Hold on Barrons

By: Bill Savidan

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We talk to David Hold, owner of the vibrant RV retail business inthe middle of the North Island

Hold on Barrons
Hold on Barrons

The showroom atmosphere was peaceful. I was left alone, although I had the feeling my presence was noted. I didn’t feel neglected and was grateful because I needed time to settle down after the journey and gather my thoughts. A young woman materialised and offered me coffee.

A Swift Challenger 480 caravan with an awning attached occupied centre stage, while off to one side a glossy black VW ‘Trakkadu’ pop-top gleamed seductively. I looked at both. A salesperson detached himself from his desk at the side of the showroom, negotiated his way through the black leather sofas in the customer lounge area, and approached. "Could I help you, sir?" 

David Hold, the working owner of Barrons Recreational Vehicles (North Island), explained later that many of his customers travel long distances to get here, and the staff were briefed to recognise the signs of a traveller unwinding from their journey, and to first give them a few moments to themselves. During my "rest time", I had spoken to a couple who underlined David’s point. They had travelled from Dargaville to inspect the new Fiat Ducato-based Trakka Torino Extra on display.

In his earlier life, David ran a very successful business in the UK selling RVs. A couple of years ago he sold that business and went into retirement. It lasted two weeks. "The lack of a challenge was doing my head in," he said. "I came out to New Zealand on the ‘trip of a lifetime’, to welcome in the new millennium, and I got hooked on the country. I liked the business environment and I liked the attitude of the people. I could see an opening for the sort of business I do best, which is selling RVs, and I thought that doing it in New Zealand could be fun; so here I am."

For the first seven years, David employed managers to run the business in New Zealand. But since July 2007, he has lived in Taupo running Barrons himself.

He outlined aspects of the company’s philosophy for selling RVs to New Zealand customers.

Barrons is a retailer, not manufacturer, so it can’t ‘custom-make’ product to suit individual buyers. Instead, it stocks a range of brands and models to offer choice to buyers. "All sizes, all colours, all styles, all the time, gives us the opportunity to satisfy discerning buyers," says David.

To make the point he took me on a tour of the sales yard. It’s a large yard, with a lot of vehicles set out with plenty of room so you can step back to admire what could be your new RV. We climbed in and out of big caravans and little caravans. Caravans made in Germany, New Zealand and the UK. In each one he was able to illustrate the differences, benefits and points of appeal that justified that caravan’s position in the product range. It was the same with the motorhome range. There were around 50 vehicles in stock for sale – half were caravans, the other half motorhomes, which is a clear indication Barrons is here for the long haul.

So many RVs in stock seemed to be a display of confidence in the future of the market. "Yes, I am very confident," he said. "I believe the New Zealand market is starved of quality product. New motorhome products are very price competitive and streets ahead on quality compared to second-hand RVs, which are too expensive and just too old.

"New motorhomes have another major advantage – their gross vehicle weight. Many older motorhomes, particularly those based on buses, require a Class 2 drivers licence. Many of our new models can be driven on a car licence."

I remarked on the disproportionate number of caravans in stock, considering roughly eight out of every 10 RVs sold was a motorhome. "The greatest opportunity lies with the caravan market. The cost of buying, running and holding an RV will persuade many future buyers to choose a caravan over a motorhome – hence my investment," he said.

"I hear people say that European RVs look very smart but they’re not made for New Zealand conditions. My response to that is: do we in New Zealand get any more snow than they get in Norway and Sweden? Any more rain than falls in Western Ireland, or hotter temperatures than in Spain and Portugal? RVs made in Europe and the UK satisfy customers in all of these climatic conditions, and New Zealand customers are finding them perfectly satisfactory here. The layouts are well thought out, and the fabrics and colour schemes show the benefits of co-ordinated interior design. At the same time, the vehicles have surprisingly low tare and gross vehicle weights."

Although many European motorists drive cars of less than two-litre motor capacity because of fuel prices, they still want to tow caravans. "In the Netherlands," says David, "they have a ‘luxury tax’ on vehicles over two litres, so everyone drives around in VW Golfs or Fiats."

Caravan manufacturers have responded with lightweight models with tare weights as low as 500kg, and Barrons has many models on display capable of being towed by a VW Golf or a Toyota Camry. These caravans also have tow-ball weights of around 80 to 100kg, which make them user friendly when attaching the caravan to the car and well within the tow ball weight limits set by car manufacturers. Today a four-cylinder family car can tow a bigger caravan than was possible 20 years ago.

I found the sales yard user-friendly. I could nearly always see a salesperson in the distance to answer my questions, but I didn’t feel under any pressure. There was an information card in the window of each vehicle for sale which gave all the ‘vital statistics’, including weight and length so you could determine immediately whether or not it would fit your parking space at home. Inside each vehicle was a customer information sheet that explained all of the extra ‘gratis’ items included in each sales contract, such as a night at the local caravan park the day you collect your purchase, and its first service day, and many other benefits designed to reduce customer anxiety.

At the rear of the yard, out of sight but not out of mind, is a large four-bay Service Department. Barrons prepares all the vehicles it puts into stock. Whether they come in from overseas or from a local supplier, all RVs are given a thorough pre-delivery check. The staff are familiar with all of the products they sell and perform all the after sales service checks, as well as any warranty work or other service work that is required. They hold a comprehensive range of parts for the units they sell as well as an accessory range so that buyers can personalise their RV or caravan.

David Hold and Barrons have already made their mark on the retail RV scene in New Zealand. With the energy and commitment the company displays in marketing, sales and after sales service, it will continue to be a strong presence in the future. And is David Hold having fun? You bet he is! 

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