Digger: Hello Terry.
Terry: Hello David.
Can you please
tell us a little bit about your background and the background
to Bristol Camper Company?
Terry: This company is run by
myself and Gary in partnership. My background is within the
motor industry - my last relevant work was with The Hartwell
Group and then Tom Walkinshaw Racing.
Digger: Both big names.
Terry: I ran a Hartwell
dealership, then I went into the buying team and then was
working for Tom running his south of England dealerships and
managing his stock. Gary is very much a Jaguar man with
Swallows Jaguar, who we are very much involved with here. We
restore, sell and service Jaguars - enough to keep us busy.
And whilst we were doing this, a business became available. We heard that somebody was selling The Bristol Camper Company,
which consisted of a retro and a Danbury. We went to se them
and it was very obvious there was potential to grow the
business. They were in the middle of Bristol in a very narrow
street - it must have been a nightmare for them - they had
been running it for a year and it was running them ragged. We
decided that because we're on a farm here we've got plenty of
room to do these things and expand as a little sideline. But
(laughs) the first two phone calls we took were from people
who were after a bigger and more modern European-type motorhome.
This made us question if we did the right thing. But also it made
us realise that there was a business to be had with the more
modern ones. So, that weekend, we popped out and bought a new
seven-birth and we bought another Vdub. We then did another
Vdub up, because we have our own workshop here with a mechanic
we employ full-time to look after our hire fleet. So during
the winter, when it's quieter, we bought one for him to do up.
Instead of spending what was meant to be three months and
£7,000 we spent five months and £16,000 on doing our Ruby
camper. It's a beautiful little camper van.
Terry: Yes, Ruby Tuesday. We
run competitions in the local papers and because they're red,
yellow and blue we
tend to get people coming and giving them obvious names. So our yellow
one was called 'Buttercup'. We all here call it Kiki because
the registration number is KKI. As it happens, the first person
who came in to hire it from us was called Kiki! A spooky
experience. So they all have to have names like California
Blue or Bristol Blue.
Digger: There's a gent in the
midlands and his fleet are all called Van Halen, Van Outen and
Terry: That's right, I spoke to
Digger: Good fun.
Terry: It's a really nice thing
to do and the people who tend to want to hire them are very
much like that.
Digger: Wacky. A bit like us
Terry: I don't have a problem
with it. I think it's nice. People say "Can we call it
something else while we have it?" And we say "Of course you
Digger: You can call it
whatever you like while you've hired it!
Digger: What a strange request.
Why are campers
such a big thing in so many people’s lives, younger and older?
theory from talking
to the people is that it goes back to a better era. It goes
back to a time when everything was simple. Not only maintaining
and keeping them, but most people know somebody who at one time
has had one or have been away in one. And you get
people who say "God, the last time I was in this was back in
1969. My dad was taking us away to Weymouth for a weekend and
it broke down on the A37." They all have little stories to
tell and some even go too far and say "I was conceived in one
Digger: I wondered if you'd
mention the 'c' word! (Both laugh)
Terry: But everyone has a
little story and there's a great deal of pride in this. An
interesting fact is that we do new ones - we just bought a
brand new one which was £47,000 with air conditioning, central
heating, power shower.
Digger: So this is a new one?
Terry: Yes, a European van,
not one of the Danburys which are the new 'old look' campers.
I have never successfully talked somebody into buying a
European who first enquired about a Vdub. Even if we had them
for the same money, I have never had someone say "Okay, we'll
have that European rather than the Vdub." There's that
loyalty, it has to be the Vdub, that's what they want, that's
what they're going to go away in. The kids get incredibly
excited about it. It's not unusual to see them turn up with a
Vdub T-Shirt they've bought online and the hats. It's a
whole 'let's get together as a family' thing and do something
totally unusual. The other thing we get comments on is
because one of our little sayings is 'Life in the slow lane' or
'Fun in the slow lane.' When you go away in these vans, we tend
to spend a fair amount of time going through how to work them
but also a fair amount of time to protect them so they're not
abused. Because they are old, they don't drive like a modern
vehicle. We say 50, 55 m.p.h. that's great. Have a stop. And as
a little welcome pack, we provide people with some cakes and
coffee and milk and tea and bits from the local village.
