A Shaftesbury business has been voted the Best in Britain by readers of a national magazine.
Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred spoke with Paul Hopkins and heard that Blackmore Vale Leisure has won its second major trophy in two years.
Blackmore Vale Leisure has changed a bit since Paul Hopkins’ family started trading alongside the A30 Sherborne Causeway, back in the swinging sixties. “It actually started in 1967, when my grandfather and grandmother bought the business,” said Paul. “It used to be a 24-hour café, where all the mods and rockers used to meet back in the 1960s. It’s evolved quite a lot from then. Different members of the family have got different interests and different businesses are run from the same premises.”
Paul is in charge of the touring caravan side of the family firm. And the eleven staff who work in sales, valeting and the workshop have been celebrating a big award for this local business. “We have just won Best Caravan Dealer in the country for customer satisfaction. We travelled to Manchester to receive the award, which is run by the Caravan and Camping Club and Practical Caravan Magazine,” said Paul.
The Blackmore Vale Leisure team was offered accommodation for the awards – they didn’t have to take one of their own caravans! “We were in a hotel, which was good,” laughed Paul, who says he is proud that his happy clients took the time to register their approval. “It is our actual customers that vote for us, so we’re very appreciative of how they took the time to put our name forward.”
Paul says it’s hard to estimate how big the competition was for this title because there are so many dealers across Britain. “Next week, we’ve got the NEC show and when you see how vast that show is – there’s hundreds of dealers in the country,” said Paul.
He hasn’t been told which element of customer satisfaction his customers liked the most. The judges don’t offer a break down. “We don’t actually get to see what the customers put down but I believe there were different sections that they had to fill out about how friendly we are, how professional we are, how clean the caravan was when they collected it and how good the demonstration was. There were quite a few different elements but the only thing that I was told was that our percentage (of approval) was 97%,” said Paul.
Paul’s customers are clearly satisfied. This year the company came first for customer service amongst used caravan dealers. Last year they took gold in the New Caravan category. “It’s great that we’ve got both awards under our belt. It is fantastic,” Paul said.
Paul says that the extra profile of this award is good for business. “Practical Caravan is a national magazine. We’re only quite a small, family setup really so to have them writing about us is great. When we appear at the bigger shows, if you mention Blackmore Vale now then people know who we are. It’s put us on the map, which is really good,” he said.
And Paul says a write-up and a picture of a trophy trumps paid-for promotion. “I think it’s more honest advertising than us just putting a four page ad in a magazine,” said Paul. “It’s actually the customers that have really written this. It’s the best form of advertising I think you can get.”
This extra profile should encourage more people down to North Dorset. Paul says his customers come from far and wide, because the family firm has a focus. “We tend to specialise in touring caravans, which are very different to the norm,” he explained. “When a lot of people think of touring caravans they instantly think of white boxes. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to come away from that. We have made our forecourt a lot more interesting. We do Tabs, which are from Germany. They are little silver teardrop caravans.”
Paul thinks the current trend towards sustainability will encourage more caravanning staycations. “We’re actually a bit of a lightweight specialist. This is probably where things will go because cars are now getting smaller – there’s a lot of penalty with diesels. And there’s stuff that’s coming out about how green it is to actually caravan compared to flying abroad. So from that element, I think we should from strength to strength really,” said Paul.
And the weakened pound makes overseas travel more expensive, which is a good reason to stay at home and tour. “It might not be so easy to go abroad as it has been in the past. We don’t really know what’s going to happen with that,” he said.
What Paul can predict with certainty is that his staff will be celebrating the win. But he says they’re busy and they’ll probably wait until their Christmas party to properly toast their award success. “They were overwhelmed. It just makes all the hard work worthwhile. They were very pleased.”