In the 15 years I have been attending the shows I have sold hundreds of caravans to show goers and have seen the pit falls first hand from all points of view.
So i'll go through these main questions,
- Can you really get a good deal at the show?
- Who is best to person buy from
- What do I need to look out for?
Im going to concentrate on caravans because that is what I sell, but pretty much everything I will go through will also apply to buying a motorhome as well, and if you want to know which one would suit you best, a caravan or a motor home, be sure to check out my blog on that very topic that I will link to at the end.
How does the show work?
So lets start with what the shows actually are and how they work. The caravan manufactures get together to show their products in one place and the October show is especially important to them because it’s the first major show of the season and it’s a good guide as to how the rest of the year will go..
But Its not just a show for the caravan companies, the supporting manufactures also attend, ALKO, Trauma, ALDE all the different awning manufactures and accessory suppliers, so it’s a great place to visit even if you’re not in the market for a caravan, there are lots of caravan sites both in the UK and abroad to get ideas for your next trip from and there’s even a great sausage stand..
But if you are looking to buy a caravan the sheer choice available to you as you walk through the halls can be mind boggling, then add in all the dealer specials and it gets really confusing, especially because all the different dealers will tell you theirs is the best, and I’ll talk about those later.
Tip number 1, do your homework.
Before you even step foot in the halls, do your research. This is so important because you can rule out loads of caravans that you don’t even have to bother looking at. Work out what layout you need and pretty much every manufacturer will have a version of it, so then all you have to do is look at a few caravans that are relevant to you rather than hundreds that aren’t. See my blog post on that very subject in the menu to the right.
I speak to hundreds of people who make it very difficult on themselves by not asking some basic questions before they go, like,
- Do I want a fixed bed?
- What weight can I tow?
- Where am I going to store the caravan?
So it is best to have at least an idea on the answers to these questions before you go because even if you don't think you are going to buy at the show, you may see something that you fall in love with, i'd say 40% of the people I deal with say they had no intention of buying at the show.
Tip 2, get a feel for the caravan.
So lets say you have narrowed it down to a few caravans that are right for you. What’s the next step? Well the next thing to do is get a feel for the caravan, on paper you may know what your ideal caravan is, but until you get a good look inside you won’t really know, I have seen this so many times when a customer is sure they have found the perfect caravan only to find that when the get in it, it just doesn’t feel right, it feels claustrophobic or the telly isn’t in the right place or the storage isn’t quite as they’d thought.
But the show is so huge, how can you save time buy not wandering about trying to find the caravan you want to look at? The main problem is the size of the place, the Swift Stand I work on is huge, it takes me about three days to work out where everything is so as a visitor wandering around looking for a particular layout it will be difficult to find the van you want without help.
So this is a good place to go into how the show works, as well as the caravan manufactures all the main dealers are also at the show and to give you an idea of how many, there are probably sixty sales people on the Swift stand alone. The salespeople, and I’m one of them, are there to sell caravans for the dealers they work for, they do not work for the manufacturer and are just there to sell caravans. I’ll go into who to buy from and why in a bit, but for now,
Tip 3, ask the right people.
If you’re not ready to talk to a dealer about buying just yet and you are just looking and refining your search, go to the main desk on the stand and ask one of the manufactures staff where a particular caravan is, they have a map of the stand and won’t try to sell you anything.
If you ask someone on the stand, the chances are they are a sales person and they will start qualifying you, this is fine if that’s what you want, but if you just want to look at something without being hassled then ask at the desk.
Now you’ve found the caravan you’re interested in so all you have to do is have a good look at it. This can be a problem in its self because depending on what day you go and what time it is, you may find it difficult to actually get in it because it is full of everyone else who also want to look at it.
There may not be anything you can do about this, but if you can go to the show for a couple of days then I’d advise getting there a bit later, or look around the side stands first leaving the looking at product until later in the day, because from around 2 o clock it gets quieter and you can get into the caravans that you want to see, the only down side to this is that there are lots of sales people hanging around looking for people to sell to so there might be a bit of a gauntlet to run.
Wednesday and Thursday are the best days to go as they are the quietest if the show is not on the half term, and Saturday is the busiest, so try to avoid that if you can.
Is the show the best place to get a deal?
So you’ve found the caravan you want to buy, is the show the best place to get a deal?
I hear this a lot, and to a certain extent it is, the manufactures put a lot of time into the shows and they want to maximise the impact they have.
Depending on how things are going they will put promotions on at the show that will run out at 6 o clock on Sunday to help us as dealers get customers to make a decision before they leave.
These are the genuine deals, The manufactures will not run these deals into the following week and we can’t offer them on top of what deals we are doing without their support.
It may be a free mover, cash off, a special finance deal or a cover depending on what’s going on, sometimes it’s a hold on a price increase to save the customer a few hundred pounds.
But these deals are over and above what the dealers can do. As a smaller dealer myself I do have to be a bit keener at the show on price than I normally would be at the forecourt, but not by much, a hundred pound here and there, but there are dealers that will knock vast amounts of money off and I’ve never really worked out why, but that’s good for you the customer? Isn’t it?
