Meet James Southwood, Managing Director
James has always loved camping and caravanning and has many fond memories of childhood camping trips. So when the chance to purchase the business he worked for presented itself, he grabbed it with both hands...
I’ve worked in the caravan industry for most of my career. After a brief stint in fmcg retail management, I joined Chichester Caravans working in the accessory shop as a sales advisor. It was great because not only was the role enjoyable, but learning about the hundreds of different products related to caravanning was an excellent introduction to the industry.
Tell us a bit about your career background
I’ve worked in the caravan industry for most of my career. After a brief stint in fmcg retail management, I joined Chichester Caravans working in the accessory shop as a sales advisor. It was great because not only was the role enjoyable, but learning about the hundreds of different products related to caravanning was an excellent introduction to the industry. I was later promoted to Accessory Store Manager which meant I was able to continue dealing with customers, which I love, plus I was also able to develop my management skills.
Chichester Caravans took on the Winchester branch in 1987 and in 1990 I became Centre Manager. I was there for five years and then went back to the Chichester branch to manage that for a few years. I returned to Winchester in 2001 and have been here ever since!
What led to you becoming Managing Director?
In 2015, the owner of Chichester Caravans informed me that they were going to close the Winchester branch, which would mean redundancy for me and a lot of the staff. A friend of mine suggested that I buy the company and run it as Winchester Caravans and it really appealed to me. That friend became my silent partner and I’ve been running the company for four years now. It’s going really well - I love the job, I always have done. It’s my passion and I love looking after people, making sure they get what they need and want.
Have you always been interested in caravans?
Yes! My parents bought one in the early 80s and even prior to that we went on camping holidays which I loved! Camping and caravanning is so much fun, it’s pure freedom in a safe environment and great quality family time too. Some of the best holiday memories I have are from camping holidays - you can’t beat them!
What does your role as Managing Director involve?
A multitude of things! I like to be hands on and get involved, liaising with customers and advising them when asked. Events like our open weekend last month and the Motorhome and Caravan Show 2019 that we attended recently were ideal opportunities for me to do that.
I also ensure that the managers are running their departments effectively. I’m always concerned with making sure that the staff are happy because that’s an important part of running a successful business. At first it was hard to take a step back from the operational side, but I had to let my managers get on with their jobs!
What are your plans for the future of Winchester Caravans?
To keep going as we are and continue to grow our success. The business is doing really well and it’s all down to our fantastic staff who keep it running smoothly on a day-to-day basis. My son works here too and I’d love for him to take over one day, but we’ll see where the future takes us.
What are the most rewarding and challenging elements of your role?
Happy customers are the biggest reward of the job for me as there’s nothing better than seeing a family happy with their purchase. They often become regular customers which means that we’re lucky enough to be able to follow their caravanning journey and live it with them in a small way!
Managing staff can be challenging but it’s also extremely rewarding! We have 28 members of staff so dealing with all the HR that goes with that size team and dealing with any challenges they are having to contend with themselves can take time. But having happy staff is such a huge plus that the rest is worth it!
What are the company’s core values?
Excellent customer care is one of our main core values and it’s the single most important thing for me. I want, above all else, for our customers to be happy and to be able to deliver products and services that give them what they want and more. Our slogan is “Your journey starts here” and I want them to continue their journey with us too.
Why is it a great place to work?
The company is run like a big family unit, so we look out for each other and support each other. There’s a real team atmosphere and everyone pulls together to make sure the customers get what they need at all times.
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