For one Preston businesswoman, being made redundant opened up a whole new career, which, despite the pandemic, continues to go from strength to strength, writes Tracy Hargreaves
Forty-seven-year old Vinny Scarantino had worked as a project manager in mobile telecoms, when in 2006, out of the blue, she was made redundant. But for this inspirational woman, it was an opportunity to drive her passion – classic cars.
Originally from London, Vinny studied at UCLan, made some lifelong friends and decided to stay in the area.
“When I was younger, I had always been told that little girls don’t play with cars, but I loved classic cars,” says Vinny. “Particularly VWs, so within two weeks of being made redundant I had bought my first camper van and in three weeks I had set up a limited company – Chase the Sun.”
Initially the business was self-drive for people to hire out for holidays. “I had looked myself to hire a VW camper van,” she said, “but realised there was a gap in the market at the time. I thought if it’s something I want to do then other people might want to do the same. Because there were very few businesses like mine in the country, it was hard to get set up with insurance and also convince people that this was a great way of holidaying.”
But with no other income to fall back on, Vinny relied on advertising to get her company established. Soon she was up to three camper vans, with people hiring them to take all over the UK and abroad. “The great thing about being based in Preston is that it’s handy to get to virtually anywhere.”
Eight years ago, Vinny decided to diversify her business away from self-drive into weddings. “Couples were looking for something different for their wedding day,” says Vinny. “I’d had a couple of enquiries for the weekend use of a camper van to use as a wedding car and saw this as another opportunity. I had to change all my vehicles so they were more aesthetically pleasing for weddings, but eventually I wound down the self-drive side of the business.”
However, in March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement that everyone dreaded. We were in the middle of a pandemic and everything had to close.
“My bookings went to nothing, instantly,” says Vinny. “It was devastating to think of everything I had built up.”
But once again Vinny saw an opportunity to diversify. “I had four classic cars sitting there and had to do something, so I came up with Driveway Dreams. It was a chance to hire out a camper van to keep on your drive and just sleep in it. It was something quirky but actually proved really popular. People were getting fed up of staying within their own four walls, so to spend the night in a classic camper van, even if it was on their drive, was completely different.”
Eventually people began to hire them out for birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions, so once again, Vinny came up with yet another initiative. “I decided to start Vinny’s Bar. I have an old Beetle truck, of which there aren’t many in the country and kitted it out as a bar, which people could have at their house. No one was going anywhere and home entertainment was on the increase, so this seemed like the ideal solution.”
In addition, she also introduced optional extras such as a hot tub, pizza oven and even an outside cinema.
As well as running the business, Vinny also maintains and services all the vehicles. “I don’t have any formal qualifications in engineering or mechanics, everything I’ve learnt has been self-taught, but it’s what I love and am passionate about.”
VW camper vans are definitely a big part of the family. Her two girls 13 and 11 love going to Lytham St Annes in them and waking up by the beach and Vinny uses them for the weekly shop and the school run. “My girls know I’m not a conventional mum and know that I’m happiest with my vans or making something for them and that’s what they will remember.”
With weddings and events the first things to stop and will be the last things to open, it’s been a tough 18 months for Vinny. “I don’t think I will see any wedding bookings until May/June, so I’ve had to change what I offer in order to survive. In 15 years, I’ve certainly come a long way from working in telecoms, when I was responsible for the network installation of mobile masts for 3G, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.”
So, a motto from Vinny. “Don’t give up on your dreams, even if someone tells you it’s not for you. Having a passion for something will see you through.”