A back story, painting a picture, setting the scene etc etc.
Hello everyone, my name is Phil and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Just to show you where my perspective, and opinions, are coming from I’d like to explain my history within the motorhome and caravan leisure industry. About 9 years ago I was asked by a friend to become his manager and help run TOWtal. As all roads did not lead to Rome in my current situation I decided to ignore advice, disregard common sense, shun all warnings and just go for it. To cut a long story short this has led to the successful building of TOWtal and the introduction of 4 new distribution companies, all experiencing success and profitability within their sectors.
In the beginning, there was darkness……….
As TOWtal grew, and we got a team of staff that improved us as a company, we decided we had the setup to expand into the market. Our original idea was to bring new product to the market for TOWtal to offer out for its customer base. This thought led us to a painful number of motorhome and caravan shows across Europe and (coincidentally) a tour of the lowest standard hotels on offer across the continent! It was at the Caravan Salon Düsseldorf where we focused our attentions and we contacted a host of companies, with a range of products that we felt could impact the market. I won’t lie, after 2-3 years of no notable response, the enthusiasm for this adventure began to waver. With TOWtal and the size of the companies looking for product at the show, we felt somewhat like we’d brought a sword to a gunfight. Then we saw MA-VE…….
From small beginnings come great things
When we spotted MA-VE in 2014 we saw an Automatic Levelling System for motorhomes that ticked all the boxes: quality, warranty, ease of use, reliability and costings. The system was in a development stage but we knew we had a product for a market that was dominated almost entirely by one brand. Our original plan was to share market and offer an alternative, but this all changed in the years to come. It wasn’t until 2016 that we finally got to the manufacturers in Italy and San Marino, so if I can offer any advice here it’s to not give up in something you see potential in. During this time we did research into the market, contacted potential customers and did our research on other systems. At the end of this stage we’d built up a good product knowledge and had been in enough chat forums to know what the end users wanted. This process is painfully slow, but invaluable when coming to market. Our original game plan had evolved and we realised that we couldn’t import through TOWtal, as we couldn’t market the systems fairly at trade shows with one agent so heavily favoured. We wanted our fitting centres to be independent specialist accessory fitters, not dealerships. The reason for this was to offer complete market exposure as some dealerships will not send their vehicles for fitting at competitors (this was discovered whist waiting 2 years for product). This however created the problem that as TOWtal, we wanted to distribute to OUR competitors! Needless to say, that did not sit well with those guys………MA-VE Distribution Ltd (MA-VE UK) was born December 2016 to combat this.
Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will
With the path we had taken we felt in a strong position to hit the market, the only small obstacle was that we didn’t ever really sell levelling systems at TOWtal! This, however, was of no consequence to us and we confidently announced the lofty dreams of 20 units per year. As a new project to the manufacturers this was fine, as they appreciated business takes time to build and our loyalty to their product had kept us in the good books. During all of this we had decided to ambitiously ask if we could distribute their fully automatic satellite systems, SR Mecatronic. Needless to say they did not jump at the chance to have their full product range distributed by an unknown quantity who had sold precisely zero units…………..but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I continued to ask for the satellite systems at every single meeting, like a child who won’t stop asking their parents for sweets, but often with the same response. We soft launched the product at the NEC motorhome and caravan show with TOWtal. This was possibly not the best approach but we lacked the confidence to market the system alone without an established brand next to it. We invited all potential fitting agents to look at the product and offered them the pricing and service. As current market leaders offered little support, tight margins, agents everywhere and an arrogance in their approach……we had put ourselves in a position to go the opposite way. We had total faith in the system, had accidentally become specialists with our acquired knowledge, decided we only wanted a handful of “authorised agents” fitting systems and offered good product margins at a cost to ourselves. This may seem madness but our theory was that the agents would push the product and advertise individually as it would be worth them doing so, this would in turn reduce our needs to advertise and they would hit bigger numbers. As we keep them all at an arms length in their own regions, we can all pull in the same direction rather than fight each other. They liked what they saw, they liked what they heard, they saw potential and our training began. A network was born. For our part we run the shows neutrally and push all leads to the relevant areas, so essentially they get a second show stand with no overheads.
The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying small stones
At this point we began to actually move product. Our lofty dream of 20 units had been surpassed within 3 months and we reinvested every penny from MA-VE UK back into advertising and stock, whilst TOWtal paid our wages. At this point we must have been noticed by the other guys, like a fly you just can’t swat. They decided to reduce their costings by £1000 per unit, thus presenting us with our opportunity. Not only did we have a better product (in our eyes) but they devalued their own and somewhat infuriated every customer who had recently paid top dollar. We marketed the system as the premium product it is, rather than underselling it as we had previously, and the sales went galactic. We will be market leaders this time next year and SR Mecatronic was offered to us and set up as SR Mecatronic Ltd (SR Mecatronic UK) in May 2017. We have since entered into partnership with one of the industries leading specialists as our Director of Sales and run the company along the same lines as MA-VE. Having just been offered the UK distribution rights to Linnepe we have our next project just around the corner and we all feel proud that we are now being approached for these projects, rather than being ignored for 2-3 years.
Be yourself; everyone else is taken
In summery my advice would be……
- Never give up
- Knowledge is power, know your product
- Listen to your customer, even if you don’t like what you hear
- Don’t be greedy, shared success is continued success
- Spot, and take, your opportunities
- Be yourself
Ultimately through all of this we are the same two friends who enjoy a beer and play FIFA. Our entire approach is based on who we are, as work is so much harder if you are pretending to be someone else every day. You don’t need to be a mirror image of your manufacturer to sell their products.