Sussex Special Edition - A Brief History

January 2014. Whilst refitting our shop and offices, the following article was discovered.  Written by Martin in 2010, we thought it might interest you.

 

Sussex Special Editions – A Brief History

In December 1997 Elddis Caravans agreed to build a ‘one-off’ caravan for a customer of ours using a ’98 model Typhoon GT body shell/layout but in a Typhoon Vogue colour scheme and specification. The deal was struck and the order placed but a couple of months later Elddis did a ‘U’ turn and changed their minds as the after Christmas seasonal upturn in business suddenly made their December decision less viable.

We at Sussex were (understandably, I think) not happy at all, having made a commitment to our customer and a rather colourful debate ensued between dealer (us) and manufacturer (Elddis). An agreement was reached that Elddis would build the caravan after all but only if rather than build one, they could build ten (gulp!) In return, they would increase the specification with more features such as a better oven, TV aerials etc and then badge the new model exclusively for Sussex Caravan Centre as a ‘Vogue GT’.

So successful initially, Brian and I quickly decided to order ten two-berth end washrooms. This would be the Hurricane Vogue GT making twenty specials in total and so, quite by accident, our first limited editions were born.

These models were so popular that Elddis having promised exclusivity, made their own version for all the dealers called ‘Knightsbridge 470/2' and '520/4’ but with exterior in burgundy rather than the green of the exclusive Vogue GT!

Due to the overwhelming customer reaction to those first Hurricane and Typhoon Vogue GTs it was an easy decision to want to carry on with a unique product. Elddis promised us a larger input as to what we could do which was all very exciting as well as extremely good fun – imagine, we were now able to build our very ‘own’ caravan!

We felt a range of names would be needed and after much deliberation, Sussex village names were decided upon. The Hurricane Vogue GT became the ‘Chiltington’ and the Typhoon Vogue GT became the ‘Ashington’, both names still used today. Even though we are using a different manufacturer we have retained the names, something I don’t think has ever been done before.

Our idea was to build an exclusive caravan using the best of what was available at the time, including the highest quality soft furnishings - all at a value for money price. We felt that if these caravans lasted better they would retain a much higher residual value (a 2000 model Chiltington, for example, is still worth 50% of its original new price!) How many other models in the whole industry can boast that?

Our customers ‘cost to change’ would be reduced allowing them to change more frequently enabling Sussex Caravan Centre to generate the good stock of used specials editions.

Over the years, our research has shown that every new special edition will be sold on average between 3 or 4 times in its lifespan by ourselves! When, for example, we choose a fabric today it is very important that it is still looks good in 3, 5, 10 or even 20 years time that’s why all our upholstery choices have been from top quality material. To prove this point, in 2009 Coachman were concerned by our choice of domestic style/quality upholstery due to cost. The following year Coachman asked our permission to use the same upholstery in their flagship 2010 Laser model!

The first few years saw numerous changes and different models using the valuable feedback from our customers and the experience gained by ourselves to produce a well-respected and sought-after ‘Sussex’ brand. 2003 was when the GT version was introduced using a unique body shell only used by Sussex Caravan Centre. The chassis number even included a unique SU prefix as a model in its own right. This was the last time any manufacturer was to do this for anyone.

After the initial batch, Elddis (after an unexpected upturn in the market) cancelled all further orders declaring that a standard model could be produced at twice the speed and at more profit than the now very limited Sussex edition.

Relations at that time became quite strained between dealer and manufacturer but as Elddis were still producing (in our opinion) the best quality and value-for-money product, a compromise was reached enabling us to use the all new Odyssey model as a basis for the 2004/5 Sussex GTX range. Carrying over the colour schemes from the 2003 GT, the GTX was and still is in secondhand guise a fantastic caravan.

Other dealers were producing special edition ranges such as the Abbey Expression based on a basic model but with lots of extras fitted. The Sussex brand was unusual in that we used a luxury model to produce a top of the range special edition and has now established itself as a respected and much sought after premier product, both as new and secondhand.

A dramatic change of thinking at Elddis saw our last special edition in 2007 - the GTS. Complete with dark tint windows and dark navy upholstery, the black and gold exterior produced one of the most striking caravans ever produced. At the time we were a bit worried at the launch of this bold new look, concerned about a ‘love it’ or hate it’ reaction. Unfortunately very early on we learnt that when producing a unique product you can’t please everyone all of the time. We all have different tastes however we pride ourselves on the fact that our caravan colour schemes have always blended well together and are sympathetic to all fixtures and fittings. Even today, we find it incredulous that some manufacturers are able, with the aid of expensive designers, to design an interior that is a completely different colour and incompatible to the exterior!

Back to the 2007 launch and we needn’t have worried. The eagerly awaited first reactions were once again overwhelming with the Sussex GTS becoming the most successful ever produced. Even today, whether on the road or on site, I still think this is one of the best looking caravans around.

Incredibly, for the 2008 season, Elddis withdrew from building special editions believing the standard model line-up was good enough to stand up to any of the caravans available on the market. Even more incredibly, we went along with their strategy even though we had our reservations.

It quickly became apparent in 2008 due to our customers’ strong reaction, that we and Elddis had made a serious mistake so we decided to seek another manufacturer. It was at this point I think we realised how much the industry itself respected our special editions. Coachman, Lunar and Swift were prepared to build Sussex specials, Bailey wanted us to sell their products, Avondale and Fleetwood were both financially compromised and therefore off our radar. Elddis by now realising their mistake, made it clear they would build Sussex specials again.

Now, faced with complete choice we visited our two favoured manufacturers, Coachman and Lunar, both of whom had gone through management ‘buy-outs’ in recent years. This was a difficult choice as both offered different benefits. The Coachman decision was made mainly on the basis of (from our factory visit) the Coachman being the best built caravan in the marketplace, by far.

The 2009 partnership between Coachman and Sussex has been a complete success. Every department at our dealership has been very impressed with the manufacturer whether it be delivery driver, technicians, sales, valeting department, administration or aftersales. We believe (assuming things stay the same) we will have a long and happy future with Coachman. However the penalty for having the best built caravan on the market with our specification is that they are a little more expensive and slightly heavier than our rivals; there is a price for quality. The cost is less important as the Coachmans are still fantastic value for money, but not everyone can tow their preferred model.

In January 2010 with the opening of the ‘East’ branch of Sussex Caravan Centre it was an easy decision to move Elddis caravans to the new site (along with Coachman). At Ashington we then approached Lunar caravans to build us a lightweight, but still luxury special edition to sit alongside the Sussex Coachmans. Our initial opinions of Lunar are very good and the two different special edition ranges complement each other perfectly.

For the future, well who knows but it will be up to our customers to let us know what they want. We will continue to offer the best products at the best prices with the quality of service our customers have come to expect. The manufacturers have told us that we have one of the best dealerships in the country, but we are aware we can always do better and will continue to strive to do so.

So what about maybe a special edition motorhome? How about for example, a 10 year water ingress guarantee? Or even a return to Elddis special editions at the all new Sussex Caravan Centre East? Any other ideas - let us know what you think.

Martin O’Neill

(don't forget, this was written back in 2010)

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