Digger: That's good.
say "Within an hour or an hour and a half of starting your
journey, just stop and let the van cool down a bit and you've
got all the bits there for it." And when they come back it's
wonderful to hear all the comments about how they pulled into
a famer's gateway, because they'll fit, and they went to play
in a field. And the mum and dad had the side door open and
watched what was going on. Something you would never do at 90
m.p.h. in the outside lane of the M5 trying to get to Torquay
as fast as you can.
Digger: It's the old A road
is. As much as possible we say don't go on the motorway. If you
have to, you will, but you will really enjoy it on the A and B
roads. They're not built for motorways at 70 m.p.h. for three
hours and they just overheat. But on the old A and B roads
they drive very well - the engine is very 'torquey', so you're
not changing gear so much. That sound from the old air-cooled
engine is very addictive.
Digger: And you get people
with great big grins on their faces.
Digger: Who are your customers, where are they coming from and
what sort of feedback and comments are you getting from
is no typical customer. We thought it was going to be a
load of youngsters going off to do the surf holidays at
Newquay and festivals but nothing could have been further from
the truth. They tend, in general, to be middle aged people
reliving their youth or the odd younger people who have a
passion for Vdub. They'll use them for weddings,
anniversaries, special treats. We have one coming up at the
moment where it's a secret - the man is dealing with it all
because his wife is a Vdub nut and she just loves them. He is
supposedly coming in here to collect something, but in fact they
have hired one of our Danburys for the week. He said she's
just going to go absolutely crazy. She couldn't think of
anything that would be better than to have a week in a Vdub.
Digger: Two weeks in a Vdub?!
do you most enjoy about running Bristol Camper Company?
meet some wonderful people. All we are is a catalyst, like a
good landlord. People come in, they want to go on holiday,
they're excited, they want to do something special. Our job
is to make sure we put the very best in front of them,
maintained so as it's not going to go wrong. We give them the
confidence in what they're doing because we spend a good hour
and a half showing them how these things work. We're very
lucky - we have a campsite on the farm here and lots of little
roadways privately on the farm that people can practice on.
The gear changes and the gear box is three miles behind you.
The people are very nice and appreciative because they've got
the confidence when they set off on the road. Gary is very
good and has travelled many of the routes we recommend so is
able to offer lots of in-depth insight into the best place to
stop or to pull over. Where there's a great coffee shop or
which pub has a good landlord who'll be pleased to see you and
a decent car park. So it's nice seeing people off on their
holidays and it's terrific when they come back with a big
this a very British thing?
We're getting a lot more people now from Australia and New
Zealand. We get a few of the Europeans because with the Euro
the way it is it's great value for money.
Digger: The people from
Europe and the US don't just have
to deal with the gear change but also it being on the 'wrong
it's surprising how easily they adapt to it. The gears are
small - if it was a great big European thing it would be
difficult. But with an old Vdub, it's relatively easy to be on
'the wrong side' as far as they're concerned. We jump into
different vehicles all the time but you have to be aware from
a customer's point of view that it's something different for
them. It's important that they understand what they do. Each
vehicle has a very simple instruction book that is done with
pictures, so there's a pictorial guide and little arrows
showing everything that we've told them. So that when they get
to stop for their first time and they've forgotten everything
we told them they can just very quietly, while having their
first cup of tea, go through the book and make sure they're
doing everything they should.
Digger: It doesn't want to be
a trial or a test, does it?
at all. No, it should be a great big grin from the moment you
get here until the moment you get back.
Digger: What's the Dr Who
red Ruby II which is a Danbury converted in 2007...
Digger: Is it because of your
proximity to Wales where they're filming?
