Welcome to Van Live!, Steve
Tell us about your current role – what do you do?
I’m the managing director here in the UK. I run the company day to day, and make sure we’ve got the right products, but I see my role as building relationships.
We’re one big family at Isabella. I love working for the company – I couldn’t work for anybody else in the industry.
We all work hard in every department and are passionate about what we do. We all believe that we’ve got the best product, the best materials and the best customer service.
How long have you been with the company?
I’ve been in the industry for 33 years and have worked with Isabella all that time.
How did you get into the industry?
Before working for Isabella UK, I had always been self-employed and I used to run my own cleaning company.
My mother-in-law worked in Isabella UK’s sewing department and she asked me if I could spare someone from my company to help unload a lorry – my staff were busy, so I went down to help them out.
To cut a long story short, they kept asking if I could help in the warehouse and eventually I took the job! After a few years, I was ready to move on, and around the same time the sales director left. I applied for his job and was made sales manager, ultimately becoming managing director.
How is the Isabella group set up?
It was established in Denmark in 1957 by Søren Odgaard, who made tents. His two sons were also heavily involved in the firm – one on the design side, and the other on the manufacturing and machining side.
Today our group head offices are in Denmark and over the years, a number of what we call daughter companies have been established throughout Europe at locations such as Norway, the UK, Germany and Holland, with sub-companies in Sweden, Italy, France and Belgium. It’s gone from strength to strength.
I run the UK part of the business. Most of the design is done in Denmark and the manufacturing base is currently in Poland, where a new factory is planned for July of next year.
What memories do you have of camping as a child?
I remember going on a caravan trip with my nan and grandad. We were in a small wooden caravan – my only memory is of playing with an old spinning top on a bit of string. It was probably somewhere down in Devon.
What’s the best trip you’ve been on so far?
My best holiday was in Canada, where we used a big motorhome to travel around. I took two of my boys and it was a great way of spending time with them. We’d play in the lakes and go fishing – the boys loved it.
What’s special about your brand – what is its USP?
We use the best material and parts available, but I think our unique selling point is family – from the consumer to the dealership to the manufacturing side, we are all one family.
What’s the company’s position in the UK market?
We’re one of the top brands. We are probably the biggest seller of awnings, although some of our competitors probably sell a lot more in other accessories. I’d say we’re number one for quality – 100%, because of the material and the frames we use.
What news from this year?
Our new factory is still going ahead in Poland and for 2021, we have new awnings and canopies for caravans and motorhomes. We’re also launching a digital platform for dealerships and customers, to make the ordering process more streamlined and user-friendly.
Where do you see the industry going in future – are you optimistic?
We’re very positive about the future. I think the increased stay-at-home holiday market will make the industry stronger and we will reap the benefits next year. Our 2020 sales are up by 7% on last year, in spite of being locked down. There are lots of new consumers coming into the market.
What’s on your driving playlist?
Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran, Paradise by the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf, and Pump It by Black Eyed Peas.
I love all kinds of food, but after a hard day’s work, you can’t beat beans on toast.
Tell us something about you that might surprise people
I had a nipple piercing years ago!
Isabella's new factory is still going ahead in Poland and for 2021, we have new awnings and canopies for caravans and motorhomes.