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Caravan maker Willerby posts double digit growth

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INVESTMENT in new product development helped static caravan manufacturer Willerby post double digit growth last year and it is forecasting another stellar year for 2018.

The company, which makes static caravans from its headquarters in Hull, had its best month ever in January and chief executive Peter Munk said the trajectory is continuing.

The company is expected to post a £165m turnover when it files its accounts to Companies House for the year ended October 2017, up 12 per cent from £147.1m the year before.

This year it expects to add another £15m to the turnover and increase pre-tax profit.

The growth comes after the company started to focus on design and product development.

It added 10 new products to its portfolio last year, taking the number to 26. It expects to add another 10 this year to offer more choice to consumers.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Munk said: “We used to be more concerned with filling the production line than working out what the market really needed, which was an old-fashioned manufacturing view.

“We weren’t competitive in the market place. You need to have exciting products that make customers go ‘wow’.

“We are now consumer-driven rather than manufacturing-driven. That work is starting to pay dividends.”

The hard work was recognised earlier this month when the company was named Manufacturer of the Year at the Made in Yorkshire Awards.

Private equity investment from Equistone Partners Europe in 2017 has helped the company’s expansion within the growing UK holiday homes market.

Willerby invested £2m in capital expenditure and £500,000 in marketing capabilities last year. It expects to invest a similar amount this year.

The company’s core customer is 55-plus, within 10 years of retirement, and wants to buy a mid-priced two or three-bed static caravan.

However, the number of customers who are couples and young families is increasing.

As well as static caravans, the firm also makes twin units, holiday lodges and bespoke units for attractions including Alton Towers and Warwick Castle.

“We have the capability to build anything from static caravans to houses,” said Mr Munk.

There is a growing trend towards higher specification and bigger units. “The luxury lodge market is growing by more than 30 per cent, way ahead of the total market, which is growing by six per cent,” he added.

The luxury lodges are built to a higher specification, adopting Scandinavian building methods, which make the walls stronger, allowing owners to hang pictures and televisions.

“Since the Brexit vote, we have seen seven per cent growth in staycations year-on-year. This trend is definitely continuing,” Mr Munk said.

He added: “Our main challenge is continually improving the way we operate. We are investing in flexible production lines so we can be more adaptive to demands from the market and introduce real innovation.”

The company, which employs 1,000 people, has taken on 200 new staff over the last two years, including 26 apprentices.

“We are focusing on additional training and development, it’s a really core part of what we do. Our products are not built by machines, they are made by a skilled workforce,” Mr Munk said.

The skilled workforce works across five production lines in three factories at the company’s headquarters.

Looking to the future, Mr Munk said smart technology is slowly entering the industry. “We can build these homes to residential specifications. A lot of people stay in them during the summer and then go back to another house, in somewhere like Spain, in the winter.”