They wanted a VW to feature in one of the episodes and liked
the look of her and decided that would do the job. We had our
other Vdub on The Gadget Show when they were doing an episode
on retro camping as opposed to modern camping. They tend to go
out doing lots of interesting things.
enjoyed the programme where Martin Dorey was travelling around
the UK in a Vdub and cooking locally sourced food as he went.
that was good.
What are your other retro passions Terry?
both live and breath old Jags.
used to pass a posh house in the country that had a his and
hers pair of E-Types. Lovely!
just sold an E-Type funnily enough. We bought two and were
going to hire them out and we decided not to in the end. So
with Gary and his tie-in with Ace Face Clothing and the older
type of clothing, the old scooters and the Mod revival thing.
you ever get to those events?
travels round an awful lot and gets invited to a lot of places
because of the connection with the bands.
promote quite a few revival Mod bands on the site as well as
having a lot of interviews with the original Mods like The
Small Faces, The Who and so on.
What would you say makes Bristol Camper Company special?
Terry: I think it's a wide
thing and not just one particular thing. Because of our
location, we're right on the doorstep to Devon and Cornwall.
Digger: Yes, a good location.
And close to Wales.
Terry: If you drive to us
we're able to park your car for free. If you want to spend
your first night with us we can put you on the campsite for
Digger: And you provide that
Terry: Yes, you get the goody
hamper. A lot of our passion comes out in advice and counts
for a lot. Not just how to drive it but places to go and
little tips about where to go and things to look out for and
to see. We tend to, where we can, give their car a little
clean so that it looks very pretty when they come to get it
back. We're passionate, obviously and it goes without saying,
about all of our vehicles and all of them are checked over
vigorously before they go out and checked over rigorously when
they return to make sure there's no problem. And every month
we service them and our mechanic goes through them front to
Digger: You must get lots of
referrals and rebookings I would have thought?
this year it's been the best ever with that. We've got vans
going to Le Mans to the Grand Prix - these are people that
have hired before and had a great time. So I think it's the
whole thing of what we try to do from start to finish. Being
no spring chickens, we've learnt the hard way that to get on in
business you've got to be friendly but you've got to be
professional. You have to go the extra mile to make it work.
Digger: As customers we just
want to be treated as well as we would treat others. Some
businesses don't seem to get it right.
vital. These are forty year old vehicles. We had a client burn
the clutch out. So we had another Vdub loaded on the back of a
trailer and drove the 270 miles to where she was, dropped that
off for her and brought the other one back and put a new
clutch in it. She was happy to use the one she had but in two
days she'd done the clutch in that as well and we fixed it all
at our own expense. We just thought it was part of what we
needed to do - to keep them mobile in something that they
wanted to do.
Digger: Impressive Terry.
was a day to us and a lot of money but we kept them on the
road, they were able to do the festival and come back to us.
Digger: Maybe it was the
manual gearbox that threw them. Were they American?
Digger: They're not used to
that could have been it.
Where do you see the future for Bristol Camper Company?
Interestingly enough, we just had a day or two talking about
the future. Last year was our best year, this year looks to be
good - I'm not sure if it will be as good as last year. But
bearing in mind the economic climate as it is, we've just got a
couple of T25s that you can pick up for half the price of a
type 2. And these are something that we are now putting on the
road as a cheaper form of hire. We've also got an older type
of Transit which is absolutely, spectacularly immaculate. We've got those because I think there may be people out there
who can't quite afford it, whilst we're competitive with our
pricing, it doesn't matter if our price is £600 and you've
only got £300. So we've got those vehicles now in place to
have another facet to the business which is a little less
costly and for the people that are happy to do that.
Digger: There will be people
that need that.
we're doing works very well and I'm confident that it will
continue to do so, no matter what happens. The moment you look
on the M4 and all you see is cycles going up and down is the
day we are in trouble but until that happens...
Digger: Well, your vans are
riding the economic highway very well. Thanks Terry.
Thanks David. That's great.
Digger: Take care.