Question: what do three beehives, an assault course, a pilates studio and a five-star touring site have to do with the average caravan dealership?

Not a great deal, in the usual scheme of things.

But over in Shrewsbury, Salop Leisure has found that all the above are part of a formula that’s proving quite successful.

Salop Leisure: a brief history

Founded 51 years ago, Salop Leisure has invested significantly to breed the caravanners of the future, by turning the premises into a destination in its own right so it can convert curious visitors into caravan buyers.

It’s the vision of managing director Mark Bebb, who collected the trophy for Best Supplying Dealer of new caravans for sale at our Owner Satisfaction Awards 2017.

Such a bold strategy will only take you so far, says Mark, who stops me dead in my tracks when I congratulate him on his stunning win.

“It wasn’t stunning,” he says. “We’ve done well in the awards on a couple of occasions, but we can do better. We look at customer service on a daily basis, and produce a report on it on a weekly basis.

“As an industry I believe we need to drive the standard of our customer services forward, and that’s us – dealers – it’s our suppliers, the whole chain, in fact.”

Customer service is key

I’ve heard many caravan dealers wax lyrical about customer service over the years, but Mark’s take on it is refreshing.

“On an all-too-regular basis I get pulled into a meeting with a customer and I look at it as if I’ve spent my own money. I put myself in my customer’s shoes and try to imagine the service we’ve given. As a business, we try hard. Do we get it right all the time? Absolutely not.

“We’re taking life savings off people. The most expensive thing I’ve ever bought in my life is my house, and in Shropshire with house prices on average £300-350,000, we’re raking in between £18-35,000 for a caravan.

“I can’t remember the last time I personally spent £35,000 and I think it’s easy to get sucked into the fact that we’re selling lots of touring caravans every year. But you try saving £35,000 – that’s a lot of money

“Customer expectations are increasing now because of the money that’s been spent and when we’re selling something for £4000 or £78,000, we should be doing a good job.”

It’s good to talk

To score high in our Owner Satisfaction Survey (OSS), dealerships must run efficient customer service operations, where regular communication about repairs and servicing is paramount. As with other overall winners of the OSS, Salop Leisure really gets this.

As the web presence of caravan manufacturers and dealers grows ever more sophisticated, online’s ‘always on’ nature means that expectations of customer service have changed dramatically.

“People are short of time and ultimately as an industry, I think we have to make things more convenient for customers,” says Mark.

“For the past five years or so, our servicing department has been open seven days a week, which means you can talk to someone on Saturday and have something fixed on Sunday.

“Otherwise, we could find that on a Monday and Tuesday, we have so much to do, we’ve lost, even before starting the week.”

All your caravanning needs?

Salop Leisure’s sprawling operation at Emstrey Bank on the A5 was recently boosted by the opening of its Love2Stay glamping resort, itself overlooked by a five-star touring site where all 120 pitches are super-sized and fully serviced.

A £1 million washblock and a health spa including a restaurant and outdoor swimming pool are just some of the other new facilities that opened in 2017 – they’re even making their own honey!

But more development is in the pipeline – planning permission has been granted to expand the site by a further seven acres, adding display space for more leisure vehicles and increasing the amount of car parking.

Dare we say it, Salop Leisure just might have cracked the future of caravan retailing.