UPDATE: November 12, 2012. Good news if you bought an award-winning Bentley Motorhome before it went into administration. Our marketplace expert Nick Harding reports that Vanmaster, the new owner of the brand, will maintain warranty cover for those older Bentley Motorhomes, provided that the owners buy a four-year habitation service pack, priced at £795. There’s 10 per cent off if they buy it by November 30.
Nick reports fully in the January issue of Practical Motorhome.
Sept 12, 2012
Vanmaster, the Wigan-based luxury bespoke caravan-maker, has just bought award-winning Bentley Motorhomes, which, sadly, went into administration in August.
Vanmaster MD Lesley Thompson and director Ian Thompson are now in discussions with Bentley Motorhome suppliers and dealers, regarding both future manufacturing plans and to see if there is a way to honour the warranty cover on the Bentley motorhomes currently on the road.
Brand set to continue
Vanmaster hopes to re-start production of the Bentley motorhomes at the Mexborough plant and re-employ some of the 26 staff laid off. The two current Bentley ranges, Artisan and Signature, are well worth saving, having won Caravan Club Design and Drive Awards in 2011 and 2012.
This year the Cerise – an innovative, rear door motorhome, part of the Artisan range of slimline coachbuilts won first place, with the Amber coming second in the category: coachbuilts priced from £45,000-£55,000. The Bentley Signature Oulton took first place and the Bentley Mallory took second place in the category for coachbuilts costing more than £55,000.
Luxury brands fit together
Vanmaster and Bentley Motorhomes brands both cater for the luxury market, so this is a good ‘fit’, and future ’vans are likely to be made to order.
Administrator Richard Saville, from Begbies Traynor, handled the sale. Begbies confirmed today that Bentley Motorhomes had actually been in liquidation when sold, so could not be simply transferred as a going concern. The sale has been completed and Vanmaster has bought all the assets of Bentley Motorhomes, including the Bentley name, motorhome design and production equipment.
Exclusive interview with PMH
Vanmaster director Ian Thompson gave Practical Motorhome an exclusive interview, explaining the plans that he and his wife Lesley Thompson, MD, have for their new acquisition.
He said: “Vanmaster Caravans is at the top-end and our business model is dealing directly with customers so we can control the customer experience. We don’t have the added costs of the dealers. The internet is changing the way people buy. A few years ago people visited 3-4 dealers before buying a motorhome; it’s now 1.4 dealers.
“The Internet enables people to do research on products, so they’re using it to narrow down the choice. They also look at reviews and forums to see what other owners think of a particular motorhome. This is what we find with Vanmaster: some of the customers visiting us almost seem to know more about our product than we do!”
Ian says that this means that they can reach customers directly through the Internet. “We use the internet to give people a ‘feel’ for the product. Before, the only way we could do that was by distribution through dealers.
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“From a manufacturer’s point of view, using dealers is expensive.” He says that Vanmaster uses the saving to provide higher quality and better value for customers. “And who better to service and repair them? We’re focused on one product, so we know it well and have all the spare parts we need.”
Before Bentley Motorhomes became available, Vanmaster looked at expanding its bespoke caravan manufacturing business to provide motorhomes as well. “We want to provide customers with choices,” says Ian.
“Just like Vanmaster, Bentley Motorhomes were highly regarded and well built. It was the business model that got them into trouble, we think. The market for new motorhomes has shrunk from nearly 12,000 sales a year to 7,000 per year in the last few years. Immediately the news broke, we started talking to the administrators about buying Bentley Motorhomes and they put a tight timeline for completion in place. The supply chain was critical and 75 per cent of the suppliers are people that we use, too. We couldn’t contact a couple of the key suppliers, though, because they were at the Dusseldorf Caravan Salon show. We went ahead anyway and bought all the assets, the design, name and all equipment, a week ago.”
Production set to recommence
Ian and Lesley at Vanmaster are currently putting a plan together to take it forward. Ian says: “At this stage we’re looking at recommencing production in the last quarter of this year or first quarter of next year. We want to do it right. Everything had stopped at Bentley Motorhomes and some of the staff have since found other employment. We’ll need to recruit and possibly train people. We’ll have to decide on the location, too. These are all ongoing discussions.”
Fantastic fusion of quality brands
Ian continues, “We also see it as an exciting opportunity for the crossover of knowledge between caravan and motorhome designers. For instance, caravans will increasingly be affected by the trend towards people buying smaller and lighter cars, with less powerful engines, due to the drive for greater fuel efficiency. It’s bound to lead to people wanting to use smaller towcars, that are lighter, with less power, as we all try to get more miles out of the fuel.”
Fuel-efficiency is already an issue
Ian feels he can learn from the motorhome market here: “Bentley Motorhomes’ best selling models were the smaller coachbuilts. Again, these were the smaller, lighter, most fuel-efficient vehicles in the range. Motorhomes have a smaller footprint for the habitation area than caravans, so we’re looking at that expert use of small space, drawing ideas for use in our caravans. Most importantly, we are producing a fusion of high quality: the values behind both brands match. At the moment, if somebody wants to buy a smaller caravan, we believe there’s nothing of this top quality on the market.”
Rescue plan for warranties
Warranties are a top priority for Vanmaster on current Bentley motorhomes. Ian says, “We hope to announce a rescue plan in the next eight weeks.”
Servicing will be available
Aftercare is also part of the plan. “Vanmaster has all the facilities to do servicing and has bought all the spare parts and moulds needed to repair Bentley Motorhomes,” he says.
Small production means direct selling
Ian’s view is that many dealers are finding it harder to obtain the credit they need to buy stock, due to the current economic climate. Any manufacturer that distributes solely through dealers will find that its own success is built on the financial strength of the dealers buying the stock.
A woman of vision
He adds, “We are working hard and I am extremely optimistic about the future of Vanmaster and Bentley Motorhomes. To get it right is the most important thing. My wife Lesley Thompson, Managing Director of Vanmaster, is really driving this acquisition. She feels strongly that this industry is very male-dominated and yet the decision on what motorhome to buy is often down to the fairer sex. Women get the casting vote!”
Slowly but surely
There is a suggestion that Bentley Motorhomes may have been the victim of its own success. Ian says: “It went from zero to nine models in two years, which I think was too fast. In the Artisan range the smaller models sold best. We’ll concentrate on the ones that people actually order and we’ll build up an order book. People can specify exactly what they want in their motorhome and we’ll hand-build it with care.”
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Pictured: Bentley Motorhomes Artisan range: Ochre, and a selection of Vanmaster’s high quality caravan interiors
Video: Handbuilt caravans by Vanmaster Caravans: factory tour by the Caravan Channel