Tip 4, getting money off.
If you just want as much money off as possible then you just go around speaking to as many dealers as possible to get the keenest deal, you won’t make any friends, but if it’s all about getting as much money off as possible, then so what?
Also If you don’t want to make a decision at the show and you’re not worried about losing whatever deal the manufactures is doing then don’t believe anyone that says they won’t do a particular deal they are offering after the show. I personally would say such a thing but it is a tactic to get you to sign up there and then and for you not to turn into a be back or potentially lose you to another dealer in the show, i'll tell you what a be back is at the end.
But is it all about money?
But is the best deal all about how much money you can get off? when I qualify a customer I find out if they just want the most money off as they can get because I know I don’t want to compete at that level, so I point them in the direction of the bigger dealers who seem to be keen to sell a caravan at any cost.
But there are a few other factors to take into consideration that go a bit deeper than just pounds and pence, not that pence come into it very often.
So what am I talking about, surly the most important thing is getting as much money off as possible right?
Well, its not as simple as that. When you go to your local dealership, they are, well local, you know where the dealer is and you may have been there before or been recommended to them by someone else, the problem at the show is that there are hundreds of dealers from all over the country all trying to sell you a caravan. Some of these sales people may not be upfront about where they are from, I have heard time and time again that this was the last thing the customer checked or was told and I’ve even heard a customer say after they paid a deposit, so where have I got to come to pick my caravan up from?
So Tip number 4, and this is a big one, Find out where you are buying your caravan from.
It sounds simple but in a show environment its not always clear. Why is this important, well that £400 saving you just think you have made can disappear quickly when you have to do a 500 mile round trip just to pick the caravan up.
So Id always recommend buying local if you can, or as local as possible, this is difficult for me to say because i'm from Cornwall and I never seem to bump into my local customers, but due to how the dealer net work works, and I’ll get to in a sec, buying from a dealer that is miles away from where you live can be false economy. Its fine if nothing goes wrong but unfortunately that’s rare.
The warranty you get with the caravan is a back to base warranty, so if anything significant happens then it would mean another trip back to the dealer, and by then that £400 saving is a distant memory.
A wise man one said. Good service is remembered long after price is forgotten.
Also if the dealer is local then you can get a full appraisal of any part exchange you may have, it is very difficult for a customer to know if they have water ingress (see my blog on the subject) and I have heard many stories of customers getting to a far off dealership only to have their pat ex ‘chipped’ which means to be reduced in price due to un seen water ingress, be sure to check out my video on how to find water ingress without expensive equipment which you will find on my youtube channel.
So if the dealer can come and fully check your part exchange you know there won’t be any nasty surprises when you eventually pick up your new caravan. A service from a third party often isn’t enough, in my experience as finding water ingress can be a bit of a dark art and open to interpretation so don’t rely on it 100 %.
So why can’t you just take your new caravan to your local dealership for warranty, regardless of where you bought it from ?
A lot of customers believe that it’s the same as buying a car and they can take their caravan to any dealer and they have to do the work, but this is not the case.
The warranty is with the supplying dealer and your local dealer has no obligation to do any work, it is at their discretion.
And from a dealer’s point of view it is frustrating when a customer wants their support when something goes wrong when they didn’t support them by buying locally, just so they could save some money.
The reason dealers don’t want to do other dealers warranty is because normally their workshops are extremely busy looking after the customers that did buy from them.
Also a lot of the stuff the customers want doing is either small and not cost effective to claim for or not covered at all, so it ends up costing the non-supplying dealer time and money to do, which is fine if they sold the customer the caravan as there would be some profit in the caravan to allow for these things, (In theory)
I know this sounds a bit wingey but when a workshop is busy with customers that have bought from the dealer they don’t want to waste precious time with someone who in all likely hood may do the same thing next time and not buy a caravan from them.
But I think this is a bit of a short sighted view, if is say no to doing a customers warranty then there is no chance they will come back to buy a van from us at all, and in all likely hood they will also tell their friends not too as well, so I will look at each case individually and sometimes after explaining the situation the customer may even be happy to pay a small sur charge for all the stuff we can’t claim for, as it is still a lot cheaper that taking the van back to the original dealer, or we can do the small things at the time of the first service.
So this may sound a bit sneaky and I wasn’t sure if I should include this bit or not, but now you know the facts it may be a good litmus test to see if you have a trustworthy salesperson sat in front of you, ask the question,
Can I have any warranty done at my local dealer?
A trustworthy salesperson will obviously tell the truth, an even better one will have told you this before you even ask. If it’s a resounding yes, no problem, then you know this may not be the case.
We all have connections as dealers with other dealers but selling a caravan into another dealers area, them asking them to do the warranty, Is a bit cheeky, so it is not often done unless the two dealers have a really good relationship, but we all want to sell a caravan at the show, so it is a difficult and horrible question to get asked when you have spent an hour with a customer that you know may want to buy, and this could be the fly in the ointment.
I get this issue out of the way fairly soon into a conversation because if a customer has had the problem before they will know it is best to deal locally, and I don’t want to waste time with someone who will not buy from me, unless it dead quiet, then I don’t mind as it can be a long afternoon in the hall with no one to talk too.
