When we started more than 15 years ago there were around 50 converters in the UK. Now many companies build camper vans and the last 5 years have seen an explosion of new conversion companies with over 500 at the last count. But how many of them actually know the industry? At Wellhouse we use what we sell and have been campervanners, motorhomers and caravanners since we were kids, as have many of our staff. Not only do we build campers but we also understand our customers’ lifestyles and why they want a camper.
My earliest recollection of childhood happened to be with a motorhome so I suppose I was destined for motorhomes in later life. It was 1974 and I was seated at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower having an ice cream at the side of my dad’s Austin Paralaium motorhome which did 40mph flat out. That’s as far back as I can remember and as a 2 ½ year old it was in a Motorhome. Over the next few years we had various camper vans such as Commers and Ford Thames.
I remember as a kid those Fridays and the anticipation of coming home from school knowing we were going away for the weekend, normally to the east coast and camping in a layby just before Bridlington. It’s no coincidence now that I get people in their 30’s 40’s and 50’s telling me “we had great family times as kids camping” and wanting a campervan to replicate the good times they had.
In the late 70’s my dad went self-employed so that put paid to family holidays for a while but those early days of family camping were to stay with us forever.
Even my first drive on UK roads was in a camper; one second past midnight on my 17th birthday and off I went in a Autosleeper Sherpa Camper. Since then I have owned many classic campers and we currently have a 1972 Westfalia Continental VW which we are restoring so I suppose you can say it’s in the blood!
Fast forward to around 1995 and a change in career from selling cars saw my dad and I set up Deepcar Motorhomes where we were buying, selling and renovating older campers, mainly part exchanges from the big UK motorhomes.
We did this until around 1998 when I met a German guy called Dirk Opperman and his partner Ines Koch. Dirk and I teamed up to form Deepcar Motorhomes International and we went on to import over 400 Hymer and Westfalia motorhomes from Germany. It involved many 3am starts over the years, back and forth to Germany importing motorhomes and campervans. As well as the Hymers we imported many VW Westfalia vans from Germany and the quality of the German-built conversions was to leave a lasting effect. We knew back in the late 1990’s there was a gap in the UK market for a quality base van with all the extras as standard with a quality conversion to match.
DMI, as it was known, went on to be one of the best-known importers for quality and aftersales in the UK. I sold my shares at the end of 2002 when my dad decided to sell up and semi-retire.
We set Wellhouse Leisure up at the end of 2002. The actual day we started from Shepley was a cold March morning, 3nd March 2003, when Carl, who had joined me from DMI, and I opened the doors of the workshops, an empty shell with no running water, and we thought: “Do we know what we are doing ?”
Originally Wellhouse was going to do Euro imports and imports from the USA and continue to import Hymer and Westfalia from Germany. We didn’t actually start with the intention of converting campers. We had also started to import some unknown vans from Japan called a “Mazda Bongo”; at the time no one knew what the Bongo was and apart from a few backstreet car dealers selling them, no-one was bringing them in and doing proper conversions.
Many companies import from Japan but the majority don’t actually visit. In November 2018 I will make my 12th visit to Japan. We have a fantastic relationship with our buyers in Japan and they never e-mail to tell us “we have bought you a cheap van”; they don’t buy cheap vans, they buy nice vans and that is where the differences start. We would rather pay more money for a better van and sell it for more as long term it’s the best way.
We have dealt with the same people in Japan for over 15 years and they understand our needs implicitly, and a couple of the lads in Japan are campers themselves.
From 2003, over the next 5 years we sold in excess of 350 Mazda Bongos and quickly became known for quality and craftsmanship in our conversions. We were featured in many magazine test reports for what we did.
Around late 2005 we knew the Mazda Bongos were drying up in Japan and although still available, they were not of the quality that would enable us to keep a good reputation, so we started to import the Toyota Granvia followed by the Toyota Regius. Around this time we formed a partnership with the German company Reimo, probably the biggest company in Europe for camper roofs and parts, and they did all the design and development work for the Granvia and Regius roofs. At the time of writing we have now sold and converted over 700 Granvia and Regius vans and although the early models are now 20+years old they are still going strong with many customers having them for 10 years plus.
As the Granvia and Regius models dried up in Japan we started to work on the next model which was the Toyota Alphard. We have now been building the Alphard since around 2013 and we then added the Honda Elysion and Mitsubishi Delica to the Japanese model line-up. As the world starts to turn against diesels and with all the Japanese imports been petrol, we see a long future and a few more trips to Japan.
In 2010 we started to work with Hyundai UK and we still build the Hyundai i800 “i-Camper” as it is now known to this day. The Hyundai is one of the base vehicles that has not changed much but we see that as a good thing. In late 2018 the new version of the Hyundai is due out and we will be converting this model as well. We won quite a few awards in 2011 and 2012 with the Hyundai camper and even in 2018, it came second in its class at the caravan and motorhome club awards.
