Mapping a business merger in caravanning

Matthew O’Meara CPA is in the process of merging two complementary companies.

As Matthew O’Meara CPA strove to take his caravanning business, Emrise Group, to another level, his strategic business merger put him in a niche market - but a really big one.

Depending on your vintage and personal preferences, caravan holidays might seem like the gold-tinged, dappled-light delights of youth, or they might be something you’re planning to soon do a lot more of.

According to Matthew O’Meara CPA, head of operations at the recently created Emprise Group, it’s quite likely you’ll find yourself in the latter camp.

“The market for caravanning in particular, and camping, is huge and growing, with hard product sales of about A$1 billion a year, and in terms of regional tourism it’s many multiples of that,” says O’Meara, who with partner Rob Gallagher has created Emprise from the merger of the Adventure Group camping, caravanning and outdoorsy-type magazines and the 36-year-old Hema Maps business.

“The growth in the caravan market, according to the manufacturers, has been about 6 per cent a year over the past five years, with more people getting out and about,” he says.

“While the grey nomad thing is reaching its peak, manufacturers have started to look at advertising to young families as well, who want to get their kids away from screens and out into the great outdoors.”

While Adventure Group was well placed in that market in 2016, its merger with Hema, which made printed maps and atlases for many years before launching its own hugely popular GPS units a decade ago, gives it new access to what O’Meara calls “the hardcore four-wheel driving market”, which he estimates is alone worth another A$1 billion.

“Hema makes the only dedicated GPS unit for serious 4WD travel – it’s a really unique product,” O’Meara explains. 

“If you have a look at Google Maps while you’re out in the bush somewhere, like Broken Hill, you might get a couple of roads in and out, but the Hema system will show you all the tracks and crossings, places to camp [and] points of interest. If you’re a serious four-wheel driver, you pretty much have to have one.”

Hema has also been wise enough to launch its own apps for younger customers who don’t want a standalone unit, and now makes more than A$1 million on app sales as well. 
Combining the two businesses provides O’Meara with what he calls a “niche market, but really quite a big one”, as Adventure Group gains new access to retailers such as BCF and Anaconda, while Hema has the chance to widen its reach to camping and caravanning enthusiasts.

Bringing the two together has been a huge personal challenge for O’Meara, though, which he says turned August 2018 into “a month of madness”, after the big merger officially took place on 1 August. 

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“We’ve been in the process of merging two companies, one in Queensland and one down here in Melbourne,” he says. “Merging the finance and business teams, while bringing in new systems, all in a tight time frame, [has] been a bit crazy, and we set ourselves an ambitious timeframe of just 10 weeks.”

O’Meara, aged 40, previously held senior finance roles at Waterstones in the UK (where he was managing his own team by the age of 24), Boral, and most recently Port of Melbourne for seven years. He likes a challenge and is relishing being out of the corporate world and taking on a business for which he carries plenty of personal responsibility.

“My dad has his own business, owning a cricket bat company for about 20 years called County Sports,” he says. “My mum worked there and I worked there on my holidays. I always had an ambition to do something similar, to go out on my own.

“We have 54 staff now, it’s a small-to-medium business and you do feel a bit on edge after being in the corporate world because you’re personally involved in balancing the books and dealing with customers.

“You don’t have the same level of support you have in the big corporates and you need to be a jack-of-all-trades, but it’s been really good in terms of challenging myself and actually getting to steer the direction of a business.” 

Heading in the right direction, of course, is very important when you’re selling GPS technology.

One piece of advice

“It’s all about getting good people around you in terms of mentors and advisers – people you can call upon when you need them. Having those people to talk to is so valuable in keeping you balanced and on course.”

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