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NATHAN Bergmans added caravans to his dealership portfolio almost by accident when he discovered the strong synergies that existed between buyers in the recreational caravan industry and selling motor vehicles needed for towing.

He has since discovered that the diversity of the the expanded portfolio can also even out bumps in revenue over the year.

Mr Bergmans, dealer principal and owner of Bergmans Auto Group (BAG) in Rockingham, south of Perth, has franchises including Isuzu and SsangYong.

In late-2015 he added Avida caravans and motorhomes from the recreational vehicle manufacturer based in Emu Plains, NSW, which started in 1965.

Dealer principal and owner of Bergmans Auto Group, Nathan Bergmans

“Becoming an Avida dealer was a byproduct of a friend in the industry moving from working for a car manufacturer to working in the caravan industry,” he said.

“The Isuzu D-Max ute and MU-X wagon are very popular with travellers and especially those with caravans. Isuzu has a strong name for quality, durability and fuel economy.

“We talked so much caravan talk with people who came in to look at the Isuzu and we were finding that our buyer base tended to either aspire to own a caravan or actually owned one.

“We thought it was a natural mix to add caravans. So it flowed from there. We put attention to looking after the traveller so we can service the car and caravan at the same time, for example, to save time for the owners.”

Mr Bergmans said the result has been a stronger revenue base for his company and it has introduced a new customer layer that not only buys caravans from his business, but wants the towing vehicle as well.

He said he has found these buyers tend to trade both their car and their van through his dealership and he maintains the relationship with a service history.

“There are a lot of opportunities with caravans and vehicles in the same business,” he said.

“We do a lot of package deals so we’ll sell Isuzus with caravans. It doesn’t have to be all new – we can do a new Isuzu with a used caravan, or vice versa, or both used vehicles.

“So we have those options. When people are beginning their trips they come in and see us and we can help them and then at the end of their trip they come back and they say they’re finished with their adventure and they have a car and a caravan to get rid of.

“So we can help them with both sides of that.”

Then there’s the service side of the business. Mr Bergmans said his dealership is geared to carry out a lot of caravan servicing and maintenance.

“People can spend a lot of money getting a caravan back up to scratch so they can be big-dollar repair jobs,” he said.

“In terms of volume for service, it adds another layer to the business, especially if the sales side is a bit quiet. There’s a value-add part of the business that keeps staff employed and keeps the work ticking over.”

He said retailing cars had been a bit quiet in the past eight weeks but he has some caravans and motorhomes being sold, which gives a balance to the business.

“It also has allowed us in the past to move staff between cars and caravans, depending on demand, and that is good for staff employment,” he said.

“The difference between the two businesses is that the caravan side has to be managed very closely, more so than the car side. You have to make sure you have the right people.”

It also means more staff. Mr Bergmans has increased staff levels, with more technicians in the workshop, an electrician who works with mains power, and specialist sales people in caravans and motorhomes.

He said that motor vehicles and recreational vehicles were very different sales environments.

“The traditional car salesperson works to a 72-hour cycle on selling a vehicle while, on the caravan side, we get a lot of people who come in to look at a van and their decision is three-to-five years away,” he said.

“The people you look for as a salesperson (in caravans) is someone who may have sold real estate that has a similarly long lead time.”

Avida is also a company that has a different approach to manufacturing.

Mr Bergmans said it is based on car-like production lines so all vans are engineered to one standard and there’s virtually no custom builds.

“It has a team of eight engineers and everything that is built is the same. So if you want any customisation done you have to go to another caravan-maker,” he said.

“That means every part is designed and made the same so that the engineering and safety aspects are uncompromised. The caravan is designed from the outset to be balanced correctly so it doesn’t affect the driving manners.

“We can add extra water tanks and other little things that have been engineered for the product. If we need to order a cabinet door, for example, we can replace it – so everything is standardised like the car business.”

Mr Bergmans said sales looking forward are quite strong. He said on the previous weekend the dealership sold an Avida Longreach motorhome – valued at around $300,000 – that will be delivered in January.

“We are trading a $150,000 motorhome on that so that will help our bottom line in January,” he said.

“The order bank just ticks away in the background and if you have a quiet car retailing month, it’s a bonus that carries you through.”

BAG also carries stock of used caravans. This gives buyers an alternative to the sometimes long wait for recreational vehicles, that can push out to four months for a caravan and about six months for motorhomes.

“Used caravans are not like selling a used car. The vans are all very different and meet a specific buyer,” he said.

By Neil Dowling

Isuzu Ute D-Max