April 2014. 25 years ago, I was 25 years old. I was working at Storrington Cars & Caravans as a (senior!) salesman. I had a Sierra Cosworth company car (oh yes!) and was earning a reasonable salary. I was engaged to be married the following year and had wisely invested everything into a little house a few years earlier – property prices going up at that time quite dramatically. I was working hard, long hours but life was good.
Exactly 25 years ago, there was about to be a big change in my working life. Together with a work colleague we decided to start our own business. Some people thought we were mad – maybe we were. We both re-mortgaged the equity in our properties (we had no other money) and with a great deal of help from others and no help from some (namely Bank of Scotland, crushing people’s dreams department) on the 25th April 1989 we walked (had to give the Cosworth keys back you see) from one working life to another.
Looking back it was quite incredible that we managed to start our own business. We had virtually nothing other than a knowledge of and passion for the caravan industry and a determination to succeed. We had no equipment, very little money, we didn’t even have a caravan! What we did have however was support from a maverick Nat West Bank manager and fantastic help from our families - notably our wives (and wife to be) and parents. Both our Dads, both working blokes, provided a lot of free time even though in their own words they “couldn’t understand what the b****y hell we were doing!"
So there we have it - on 25th April 2014 Sussex Caravan Centre will be 25 years old. I will be 50. The path has not always been clear, with many obstacles on the way particularly in those early years but we have managed to stay on it.
There has been a tiny element (probably only 1%) of people that we have had to endure. We have had things stolen, been broken into, had people ‘have one over on us’, been taken advantage of - but then this is the same in any business, in any walk of life and probably the world over (remove soap box right now!) If someone asked me the best thing about the last 25 years I would say it’s been the people – the other 99%.
Over the years the people that have helped us have been fantastic. Our members of staff that have stayed with us as we have grown have been loyal and are part of the Sussex family. We were given the advice “do not employ family or friends” – we have done both! It’s worked – in fact it’s been great. Those that weren’t friends or family now are.
The people that have worked for our suppliers (again 99%) have been fabulous and many are now friends, both past and present. Our customers have been wonderful – again becoming friends of Sussex Caravan Centre. Not only by purchasing items but recommending us and sharing in the passion of their hobby. If I could spend my working days chatting to my customers, and friends, I would have the best job in the world.
Sussex Caravan Centre (established 1989) is today a real family business. Today I work with my sons, brother and friends. Today I like to believe Sussex Caravan Centre is better and stronger than ever, moving forward to the future.
I am proud that over 1000 of our Sussex Special Editions have been made over the years and I am proud of the many awards and achievements - the most recent being the Practical Caravan Magazine Gold Award for Customer Satisfaction (2014).
Half a dozen of my customers are actually my school teachers from the day. One recently said she felt part of Sussex Caravan Centre because she taught me so well – she did!
All the people that we have met in the last 25 years have in fact helped shape and are part of the Sussex Caravan Centre family – now ‘Centres’ as we have our friends at the East branch.
From me, thank you all for your continued support and here’s to the next 25 years!