Business profile: Country Caravans & Motorhomes

By: Claire Smith, Photography by: Claire Smith and Cameron Officer

motorhome rob Rob Axton knows a thing or two about the motorhome and caravan business motorhome rob
Mobivetter 79 Kitchen The exterior of the Mobilvetta is impressive inside, curved cabinetry lends a nautical feel Mobivetter 79 Kitchen
Southern Star2 Southern Star Titan 680 interior Southern Star2
Platinum4 Leisure Line Platinum interior Platinum4
Platinum Exterior The Leisure Line Platinum 6.75 Platinum Exterior

Having sold his first motorhome at the age of just 17, Rob Axton knows a thing or two about the motorhome and caravan business

A s a teenager, Rob Axton was a singer in a band, and he wasn’t half bad. But his rock ‘n’ roll career was sidelined when fate stepped in and sent him on a completely different path. Rob was helping out at a local tyre shop between gigs when a customer asked if he knew of any vacant land to store 50 motorhomes.

Rob pointed him in the right direction and ended up landing himself a new job at the same time. With a natural flair for sales and customer service, he eventually gave up his gigs and instead, moved his way through the RV business, eventually becoming national sales manager by the age of 22.

Soon after, he joined Marquis Motorhomes where he stayed for around 18 years, reaching the level of group marketing and development director before the business changed hands and he moved on.

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In 2006, Rob took over the management of Barrons Recreational Vehicles in Taupo, the biggest dealer in New Zealand at the time. Loving the New Zealand lifestyle, Rob made his move permanent in April of that year. In 2009, a new opportunity presented itself when the original owners of Country Caravans sought him out to take over the business. 

In the years since, Country Caravans has grown to become one of New Zealand’s biggest and most reputable dealerships. The business is now the largest Leisure Line dealer in the country and is the first dealer in New Zealand to be appointed with the trio of Leisure Line, Southern Star, and Zephyr brands. Having now been in New Zealand for 11 years, Rob says he loves the lifestyle, particularly the friendly community atmosphere of Mount Maunganui.

Latest developments

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With 11 staff, each of whom has been with Country RV since its earliest days, and a huge yard that offers a constantly updated selection of vehicles, the business has gone from strength to strength.

The latest development within the business is the acquisition of On The Way RV, a business that will be familiar to many MCD readers. Rob, who has known On The Way RV’s owners Mal and Alisha Brady for many years, says the two businesses have always worked in harmony very well. "When Mal and Alisha approached me about buying their business, it was an easy decision to say yes," he says.

With the acquisition came the Auto-Trail and McLouis franchises, which Rob is delighted to have. "There’s a very strong logic behind every motorhome and caravan that we sell and the brands fit within our product portfolio nicely," Rob says. "I’m very familiar with the Auto-Trail brand from my early days in the RV industry within the UK. In fact, I knew the original founder of Auto-Trail, so there is a good bit of history for me there as well. McLouis, an Italian-built brand, is also doing very well."

Big order for Mobilvetta models

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Country RV is also the exclusive home to another Italian range, Mobilvetta. The 2017 A-Class model (profiled in MCD 157) has been hugely popular and sold out within a matter of months. Part of the Trigano Group, Mobilvetta motorhomes have a 100 percent wood-free, composite resin fibreglass construction. "When I first saw one, I loved the layout options and the yacht-like interior design," Rob says.

Rob has just placed a big order for the 2018 Mobilvetta models. He explains that the new range will have a bigger payload with a 4400kg chassis on a COF but still drivable on a car licence.

The 2018 range will also be a mirror image of the current 2017 range, with the cabin door on the left hand (passenger’s side) rather than the right.

Leisure Line and Southern Star range

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Rob says his favourite caravans are the New Zealand-built Leisure Line and Southern Star range. Rob has a close working relationship with the Hamilton-based factory and stocks a wide range of models at all times.

The Southern Star Titan 680 is beautifully crafted and a fine example of outdoor luxury living at a total length of 8.5 metres. The caravan is loaded with extras, all included in the sale price, such as pull-out awning, water heating on gas or 240 volts, a full-size fridge/freezer, solar, outdoor barbecue bayonet, picnic table, and outdoor hot and cold shower. The layout includes an east-west fixed bed, a big en-suite across the back and loads of storage space.

The future for Country RV 

April 2018 heralds another big step for Country RV as the business moves to bigger, better premises in McDonald Street, Mount Maunganui. Rob explains that the current location in Hewletts Road has become increasingly traffic-heavy as more people move into the region.

"Moving to new premises was a big decision to make, but we had to take the bull by the horns really and just do it," he says. "The new location will allow us to do some exciting things, including having a six-bay workshop and an indoor showroom with a permanent exhibition of around 15 vehicles.

"We’ll also have a fully online showroom, which means clients can go online and ‘virtually’ walk around and through each motorhome and caravan, 24-7.

"We have clients from all over New Zealand, so this is a great way for them to look through each motorhome thoroughly, from the comfort of their living room. And when they decide to come and have a look, we’ll be moving to an appointment-based system that will ensure each and every customer gets the time and attention they need to make the right decision about their vehicle purchase."

Who knows if Rob and his band might have made it big if they’d pursued their musical ambitions, but one thing’s for sure, if they had, Tauranga would certainly have lost out on a fantastic RV business that is heading for the top of the charts.

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