I’m sat in the customer café in CamperKing’s large showroom, an expansive site four miles north of Banbury, close to where the county borders of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire meet.
There are cosy red bucket seats surrounding tables and a line of four white leather bar stools lined up alongside the kitchenette. There’s a lot of red – and grey; it’s all part of the branding. And Union Jack cushions – unsurprising, as, but for the VW base vehicle, pretty much everything is made ‘in-house’ at this British campervan specialist.
Once upon a decade ago
CamperKing has its roots in the late Noughties, when it began as a very small, independent van converter. The business has since been bought by Spencer Grey and his family, whose vision for the company has seen it grow to the largest volume VW campervan manufacturer in the UK. CamperKing now produces more than 30 campervans per week, with capacity to create 1,000 vehicles per year. More than 100 employees work for the company.
In March 2020, days before the first national Covid-19 lockdown began, Spencer was offered his ideal location near Banbury for a new showroom, providing the opportunity for further expansion. Says Stuart Kidman, Marketing Manager for CamperKing, “Spencer had the deeds to the property in his hands, and, sat with the company’s General Manager, questioned whether to sign contracts or not just days before lockdown.” They did, and have not looked back since, with a bustling, airy showroom and an ever-extending area outside for handing over the keys to customers of its 25-strong fleet of rental vans.
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Maker, not converter
CamperKing positions itself as a manufacturer rather than a converter. Little wonder, for, rather than buying in ready-made components from other companies and fitting them together, CamperKing creates everything bar the gas bottle and the barbecue (which you might want to buy in the retail area above the showroom).
Says Stuart, “Our workshop is based in nearby Kineton, where we have a large team of crafts people making the interior furniture and fittings. We also make our own pop-up roof, to our own design, rather than buy in pre-made stock from other manufacturers. The family also part-own an upholstery business in Staffordshire, so all the furnishings are beautifully handmade and stitched there, to the customer’s specification. And, if a customer wishes to have anything custom designed on the exterior, such as a two-tone paint finish or a non-standard VW colour, we have a bodyshop across county, in Bidford-on-Avon. We can also make suspension alterations and add rails, too.”
End-to-end experience – hire and reward
Buying and owning a campervan is meant to be an exciting experience, aided by excellent customer service.
At CamperKing, any campervan developed for customers will be based upon a brand-new long-or short-wheelbase VW T6.1 with a choice of tailgate or barn doors dependent on the vehicle. However, if customers have already bought a secondhand van ready for conversion, it’s possible to make a CamperKing conversion on pre-owned T5 and T6 VWs, with the odd alteration.
“It may be that the first experience a customer has of CamperKing is by renting one of our own-brand campervans. We currently have a fleet of 25 vehicles, with plans to extend that to 50 by 2022, which we believe will make it the largest campervan rental fleet in the UK”, says Stuart
“We offer a Try Before You Buy scheme, so rental customers can receive the cost of hire back from the cost of buying a new campervan should they then go on to buy one.
“When a customer comes to collect their new campervan, we make quite an occasion of it.
We have a dedicated ‘Departure Lounge’ within the showroom.
“The customers’ gleaming new vehicle is there waiting for them, we provide a full practical and ceremonial handover before waving them off on their first adventures.”
Beyond that, CamperKing offers MOT and servicing on the base vehicles, warranty work and, for the interior, a full habitation check. For customers that return the vehicle each year for this service, it’s possible to have a full lifetime warranty on the campervan conversion.
“But it’s more than simply about the vehicle,” says Stuart. “It’s about the lifestyle and we want to be there for our customers throughout their time with a CamperKing van. That’s where Club CamperKing comes in. Each member receives discounts in the showroom shop (where all kinds of accessories are on display, including driveaway awnings and tents, barbecues, camping equipment and all things to make campervanning easy and more fun), plus discounts on other gear, and discounts on the first year of membership with The Caravan and Motorhome Club.
We have a really active Club CamperKing Facebook group, with lively chat about where customers have been, what they’re doing, and what upgrades they’ve had. Plus, the club organises rallies and meet-ups for owners, including one planned for May 2022, in Brittany, northwest France.”
The configuration lounge
Perhaps the most exciting area within CamperKing’s showroom is the Configuration Lounge. Here, having looked at the five available layouts that CamperKing offer, dotted around the showroom, customers put together their ideal van. It’s an inspiring space – all glass and mirrors, with comfortable sofas and mood boards to mix and match. Pick out your furniture colour scheme, match it to your worktop design plus your flooring material and then choose your upholstery fabric, whether zingy hot colours and easy wipe-down cloth or hand-stitched leather. Then, go into detail and determine diamond lozenge stitching in contrasting thread or something else – checks, maybe, or stripes.
Finally, choose your wheels – because there are plenty of designs from which to select.
Says Stuart, “We can offer as much or as little choice as a customer would like. If they’re undecided as to their needs, we can recommend VW base vehicle options and one of our five layouts that have subtle differences; these we have identified over time as being the most preferred by existing customers. Then we can help with specification and go through the options in detail.”
While CamperKing’s HQ in north Oxfordshire is the main location from which to take a leisurely look at the five layouts on display, there are also 17 geographically spread dealerships across the UK. Three of these have a Configuration Lounge where you can select your options in the same way as you can at HQ. Otherwise, there is a mix-and-match configurator online. There’s always a selection of pre-owned CamperKing vans on the forecourt, too, where customers have part-exchanged a van for something new.