A year in review: the highs and lows of 2020

blog / opinions / new year / holiday

2020 was an unprecedented year, the events of which impacted the entire world. As we settle into 2021, we reflect how the last 10 months have affected us as a business and as an industry.

Here, we hear from James Southwood, Managing Director of Winchester Caravans and Motorhomes to get his take on it all...

James SouthwoodWhat were the biggest challenges of 2020 for the business?

The announcement that a national lockdown was being enforced in March, with all non-essential businesses being ordered to close was a huge shock. It left me feeling very sad and disappointed in many ways. In terms of the business, the team had worked so hard building the business up into a really successful enterprise and we were all looking forward to starting the new season with a bang, particularly as it would be our first year selling new and pre-owned motorhomes.

With the pandemic striking at the start of our busiest time, we initially thought the whole year would be a write off. The management team faced many difficult challenges, but our priority was to keep focus on how we could best continue to serve our customers’ needs whilst maintaining a safe environment for both our staff and customers. As a Director of the company, I also had to ensure we had the necessary financial strength to survive this difficult trading period.

How did you overcome the challenges?

As a team. The managers and staff have all contributed - offering support, ideas, novel thinking and a determination to do whatever was necessary to ensure we succeed. Specific actions taken include introducing virtual caravan and motorhome tours, video customer handovers, building an online accessory shopping platform and introducing a customer pick-up and drop-off service for repair and maintenance.

The complete closure in April and May meant that myself and Lewis (our shop manager) could work with our website developer Serenity Digital, to focus our efforts on building the online shop and I’m delighted that we now have this option to offer our customers.

Together with my business partner David, we revisited our financial planning assumptions for the year and restructured the businesses finance arrangements where necessary. The Government support during the crisis has been hugely important in helping us manage through this difficult time.

Were there any positives to come out of 2020?

It has been extremely positive for the leisure vehicle industry as a whole. Many people have opted for staycations last year amidst the pandemic, with a large proportion choosing to go down the camping, caravan and motorhome route. Caravan and motorhomes in particular are ideal for a situation like this as they enable you to get out and enjoy different parts of the country, whilst remaining self-contained with your own kitchen and washroom facilities.

It’s been great to see the market diversifying as people of all ages give it a go. Perhaps some who wouldn’t even have considered it in a normal year have really enjoyed it, especially once they’ve experienced how relaxing a caravanning holiday can be. Bringing the interest back to caravanning has been fantastic!

How did you handle the lockdown periods?

After the shock of the first one had worn off, we were more prepared for the subsequent lockdowns. We knew what we had to do and we had plans in place to be able to continue on in a limited, virtual capacity. We asked ourselves what we could do to continue serving at least some of our customers and the answer was to offer sales advice over the phone and email as well as placing online orders for those who want to purchase.

Since this current lockdown began, we’ve also been continuing to service customer vehicles; as customers are not permitted on-site, we’ve been offering a collection service within a 20-mile radius, for those who still want their vehicle serviced during this time. Customers are happy that their vehicles are getting the attention they need and that we’re able to keep up with our servicing work, rather than building a backlog, which would be very difficult to catch up on.

We weren’t able to operate at all during the first lockdown, but we learnt from that and are now able to offer a slim line service in these two areas, which is great. Our priority is to continue to provide an exceptional service to our customers, in a safe environment, which is what we’re now successfully doing.

What changes were made to the day-to-day running of the business post-lockdown #1?

We put many measures in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers when the lockdown restrictions were loosened in June. We wanted everyone to feel safe coming into the shop and showroom, so we introduced a range of measures to ensure that. These included hand sanitising stations, 2m spacing markers, screens around till points, one way systems, virtual tours, contactless payments, contact-free drop off and collections in the workshop, an appointment system to avoid ‘peak’ times and of course a strict face mask policy.

We had many comments from customers who said they felt completely safe coming in and were impressed with how we’d dealt with the additional challenges. We’ll be continuing these measures when we reopen as well as offering virtual tours again for those who will continue to shield.

What are your plans for 2021?

2020 was our first year selling motorhomes and campervans and it was a real learning curve! We initially started with pre-owned motorhomes, which really took off and we later added new Bailey motorhomes to our repertoire as well, which has also been well-received. VW campervans are very popular too; the VW brand is a lifestyle that never seems to go out of fashion, so we’ve had a lot of interest from all ages about those.

One big advantage of the VW campers is that you can opt to buy one prior to conversion if you wish, which means you have the control when it comes to kitting it out from top to bottom. You can tailor it entirely to your own tastes and requirements, which is a huge bonus! Continuing to build our market share in this sector is key for 2021.

We would also like to grow our online shop during 2021 so you will see more and more products being added over the coming weeks and months. This will give those not wanting to go out just yet the option of buying online and having things delivered straight to their door.

These new ventures have expanded our product offering and opened up new avenues to address and service the market. We are now offering more variety and choice to our customers, which is great.

There is light at the end of the tunnel! Assuming there is a timely COVID-19 vaccine roll out and continued public adherence to short-term lockdown measures, I am hopeful spring and summer will be a much brighter time for all.

Browse our caravan and motorhome ranges online and while you’re at it, why not give our online shop a glance? Get in touch with any sales enquiries or if you’d like to book your vehicle in for servicing or repair work.

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