When we started to work with Ford back in 2013 none of us knew just how big it was going to be. Now, at the time of writing this, we have converted well over 700 of them and the production target for the 2019 season will be 200. The Ford Terrier is now on Version 3 and in 2018 Ford launched the all-new facelift model, so the Terrier has many years left and just goes from strength to strength. The Terrier was campervan of the year in 2014 and has won many more awards since.
Toyota GB approached us and asked us if we wanted to convert the all new Toyota Proace. The Proace launched late 2017 and won the Camper of the Year award for 2018. The Proaces are now available via the Toyota UK dealer network and ourselves.
Many of the staff at Wellhouse have been with us for a long time and we have a mixture of experience and youth. But we still retain the traditional hand-built way of building campers and we pride ourselves on well-made vans. One way to tell how well a camper is made is to have a drive in a fully-built van on some bumpy roads and you will know what we mean. All our vans have an in-depth build record of which our major car manufacturers would be proud, and your vehicle is finished off with a plaque with the builder’s name on it.
Accreditations can sometimes not be worth the paper on which they are written, but when it comes to safety and compliance we think they should be taken seriously.
ECWVA. This stands for European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval. This means that the vehicles have gone through an extensive process including seat crash-testing. Many people say “tested seat” but what does that mean? The seat might be tested but is it tested in the actual vehicle for which it is intended? We see this so many times where the seats fitted are tested on a test-bed system, not in a shell for the intended vehicle. To give you an idea, to get the full European testing done on a new model costs around £50,000
ISO9001. This might be one people have heard of. ISO 9001 is an accreditation standard that is used across the world. The ISO 9000 family of quality management systems standards is designed to help organisations ensure that they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders while meeting statutory and regulatory requirements related to a product or service. We are audited annually for the ISO accreditation.
NCC. National Caravan Council is our industry body and they test the camping part of the vehicle and make sure it’s built to meet current standards.
Ford QVM. Qualified Vehicle Modifier is a Ford accreditation where we have to adhere to a set of standards from Ford on how we build the campers. We are one of only two camper manufacturers in Europe to hold this accreditation and it is one of the reasons why we are allowed to sell the campers in Ford dealers.
We don’t get a too much time off but we use what we sell and have a 1972 Bay Window VW and a bigger coach-built motorhome. Also, some of our key staff have either caravans, folding campers or tents so we really do have an understanding for campervanning and camping.I know for a fact many of our competitors have never camped in the vehicles they build!
We are proud to be involved in local business forums to try and regenerate the local economy. We now work with the local council and government on various projects to create jobs and were also involved in a scheme to create apprentice openings for school leavers. We’re also involved with some local business forums and back in 2012, I was invited to a government meeting with the deputy PM and other ministers.
We consider ourselves privileged to have our own company and where possible we try to put something back. Over the last few years we have done marathons (yes, I know it’s hard to believe when you see me!).In 2008 I did my first marathon and went on to do over 40 marathons including twice doing 10 marathons in 10 days, and 7 marathons in 7 days. We have also organised two charity balls and in total, in the last 10 years, we have raised £50,000 for various charities.
As we know with Brexit everyone is in changing times. This could mean more holidays for people in the UK or it could mean making campers becomes more expensive, especially when like many we use parts from the EU. We know that in 2018 caravan sales are drastically down and motorhome and camper sales are up so the future is looking bright for campervans. And with more and more people using the compact campers as a daily car, we expect sales to keep increasing.
We also get asked a lot about future vehicles as in electric and hybrid and news on these is changing all the time. On new vans we know Ford will release the PHEV Ford custom, which is Petrol Electric Hybrid Vehicle, in 2019, which will be a 1.0 Eco boost engine with batteries. Other than this VW make the T6 with 2.0TSi petrol engines. Of the Japanese imports, all are petrol models so no diesel issues with the Japanese imports we currently do.
If you’re looking for a campervan be it from us or anyone else your about to spend a lot of money and we would advise visiting as many dealers and converters as possible before buying anything. Obviously, we say this with confidence that you will hopefully want to deal with us but if I had a pound for every time we had someone buy a van from someone that didn’t fit their needs and the words “it was cheap” were said I could retire!
I can assure you were not going to be the cheapest place you will visit but if your decision is based on quality, compliance, safety, craftsmanship and after sales then were confident were top of the list.
Last thing is we love to talk, websites, emails and social are great for information but it’s not the same as having a chat about campers and your requirements and by having a chat will give you a chat to understand our passion for what we do.
CEO & Founder of Wellhouse.
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