Our team traveled to Ojai’s sought-after destination, stumbling upon what felt like a hidden treasure. The creators of this lodging experience want their guests to feel exactly that, as if they stumbled upon a secret. With gems like this, word-of-mouth spreads fast, and Caravan Outpost quickly became the “it” destination in Ojai, California.
We had the absolute pleasure of speaking with the team at Caravan Outpost. This group is an inspiration, carefully considering every detail of their guests’ experience since the day the idea was born. We wanted to know more about their journey creating an unparalleled vacation experience.
It’s evident that Caravan Outpost was born from passion. What advice would you give readers about pursuing an entrepreneurial passion?
“Follow your heart,” say co-founders, Chet & Mellanie Hilgers. “Get a good idea and stay with that idea. Work at it until you get it right.”
Persistence definitely paid off with the offerings at Caravan Outpost. What was your thought process behind creating the guest experience?
Shawn Steward, another team member, answers, “The sheer amount of work to get every detail right is staggering. Caravan Outpost’s retail store is competing with the best vintage and retail stores in L.A. Our guests are complete experts in the types of products they want. One wrong product- one item that’s not researched, sourced properly or is in too wide a distribution- and people disconnect. We have been able to establish an expert-to-expert relationship with our customer that respects their taste and desire to be unique.”
And experts you are! Your team produced something really special. What was the high and low of your journey in creating Caravan Outpost?
“Being sold out for so many weekends, right out of the gate, is a huge high,” Shawn says. “Having celebrities and great designers call the Outpost their ‘favorite place in California’ makes me feel like we have built what we set out to build. It’s amazing to dream, plan, build and do. That whole creative eco-system is just a blast to be a part of.”
“A measure of success for us,” add Mellanie & Chet, “was when very early on, people would come and stay with us and as they were checking out, they would book a stay again only weeks later. When people come here, they come to experience the garden, they come to look at the stars, to cook over the fire, to roam around town. They come to be a part of the Caravan community. Guests come to Caravan Outpost to live simply, and comfortably. There’s no app for this experience.”
“Every business venture has its lows,” they continue. “For sure when we first started, on the business development side of the Outpost, it was discouraging to hear bankers and financiers looking completely confused at what we were building. You have to hold strong and have those little epiphanies that keep you going, like ‘Of course the bank didn’t get it; a sign of something truly visionary is that at first, most people don’t get it.’ You have to hang in there, and do your research.”
What does the idea of “old meeting new” mean to you?
“Look at the beautiful dry stack rock walls here in the Ojai Valley,” answers Brad Steward, founder at Caravan. “Doesn’t matter which rock is old or new, which is big or small. What matters is how they were assembled, where the hands of time placed them. Take your old knowledge and put some new knowledge on top and in the cracks, to support the overall strength of who you are and what you are capable of learning. If you struggle to understand, grind off a little of what you thought you knew, add some fluid, and bind together with the next big chunk of learning.”
Interview by Joanna Heitz
Photos by Caravan Outpost