“Map out your future — but do it in pencil. The road ahead is as long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.” — Jon Bon Jovi
June 1, 2021
A CHAT WITH AN INNOVATOR
Roadtrip tech that takes you off the beaten path
Steve Hileman, TOGO Group
Get yer motor runnin'!
TOGO Group is a company that focuses on road-based travel. In 2018, they bought Cincinnati-based Roadtrippers, which makes a web app that helps travelers plan road trips. We spoke to Steve Hileman, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Togo Group, about their travel tech.
Where are you located?
Hileman: We have home offices in both Cincinnati and Chicago. Most of my marketing team is located in Cincinnati, although our CEO is based in Chicago.
Our investors are very keen to have us stay in the road travel space, so Roadtrippers made a ton of sense as our first investment. That said, we continued to build a presence in Cincinnati, in part because the core Roadtrippers team was there but also because there’s a lot of great talent in Cincinnati.
In 2019 we launched TOGO RV, which is our dedicated app for RVers. We acquired a company called RVillage in 2020, which is a community platform solely for RVers. Just this year, we acquired a company called Overnight RV Parking, a subscription database for the “secret” places that allow RV parking. For example, there are specific Walmart stores that let you stay in the parking lot overnight. Some municipalities allow it; some don't.
Have you seen an increase in RV interest since COVID?
Hileman: Yes, RV interest is at an all-time high. Even though RV inventories at dealerships are at an all-time low, sales are at an all-time high. Prices for RVs are through the roof, but we saw that trend happen about a year ago. In May of last year, suddenly people realized that RVing and road travel in general offer pretty much the safest alternative compared to air travel. We expect this summer to be our all-time biggest year.
Where is your staff located?
Hileman: We were already a mostly remote workforce heading into the pandemic, but now we are even more so. As businesses realize they can function that way, you will see more folks in tech, marketing and other types of former ‘office roles’ living in lower cost areas like the Midwest.
“In May of last year, suddenly people realized that RVing and road travel in general offer pretty much the safest alternative compared to air travel."
— Steve Hileman, TOGO Group
Are your applications available via smart phone?
Hileman: Everything we build has a mobile app that you can download from the Apple store or Google Play store. We have a proprietary platform from which those apps operate. We work to make it easier for people to plan a trip on Roadtrippers and then access that trip on TOGO RV. So if they decide to take a big road trip and they decide to take it in an RV, then we have all the apps and all the technologies they need to do that.
The roads you can travel on by RV are different than the roads you can travel by car. You have height, weight and propane restrictions. It’s more like driving a commercial vehicle than a mini-van.
Where do you get the data for the apps?
Hileman: Most of our data is actually curated by our data team. We have a team that goes out and verifies particular items. We hire freelancers to go out and take better photos of popular locations to make it easier for people to understand what they can do there.
Roadtrippers focuses on offbeat and interesting places to see along your route. We’re not going to cover a bunch of in-depth information about Disney World. However, we do have great information on the future birthplace of James T. Kirk, the Jolly Green giant statue or the world’s largest ball of twine.
Hileman: Yes. For example, if you’re camping, you can turn the camping filter on so you don’t see hotels. You likely don’t need or want hotels if you’ve got an RV. Through that filter, you can look for attractions, offbeat locations, museums and a couple other categories.
What do you think is the attraction to road travel?
Hileman: RVing gives you a home away from home and is often associated with the outdoors. While, yes, you’re traveling in a relatively small vehicle, you are usually traveling to campgrounds or state parks with an abundance of open air and outdoor space. RVing was trending mildly, but the pandemic just turned the dial to ‘11’ in terms of interest in those areas.
Moreover, during COVID, international travel was restricted. This sort of forced people to leave their options open domestically. Now air travel is getting somewhat congested, as airlines are bringing flight volumes up. The prices are also pretty high, especially for a whole family who is traveling. People are starting to evaluate all of those things.
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AROUND THE REGION
We hope you enjoy these headlines from the latest issue of Flyover Future, chronicling innovation throughout the Midwest. If you'd like to subscribe to Flyover Future, click here.
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FUELING THE FUTURE: Coastal investors fund Midwest startups
PUDDLE HOPS: FlyOhio participates in NASA program | Tangoe moves to Indy
HealthTech: Treating infants | robotic exoskeleton | virtual anatomy
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