Please tell us something of your background and the
background to Carlight John.
My background is that I've been in the leisure world for the
last five years and before that I was in car sales. The last
three years I worked at Brownhills selling motor homes, which
are basically caravans on a trailer. And for two years
selling caravans of all different types. Carlight was
established in 1932 in Sleaford in Lincolnshire and we built
caravans right up to 2002. Then we stopped building
caravans but still undertook to refurbish them. The Carlight
name itself was still available at that point and we used to service
refurbish them. We continued that until October of last year
when our boss, Mr Durant, took over and he actually bought the Carlight
name. He is a local man from Boston and he's got several
businesses all over the UK. He has always wanted
the Carlight name and when it came to taking over the
company he was able to buy it with the name.
When you look at your website and see the evolution of the
Carlight over the years it's very noticeable how the designs
seem to reflect the decades in which they are from.
Yes, Paul Hobson has still got all the
decades of classic caravans from the 1930s right until the
2000s. I know Mr Durant is possibly looking to purchase them
and put them in a museum.
Sounds good. So how did things develop from there?
So from then Mr Durant started to build Carlights and still
refurbish and service.
Are there a lot still around needing servicing and repair?
We've got a Carlight Club and a Carlight Enthusiasts Club
and every year they have a meeting in the Lincolnshire area
and come to see us. We had an open day on the 9th July which
was very well attended - we had over 450 people here. Since the 9th July we've sold seventeen
Carlights. In fact,
each Carlight we've got in the workshop now is sold.
That's impressive in these times John. Sounds like a good
business to be in. Is this UK-wide or is there an
international element too?
No just UK at the moment. We've got our work cut out just doing
the UK because as fast as we're building them we're selling
Caravans are really popular at the moment and they've taken
off because of the economy and the 'staycation' and so on.
But why do you think vintage and retro are continually so
popular with both the older and the newer generations?
Well, with Carlight, if you looked at them in terms of the motor world
they'd be the Rolls Royce of caravans. What we've never
lost is the tradition of building them. So all our caravans
are bespoke and you can have them built as you want. Each caravan is hand-crafted and we've got guys here who
have served their time as cabinet makers. All our interior
furniture and fittings are hand-built.
Do you get people having cocktail cabinets put in as they do
in Rolls Royces?
Oh yes, I've got an order in front of me here for a chap who
wants a different layout. I've sold a sixteen footer to a
lady a couple of weeks ago and she wanted what used to be
like a wet room converted into a shower and toilet for them.
It must make it interesting for you because no two jobs are
No they're not, but it's not as difficult as it sounds because we've got
proper craftsmen who can do virtually anything that you want
them to do.
These craftsmen - are they all in-house?
Oh I see, so it's a bit like where I am here in Northampton with a lot of the
prestige car manufacturers around here and they do the same
sort of bespoke work.
All our chaps here are experienced cabinet makers, so what we
do is we make up the chassis - either Al-Ko or BPW chassis
and then build on top.
What would you say are the main USPs for the company and its
The main selling point is tradition - they're still
traditionally-built with a lantern roof and a one-piece
roof, fibre glass front and back and aluminium sides and our
aluminium is thicker than anybody else uses. They've never
changed, so if somebody saw a new Carlight now they'd
immediately recognise it because of the lantern roof. We
don't want to get away from that, you see. And the other
thing is the quality of build. The thing is, with a
Carlight, if you bought one today and somebody bought
another make of caravan you couldn't go to another
manufacturer and say "I don't want that, I want
this." Because they're built as a standard van but the
tradition is the Carlight name, the quality of build and
people know that come ten years down the line it's still
going to be a caravan that is still functional and not
falling apart. And any caravan we sell we'd buy back off of somebody
and that's a policy that Mr Durant has introduced.
Who are your 'typical' customers, if such a thing exists?
Generally, older people I would say. Forty to fifty. These
days, though, we are attracting a lot more younger people.
How are you doing that?
By advertising and actively trying to get to people who are
younger too. Obviously
with newer vans people are going to come and buy new vans because
we've got quite a range of vans now ranging from thirteen
foot right up to twenty-six foot so I think that's where
we're going to get these people.
I think the attraction also is that you can tailor these to individuals
Exactly, whatever people want. Even somebody who was
disabled, we can put a bigger door on and ramps and so on so
if somebody wants something in particular then we can do
Is the fact that people are getting bigger these days an
Not really, because if there was a shower room and you wanted
it larger you could do that. The problem with a smaller van
is that you are restricted to space but with a twenty-six
foot van you can have the toilet area larger if you wish.
I've been stuck in a shower in a smaller caravan before so
that I had to exit the shower cubicle to dry myself!
With these you can have them as big as you want.
What sorts of comments and feedback are you getting?
Very positive. Everybody we spoke to at the open day said
it's nice that Carlight are back up and running and they do
like the traditional outside, because we do try not to
change the outside - if we did then you'd be losing the
ethos of the lantern roof.
It's your branding, like the radiator grill on a Rolls Royce
or the distinctive shape of a Jaguar.
Exactly, I remember when they changed the Mazda 3 from the
old sleek back to a different design, people went off it
straight away because they'd changed a fundamental part of
what made it popular.
What things should people consider when buying a new or
vintage restored Carlight?
The thing they need to look at is which layout they want,
what year and what they really want to spend. I can't second-guess
what somebody would want. They have to think that if they're
buying a Carlight they are buying something that's going to
last a long time. Whereas buying from an ordinary maker then
the chances are things will start falling off after three or
I've been in a lot of flimsy caravans and you wonder how
they stay together. It's nice to have something more solid
and rugged. What about the future then John?
From here what we're looking to do is to build a factory in
the Sleaford area and then Mr Durant wants to open up franchises
all over the UK really.
That sounds great. So he's really going for it then?
Oh yes, it's something that he's always wanted to do and
it's a passion. He wants to build them here and have them
sold around the country.
That's bucking the trend for engineering and manufacturing
to go abroad. I like that.
Now he's got it he wants to make it work and that's
witnessed by the fact
that we're building new models like the twenty foot, the
twenty-three foot and the twenty-six foot whereas before it
just went up to eighteen foot. We are opening it up so that
people can put them onto static sites. And you know yourself
that people who are retired want a bigger area to live in.
For somebody who goes away for a week then an eighteen foot
is sufficient but if you want to go somewhere for a couple
of months then ideally you want a large and comfortable
space. And the other thing is that if you didn't want a
shower in the caravan then we could take it out - a lot of
people like to go on sites and use the facilities there and
not use their shower. So all they're doing is having a loo
and then using the showers at the campsite.
John, thanks very much for letting us know about Carlight
and their history but, more importantly, their future which
sounds very exciting.