Veteran business spotlight on Donah Foley, Army veteran and Founder of That Vintage Tradewind for Women's Entrepreneurship Day.
When Australian Army veteran Donah Foley bought a vintage Airstream caravan from America, she had no idea it would be the catalyst for starting her own mobile bar.
And though her business journey has been anything but a smooth ride – she slogged through a pandemic, caravan renovations and juggling fulltime work, Army Reserves and setting up her own business - That Vintage Tradewind is now coasting along nicely.
Ms Foley joined the Army in 2005 as a 37-year-old single mum to three children.
During her service she deployed to Afghanistan and was posted to Singleton and Holsworthy before transitioning to Army Reserves in 2019.
But it was back in 2016 Ms Foley began dreaming of owning and renovating her own Airstream.
“I thought, you know what, I'm going to go for this.”
In January 2017 Ms Foley found a 1960s Airstream in Florida, USA, bought it sight unseen and had it shipped to her hometown of Oberon in New South Wales.
“When I got it, it was a bit rougher than what I actually thought,” she said.
But that didn’t deter her.
Ms Foley sunk her teeth into the project and not long into the renovation inspiration struck to turn the 7.2m Airstream into a mobile bar.
And so That Vintage Tradewind was born.
A switch to a commercial venture meant the chassis, axles and the side of the van were completely rebuilt, the interior redone and the electrics replaced.
“It took about three years for me to get it done,” Ms Foley said.
“I was still fulltime in Defence and coming up to Oberon on the weekends to work on it.”
Ms Foley had help with the mechanical side of the rebuild but she did her fair share too.
“Every step of the way I was there riveting, unriveting, riveting, polishing and getting all the interior setup done,” she said.
“I was pretty much project managing the whole build.”
The 54-year-old took long service leave to finish the project and by 2020 That Vintage Tradewind was ready to roll, complete with bar setup, timber benchtops and seating areas.
Then Covid hit.
“I had a few bookings and they all got cancelled,” Ms Foley said.
“There was nothing I could do about it, so I just carried on regardless.
“I originally was going to do the business and (Army) Reserves, and that was going to be my life.
“With Covid, I had to get a fulltime job because there were no bookings.
“So now I'm doing the fulltime job, the business and Reserves.”
But the rebuild and Covid weren’t Ms Foley’s only challenges. She also had to learn how to run a small business.
“The hardest part was not really knowing,” she said.
“I'm just learning the business skills as I go, like reporting GST, making sure I correctly do my books, correctly charge people and remember to charge people.”
Ms Foley credits Prince’s Trust Australia with helping her develop the confidence and skills to be a businessowner.
In 2018 she took part in the Trust’s Enterprise Programme, which assists veterans and spouses of serving ADF members start and grow their own businesses.
“There was this positivity that you can do what you set your mind to, and there are people there that can assist you if you need it,” Ms Foley said.
“Not that I needed motivating, but the motivation is there and the peer support from your other veterans as well.
“Just knowing that I have the Prince's Trust to talk to, to provide guidance and support and to link in with other veteran businesses has been very beneficial to me for my business.
“And I'm now in a position that I can go to the next level.”
Ms Foley said after her false start courtesy of Covid, her business was doing well.
“Pretty much I started last year and did about 12 bookings in about three months, just weekend after weekend after weekend,” she said.
“I probably did all up about 16 or 17 bookings up until June this year, which was just amazing for a brand-new business.”
And amongst the weddings and parties, That Vintage Tradewind was also hired by Under Armour as a DJ Booth at the City2Surf race in Bondi Beach and Betty’s Burgers in Maroubra.
Something Ms Foley couldn’t have dreamt of achieving so soon.
But while she is thrilled her business is growing, she said her highlight was still seeing people ‘rubbernecking’ at her beloved Airstream and asking about the rebuild.
Visit Donah's business: https://thatvintagetradewind.com.au/
With thanks to freelance copywriter and ADF partner Courtney Snowden. Find Courtney on LinkedIn.