I had booked our caravan in for its annual service for Tuesday 8th at Glossop Caravans, the local main dealer that we bought our caravan from 3 years ago. Now, by chance after a couple of comments on Twitter and a brief conversation via email with Jonathan Robe, Glossop Caravan’s IT Manager, it was arranged for me to spend some time and follow our caravan through its annual service to see what goes on behind the scenes at a major dealer’s service centre.
Glossop Caravan’s service centre on the A57
Sue and I picked up the van from our storage site and drove the 11 miles to Glossop. Anyone that uses the A57 will know it can be a bit unpredictable traffic wise but the sun was shining and traffic was fairly light and we arrived around 7:45. We reversed the caravan into a parking spot and un-hitched. Sue was going to head back home and I’d spend some time with the guys at the service centre… trying not to get in the way too much.
The first person you generally meet is Trent. He’s a larger than life character who is a caravan service engineer that progressed from the workshop to the customer facing side of the business. Trent will help you un-hitch if required and then direct you inside to book your caravan in with one of the reception staff. Once booked in Trent will do a walk round your caravan with you and go through any items that might also need attention on the service.
Once you have signed the service paperwork and handed your keys over it’s not long before the bright orange tractor will appear from the side of the building to whisk your caravan off to one of the service bays.
Hooking up the tractor…
Watching your pride and joy disappear is always an apprehensive moment…!
A bit of background…
Glossop Caravans as we know it now was started in 1976 by two brothers on a small site at Brookfield on the outskirts of Glossop. In the early years they not only sold and serviced caravans but were also a major gas agent and for a while also involved in caravan hire. Over the next few years the main site a Brookfield expanded several times and now covers an area of just over 7 acres.
The main site was becoming increasingly busy and the number of day-to-day caravan movements – new van collections, customers collecting or arriving with vans for servicing or repair increased and a decision was made to move the service and repair centre to another location half a mile way, still on the A57. So in 2004 the new service centre at Woolley Bridge was opened.
In December 2009 Glossop Caravans had a major fire at their Brookfield site which destroyed a number of vans and some of the buildings. Rather than being a set back, it was seen as an opportunity to move forward and improve facilities and they bounced back from what could have been a major disaster for the company.
Today Glossop Caravans is still after 38 years a family run business. It now has four sites in Glossop and one in Oldham totalling over 11 acres. The company is still run by brothers Brian & Stan Laing.
Now the bit’s you don’t see…
It’s at this point you normally remove your tow mirrors, jump back in your vehicle and drive off and wait for the phone call. Well what happens when the tractor pulls your caravan round the corner out of sight?
Caravans ready to go in to the service bays…
I met up with Mike Pinder, Glossop Caravan’s Service Centre manager to find out. Mike joined Glossop Caravans as a young lad and has been with the company around 33 years and it’s probably fair to say he’s seen more caravans than we’ve had hot dinners. Mike invited me into his office and we chatted for I while. He ran through some of the details about the service centre. They currently employ nearly 30 staff who do around 1000 services annually, but this is only part of their work. As a fully approved workshop they also undertake a huge amount of repair work to caravan’s and motorhomes. I asked Mike what were the top problems that they come across on caravan services?
“The main one is batteries in smoke alarms. Usually they are missing or flat. We also find a lot of the floor vents (gas drops) blocked. Most usually it’s the ones in the cupboard under the oven. People put pans in there and cover the vent. It’s vitally important to keep all the vents clear to allow air to circulate and its very important the ones below gas appliances to allow gas to escape if there is a leak. The other one we see a lot of is to do with the tyres. Either tyres that are out of date or have signs of cracks on the inner walls.”
OK I have to admit my first ‘DOH’ – I took the battery out of ours at the end of the last trip to remind me to put a new one in before the service… and I forgot!
I asked Mike if there were any other common things they find and was rather surprised with what he said…
“Spiders webs…. for some reason spiders like to build webs across the gas burner jets and it usually results in either the burners not lighting or not burning correctly. If a customer says the fridge wont run on gas and they have a full gas bottle, it’s one of the first things we look for.”
Mike went through some of the things that were part of running the service centre. One of the most important ongoing items on the huge list is training. Every year there is a big commitment in training. It’s not only the financial side of sending staff on courses that can take them away from the workshop for up to five days at a time, but also planning the workshop jobs and covering for them while they are away… trust me there were some eye watering training invoices! The most common things you think of are making sure the workshop staff are fully up-to-date with the Gas and Electricity certificates, but also as manufacturers change and improve construction techniques, all the staff have to be trained to be able to work on and repair these to a high standard. As each manufacturer has differing construction and materials, there may be some overlaps, but in general each will have its own approved course or training scheme. Of course all the equipment that is installed in the caravan – water and space heaters , ovens etc all require that anyone working on them are fully trained by the manufacturer.
I asked what were the busiest times for servicing…
“March and April are usually fully booked and it remains very busy through to around the second week in September and it settles down then to a steady rate through to February and then we are back into full flow again”
When Mark said a steady rate it doesn’t mean the workshop is quiet as I was later to find out!
Even though Glossop Caravans have sophisticated workshop management software they still have a traditional big ‘Page A Day” desk diary and each service is entered into it. It is so easy for everyone to see the day’s workload, whats coming up and for the reception team easily check on availability when a customer phones to book their van in for a service. What amazed me having a very quick look at the diary was that it didn’t have just entries for the next couple of weeks but there were caravans booked weeks and months in advance.
