, there is a lot to do. There are waterfalls, hiking trails, and farms where you can go and play with animals. Also cheese factories and milk factories. So definitely around Yamanashi and Shizuoka. Those are some of my favorite places for beginners.
The Izu peninsula, going right around the coastline or down through the center. Also, there’s a certain coastline of the Izu peninsula if you’re a bit more of an outdoorsy person. If you like the beach, if you like the ocean, the Izu peninsula is fantastic.
If you want more nature and the outdoors, I love Fukushima. Fukushima has such a bad name but it is a really pretty area. I also love Gifu, Ishikawa, Toyama, those are more adventurous locations but they’re awesome.
TokyoMate: What can you tell our readers about your experience with TokyoMate? What’s the most impactful task you’ve ever asked a TokyoMate assistant to handle for you?
Luke: It’s probably the one that I’m doing now. I’m going through various aspects to enable growth from building new partnerships, additional licensing, loans, and marketing. All of these are vital in this phase of my business’ success.
The reason I came to TokyoMate was because I had used up all of my favors with my friends. I cannot read and write kanji. So I was offering free lunches, free dinners, and whatever I could to get my friends to continue to help me. But they were sick of it. I needed someone to help, but I couldn’t employ someone full-time. I needed a service that was flexible and might be able to do numerous different tasks. I don’t know where I saw TokyoMate, probably on social media or maybe Google was listening to my brain waves.
I saw TokyoMate’s Assistant services, and then I gave it a shot. I think I’ve used it fairly logically, but sometimes I have made some slightly challenging or unusual requests, and those have been handled well.
I feel that I haven’t really explored the full skill set of what my TokyoMate Assistant might be able to help me with because I’ve kept it to basic translation and document creation, but I’m really interested to see if my Assistant can do more marketing and conceptual type of work as well.
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