A pioneering brokerage scheme for selling motorhomes on behalf of their owners was behind the success that Choose Leisure is now enjoying some 15 years after its foundation.
Choose moved into the sale of new ‘vans just over a decade ago, when it took on the Auto-Sleepers franchise, later adding Bailey, German premium marque, Carthago and – most recently – Swift.
It also expanded its premises on the outskirts of Canterbury, Kent, some two years ago, offering large indoor and outdoor vehicle displays as well as separate, extensive workshops dedicated to motorhomes.
As owner Paul Santos put it at the time: “I’m so pleased to be expanding our service facility rather than sales for a change; after all, the sales is the fun bit but it’s the aftersales back-up that makes the difference… in my eyes anyway!”
Choose was a double Gold Award winner at the 2023 Owner Satisfaction Awards, achieving an impressive score of 93.3% in the Best Dealer: new motorhomes category, as well as 91.9% in the Best dealer – pre-owned motorhomes category.
We sat down with David Williams, Managing Director at Choose Leisure, to find out more…
What do you do at Choose Leisure?
I’m the Managing Director at Choose Leisure, a motorhome dealership near Canterbury, Kent… and I’ve been here a month today!
This business was started in 2008 by Paul and Jenny Santos, who put everything into it. After a challenging start, due to the Global Financial Crisis, it’s been growing every year, and they still have people here who started on day one. They’ve done a remarkable job.
How did you get into the industry?
Well, I’ve been in the industry for 26 years – first at Swift as National Sales Manager, then at Auto-Sleepers as Sales and Marketing Director, before moving here. I was proud that Paul and Jenny saw me as the final piece of the jigsaw.
What makes Choose Leisure the Best of British?
I’d say it’s the people and the ethos.
When someone joins, they do a full-day induction learning about the business and why it is the way it is. That creates staff loyalty. It’s remained very much a family-run business and that’s important. The location is great too, we’re literally the gateway to Europe with the ferry and Eurotunnel within 30 minutes.
That’s allowed us to expand the boundaries of our sales area as people will decide to buy from Choose Leisure on the basis that they can pop in on their way to the ‘Tunnel’. Kent is also the garden of England, so customers coordinate a trip to the dealership with a visit to Kent, the coast or other attractions.
What does the rest of 2023 hold in store for Choose Leisure?
Paul and Jenny always aim for sustainable growth. Last year the workshops were developed, which allowed us to create a new showroom. We’ve also got a handover bay for up to four vehicles, so the whole process can be done inside. That’s all part of creating an excellent customer experience from enquiry to collection.
We’re continuing to evolve and are exploring the different franchises.
Do you encourage customers to travel from more distant locations?
Having access to your dealer is important, but we go to the NEC in October and February, so we pick up new customers from all over the country. We have customers from Scotland, the North West and North East. Used motorhomes are an important part of Choose Leisure’s business, and people are prepared to travel to find the right vehicle.
What are the key considerations when choosing a motorhome?
Our team has lots of experience, so they can advise buyers on the most important things to consider.
We’ve also got a lovely local campsite which we encourage customers to stay on for the first night or two. If there are any teething problems, they can easily get back to the dealership.
What are the biggest changes you can see happening within the industry over the next decade?
The environment will be a part of that. People enjoy the great outdoors and want to protect it for their grandchildren. I think plug-in hybrid technology will come to this market, though I don’t think there’ll be full-electric leisure vehicles for some time.
Flexible working also makes the leisure-vehicle lifestyle more attractive and accessible and could entice new people in.
What makes the British touring scene so special?
There’s so much beauty in the UK. As a National Sales Manager I travelled around the country a lot, from the north of Scotland to Cornwall. We’ve got the National Parks, historic cities, the Lake District, Cornwall and lots more… there’s so much variety.
What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of taking their first tour in Britain?
I think it would be the North Coast 500 in Scotland. Once you get north of the M8 corridor it just opens up. The great thing with the UK is that it’s an island and it’s quite compact, so everywhere is accessible.
Where was your favourite tour?
Last year we took a motorhome to Looe in Cornwall and toured around…. we loved that. There’s so much to see within an hour – Newquay, Padstow and Tintagel are all fantastic.
Tell us something about Choose Leisure that might surprise people!
People may not know that The One Motorhome channel on Youtube is filmed at Choose Leisure. Jonathan arrives on site and shoots his reviews using Choose Leisure stock. YouTube is an increasingly-important part of how customers choose their vans.
Visit the Choose Leisure website to find out more.
Head to our Best of British Motorhome Dealers section to find out more about the other major players from across the country.
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