NCC Approved workshops
The only way around the situation if you really don't want to deal locally, or you have a hard to beat deal or you just really trust the salesperson is to use an independent NCC approved workshop for your warranty work.
There is a network of workshops around the country that are independent from any franchise and will carry out warranty work for you as it is their main source of income. It is best if you find one that doesn't sell caravan as you will run into to the issues above.
Click Here to find your nearest one.
Who to buy from?
So who is the best dealer to buy from, well me obviously, but if I’m just too far away I suggest you research this before you go to the show, google is the best place to see what people are saying about dealerships, which might not seem fair on the larger ones because you certainly can’t please all the people all of the time, and the sheer numbers of people they deal with will means they will have haters, but you may get a general balance for how they perform, smaller dealers like myself may not be able to give the best deals, but have the advantage of the personal touch, if I sell you a caravan, I will be the one handing it over, and the person you call with a problem, so I have to be consistent.
Where as if you buy from a salesman who hands you onto a handover team, who hand you over to a warranty team, the initial connection is lost. But that’s not so say that there aren’t some large dealerships who get the balance just right, and they’re certainly out there.
So what if you really don’t want to deal with your local dealer, you may have had a bad experience with them and don’t trust them, or if you may find someone you want to buy from because they really impressed you, well it can work buying from a dealer that is not local. Maybe you know the area and have been there before so you don’t mind trip to pick it up.
Maybe, as I often get, you keep your caravan in they area that is local to that dealer, in that case where you live isn't the issue, its where the caravan is stored that could be the deciding factor.
A lot of dealers can offer a night or two at a local caravan site to break the journey up and to give you a chance to go through the caravan to make sure everything is okay before you tow the caravan away.
The biggest issue as I have mentioned before and is worth mentioning again is the warranty work. Your local dealer may get the hump if you don’t buy the caravan from them and not help you out, so be wary of that great deal, it may not end up being as good as it looks.
So they are probably the biggest tips I can give you about buying at the show but there is something else.. products...
Tip Number 5 know what Product you are looking at, and who is selling it..
Each manufacture will have a range of products, so the first thing to do is to decide on the layout that best suits you, then have a look at each manufacturer and decide what spec level you want because some layouts will be represented in all the spec levels.
This is mainly governed by how much you want to spend, nineteen thousand for the entry level version, or thirty five for the top of the range, again if you don’t want to spend top end money, you can rule out lots of caravans in one go and not waste time looking at them, but also at the show you will see dealer stands each with their own branded caravans on.
Now this is where it can get a bit confusing, a dealer special is a standard product that a dealer, mainly the large ones, have bought in quantity. Because they have committed to a large amount the manufactures allow them to call it something different to the standard product.
This is where it gets confusing because you will be looking at the Swift Freestyle, or the Swift Coastline or wherever the dealer has called it, and it will be a different price to the product on the main stand, but it will have some extras on it that the standard product won’t have.
So the dealer specials can be a better buy if you can see the value in the extras. Most of the Swift specials are based on the Sprite product and will have things like heavy duty corner steadies, different upholstery and decals, a BBQ point and external 240 socket, a service hatch to store stuff from the outside under the front bunks, a splash back behind the kitchen area and so on.
Some of these things can be added to the standard product such as the BBq point and 240 socket, but others can’t. So the dealer specials are a “levelled up product; so to speak from the standard Sprite caravan.
But this does come with a price, but they are generally worth more when you come to trade them in or sell them at a later date, so the extra cost is re cooped. And don’t forget, if you see a dealer special you like but the dealer is miles away from you, there may be a dealer closer to you that will do a similar product.
But if you can’t see the benefit of these extras or there is not one locally then with a few tweeks that the dealer can do, you are not far off the specials with the standard product anyway.
Time is precious at the show and it can be a long day, add in the stress of dealing with the crowds and the traffic jams getting in then having to makes a decision on a large purchase, you need to make the process as easy as possible, so I hope this information has gone a little way to achieving that.
So to summarise,
- Do your research before you go.. both on the caravan and the dealers you want to deal with.
- If you can, manage your time at the show to avoid the crowds.
- If its all about the money, asks several dealers what they will do, mainly the bigger ones,
- If you want service and back up, buy local.
So thanks for reading this blog, I will be at the show on the swift stand, but if you want to ask anything, please pop your question in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer it.
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What is a Be back..
When dealers are all talking later in the day about how the day has been, you’ll hear us say ‘I’ve got two be backs, or I haven’t even got any be backs’ This is what a customer says to us instead of ‘right thanks for that but I’m off and I’m never going to see you again,' it just a bit a bit blunt.
So they say, Okay, thanks for that, we’ll have a think and be back later’ at that point they turn into a be back, 98% of which we never see again, but until around half five we will be craning our necks in the faint hope that one of our be backs, actually comes back, it’s a lovely feeling to see a be back walk onto the stand, but then it’s a 50 50 chance that they have just come to say thanks for all you help, but they need to go home and measure the drive..
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