Editor Victoria Galligan spoke to Willerby product managers Rob Lawrence and Phil Parks about the success of the company, and its new-for-2019 models…
Based in Hull and employing more than 1,000 people, Willerby recently announced year-on-year sales growth of 12.7%. Here, the product managers explain what goes on behind-the-scenes at the firm’s innovation division, and why the brand is (after 70 years) the UK’s largest manufacturer of holiday homes and lodges.
Willerby – the brand
Phil works on bespoke models, park homes and modular holiday lodges which include luxury leisure versions. He worked on the “Hobbit Houses” which Willerby produced for Alton Towers’ Enchanted Village.
So, what makes Willerby models such a hit with customers – is it all about offering the highest specifications?
Rob, who comes from a background in the furniture industry before joining Willerby last autumn, says, “Willerby has always had a great reputation for providing quality holiday homes, and as the largest manufacturer of holiday homes in the UK the company has invested a lot in new technology in order to maintain our high standards. People recognise a quality product when they look at Willerby homes.”
Phil added, “We don’t design purely on specifications – although we do like to match or beat our competitors on this where possible, instead, we aim to produce the most affordable homes for our customers.
“We work out what to deliver to our customers by asking them via social media, speaking to dealers at trade shows and speaking to customers at shows and via the Willerby Owners Club who offer us fantastic feedback and insight. We ask them what they want and why they want it, before the design and production stages.
“Of course we also look at market trends and visit housing associations, kitchen manufacturers and find out what the public want in a home.”
Acting on feedback
Some examples of Willerby acting on customer feedback include the pet-friendly “Simply Pawsome” package – which can be added on to holiday homes to provide a dog pen, stable door and outside tap – as well as the Oslo wall system in the Juniper Lodge which are durable enough to hold wallpaper and bear up to 40kg of load on a single hook all created due to customer demand.
Phil adds, “This year we’ve revised the Clearwater model, which is our best-value and best-selling lodge, so it was a big deal for us to make changes to.
“However, we’ve made a lot of improvements by listening to feedback, looking at trends, and enhancing the space, the price and the specs, making it arguably our best-value holiday home.”
The Avonmore holiday home has also had an update this year, including an innovative new sofa with built in storage for iPads and phones – plus handy USB plugs. Rob says, “All of our models are TV ready and we’re looking at adding Smart TV fittings to more models.”
Rob says customers are always on the lookout for more storage in their holiday homes, adding, “It’s a big thing; our new Linwood entry-level holiday home has extra hidden storage in the lounge, kitchen and wardrobes. It was a design challenge as we’re constrained by size but we have managed to find significantly more space by making a few small additions throughout.
“We also surveyed customers to find out where they spend the most time in their holiday home and, not surprisingly, they said the lounge. But when we asked where they would rather invest the most money in, the kitchen was considered the most important room in the home. That’s why we’ve made the kitchen bigger and included branded kitchen appliances such as Hotpoint microwaves.”
Excitingly, the new Waverley model is the first Willerby holiday home to feature a kitchen island. The Waverley, which launched at The Lawns show, offers luxury touches such as black light fittings, touches of copper and sky pink tones in the upholstery.
Robs commented, “It’s very stylish, with a really nice seating area and a window seat in the bedroom which we hope are modern touches that will appeal to a modern day customer.”
It’s all in the build
Willerby is all about creating the home-from-home experience – and Rob says this has influenced the new Integritas Wall SystemTM which will feature on mid-range models like the Avonmore and upwards as part of Willerby’s Simply Better Build range. He explains, “We’re removing the knock-in beads, and replacing them with a bonded wall system. Not only does this look nicer, and remove the beams to give a smoother look, but it actually makes the walls stronger by 70%.
“Since launching, the response to the Simply Better Build concept has been really positive as the changes that we have made aims to make our holiday homes look and feel as much like the customers’ own homes as possible.”
Meanwhile, as Willerby launch their luxury lodges later this autumn – the Rowan and Acorn – Phil is confident that the design which has gone into the homes will ensure they prove popular. The Rowan is the latest addition to the premium Botanical range; tastefully designed and appointed with an abundance of natural light allowed through its feature windows. The Acorn represents the best value for money at its price point, featuring bi-fold doors and engineered flooring as standard.
The luxury lodges are made as twin units, using Glulam (glue-laminated) beams, which fit together easily onsite after leaving the 90-acre Willerby headquarters.
Phil adds, “The beams create a strong lodge, which is going to last a long time, something which we know is important to our customers, who want to be confident they have the highest quality holiday home on the market.”
Changes in innovation
Phil agrees that the face of the caravan park industry has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. He commented, “We have to move with the times: customers want the latest colours, specs and the best technology. They want Bluetooth connectivity and in some cases our homes are better than what house builders are offering.”
In addition to the park models, Willerby’s modular buildings serve the leisure, housing and student and workers’ sectors. It’s no wonder that people are keen to make Willerby homes their permanent residence.
Phil adds, “We live in an ageing population and catering for this market is becoming increasingly important. Some people have built up retirement funds and want to spend time at a holiday base, and some want to sell their houses after the kids have left home and move into park homes which become their postcode. With this in mind, it’s crucial to keep this at the fore when designing new models to ensure that features are friendly to this age-group.”
On launching the revised Clearwater model and the luxury lodges at shows this autumn, Phil says he was like “a proud father” when the designs which he and the Willerby team worked for so long and so hard on came to fruition. He adds, “We knew the public would like them because we’ve done our research – we’re not guessing.”
And it’s exactly this use of feedback which make Willerby such a successful brand.
Key features of new Willerby models:
• The Linwood
White PVCu double glazed windows and doors
2 - 4 bedrooms
Gas powered water heater
• The Avonmore (upgraded for 2019)
Simply Better Build
Integritas Wall System™
Double sliding patio doors
2 - 3 beds
• The Sheraton (upgraded for 2019)
Cashmere coloured furnishings
Available in 42 x 14 Sheraton Elite
• The Waverley
Upgraded fully galvanised chassis
‘Environmental Green’ exterior and window frames
2 - 3 bedrooms
Hanging cage lighting in bedroom
Residential Park Homes:
• The Charnwood
Feature inset windows to enhance natural light
• The Hazlewood
Feature bay windows
Luxury finishes eg textured wallpaper available
Magnet kitchen upgrade available
Oslo Wall System™
Mirrored dressing area
Bi-fold doors available
3 - 4 bedrooms
• Clearwater (upgraded for 2019)
Entry level lodge
2 - 3 bedrooms
* For bespoke pricing details, contact Willerby.