Why demand for campervans will carry on into 2021

Campervan manufacturer Wellhouse Leisure, has had a record year and doubled the size of its premises in 2020 after a rush on mobile homes during the pandemic.

David Elliott, founder and CEO of Wellhouse Leisure in Barnsley.

Chief executive of the Barnsley-based firm, David Elliott, said he had “never seen anything like it” in the 18 years the business has been running after orders rocketed this year as people look for inventive ways to staycation.

He has a forward order book stretching 10 months compared to his usual three-to-four months and recruited new staff to cope with the increased demand.

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The company, which employs 24 staff and has a £5m turnover, converts Ford and Toyota vans into full campervans with fitted furniture, kitchens and an elevated roof. Each conversion takes 150-160 hours to complete by experienced cabinet makers with prices ranging from £18,000 to £50,000.

It sells all over the world from the UK to Australia and New Zealand.

“It doesn’t matter whether the vans are at the budget end or more expensive - sales of everything have gone through the roof,” Mr Elliott told The Yorkshire Post. “We’ve broken every one of our records: most vans sold in a day, a week, month and year.”

Just before Christmas it partnered with Vauxhall to create a new £46,000 camper - the Vivaro Elite Campervan - which is available across the manufacturer’s UK dealer network.

Mr Elliott said: “It’s really strange that a company of our size is mixing in this league of international manufacturers but they realise they need people like us who can offer a really bespoke service.”

When Wellhouse Leisure started in 2002, there were about 75 to 100 campervan conversion specialists in the UK. Now, Mr Elliott estimates there are around 1,300-1,500.

“There’s been enormous growth in the industry,” he said. “However, the core top 30 in the UK are still the same companies. The new ones that start up are always trying to be cheaper, which doesn’t always work.”

Wellhouse is one of only two UK campervan manufacturers to be a Ford accredited Qualified Vehicle Modifier, which sets it apart from competitors.

This year it has built 150 campervans. Next year it expects to create at least 400 after collaborating with German manufacturer Mobiltec GmbH, which will build 200 left hand drive vehicles under licence.

“We’ve tried to find a way of increasing production without us increasing production. They have the same Ford accreditation as us and they asked us if we could teach them how to build campers. It’s great because we get our vans into Europe without having to build any more vans or worrying about Brexit.”

Even without the pandemic, Mr Elliott said he was expecting a bumper 2020 but after the first national lockdown, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an easing of the lockdown restrictions for the summer, he said orders went through the roof. “It just went crazy. Normally we sell three or four vans a week but we were selling nine or 10. “I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I’ve seen the effects of everything: from volcano issues to recessions but never have we seen anything like what we’ve had in the last six or seven months.”

The company also moved from Huddersfield to larger premises in Barnsley

The new 16,000 square-foot factory, offices and warehouse more than doubles the 7,000 sq ft Wellhouse Leisure had at its previous location in Huddersfield, and has also created four new job roles.

Meanwhile, last month, the company worked for free to build a campervan for BBC Children in Need, which raised £1.1m.

The company spent a month fitting out a Toyota Proace Matino before it was promoted in a prize draw watched by millions.

“We were blown away to think something we’ve made could raise that amount of money for charity,” said Mr Elliott. “But we like to give back.”

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James Mitchinson