Trent booking another customer in…
By now Mike seemed to have an endless queue of people waiting to see him and I’d taken up a lot of his morning. It was time for a coffee and to try to scribble some notes so I didn’t forget anything. I sat in reception and one of the ladies was soon enquiring if I’d like another coffee.
OK before you ask, no I didn’t follow John Coleman, the chap who was actually servicing our caravan round while he was doing the service. There is nothing more off-putting than have the owner trailing you round their van while you are working and what’s worse if you know the owner is going to write all about it! So I left him in peace to get on with it… although I do admit to keeping an eye on progress through the workshop window!
There is nothing more fascinating to me that wandering round workshops. I’m always interested in what tools people use, watching them do things, see how they work and asking questions… but obviously I can’t just go wandering round, after all this is a place of work and there are off course safety rules, so I waited until Mike had a break from a bit of a backlog that had built up from our earlier chat.
In the mean time John who was servicing our van came out with the service report. Now the first question I think any owner wants to know – was there any damp? I am happy to report that no damp was found. However he did have a couple of other things… The first was no battery in the smoke alarm (Ok I owned up to that earlier!) the second was the floor vent in the cupboard we had put a couple of pan on it… “DOH” Number 2! Next, The HEKI roof light struts were weak… they were checking to see if they had them in stock and would replace – I didn’t notice a problem with them! Next, Rubber pad missing to protect the glass lid on the cooker – good grief these guys pick up on everything. Next… The mod for the drop down TV hasn’t been done. They will put a claim into Swift and request the parts.
Now we have been having problems with the Omnivent fan… turn it on and sometimes it runs, sometimes it just goes to full speed but it always cuts out after about a minute or so. I had assumed that as it was over two years old it would be out of warranty and had even asked the question on Swift Talk but I thought I’d just mention it to John. Apparently it might be able to be done under warranty as there was an issue with some fan controllers, so He’s going to put a claim in to Swift and we will see what the response is. John disappeared to check on the Heki gas strut situation…. within a couple of minutes he was back waving two gas struts at me and said he’d go and fit them and then the caravan would be taken out of the workshop for cleaning.
OK so I got two “DOH’s” but at least we didn’t have a spider’s web in our gas burner jets! While I’m writing this, I’m still thinking about the gas struts on the roof light… seemed fine to me!
The ramp where our caravan had been a few minutes earlier…
OK on to the tour. Mike had cleared the decks and took me round the workshop. It doesn’t look big, but that is because there is a lot packed in there! In the far corner there is a spray booth that can accommodate two caravans or large motorhomes, the rest of the floor is taken up by caravans, most of the ones on the right hand side and at the far end are having repair work done. The areas directly in front of the bay doors are generally caravans or motorhomes that are having service work done, although the floor plan is flexible so things can be moved around as required.
Looking down the workshop from the stores area…
We climbed to the top of the steps that lead into the stores above the reception area. The shelves were packed with almost everything you could need. Thankfully a number of parts are common across ranges so as long as you have someone who can remember where everything is… you are OK!
Mike took me through to the far end of the workshop weaving in between vans and motorhomes. We stopped at one van that was being prepped for a side repair. Depending on the level and type of damage, some light ‘dings’ and scrapes can be filled and the area repainted. However, if the damage is more extensive the normal repair method is to bond on a new aluminium side skin.
Light damage being filled on the lower panel.
As much if not more prep has to go into a van that is being re-skinned as is in one that is just being filled and sprayed. As the aluminium is so thin, any tiny imperfection will show through and by the time that you notice it, it is too late as the skin will be bonded and almost impossible to remove without destroying it and you have to start over with a new skin. At least with paint you can rub down and start again!
Any damaged insulation or sub structure is always repaired to the original standard or better to provide a repair that will last the lifetime of the caravan. If the inside requires work, the wall panels are always replaced in full sections to the original manufacturers seam.
Mike going through some of the different techniques for repairing side damage..
We went into the paint booth where there were a couple of vehicles that had recently been sprayed. The panel on the motor home below had suffered some damage so it had been repaired and was now in the final stages of being finished with a matching paint. I could not see anything, it just looked like an area had been masked off.
On the other side of the spray booth was a caravan… now I had a close look and couldn’t see anything apart from the fact it must have recently been sprayed as there was still masking on it where they were blending the paint in. Mike said when we get back to the office I’ll show you a photo of it when it arrived.
OK, the after, above…. and the before, below.
Photo courtesy of Mike Pinder, Glossop Caravans
While we were looking at some of the repair work, which I found fascinating, Mike came up with an idea…. “How about an article following a caravan or motor home through the repair process?” Now that’s a great idea. Mike is going to keep an eye out for a repair that will be interesting and involve a lot of the skills his team have. Obviously we will need to ask the owners if it’s ok first. So keep an eye out for that on the blog later this year… or early next year.
After our tour of the workshop Trent had all the paperwork ready for me. A completed copy of the caravan service schedule, the Gas Safety Test Record, a caravan damp report and of course…. the bill! Which I was happy to pay knowing our caravan was fully serviced, safe for the road and Swift Group’s warranty requirements satisfied for another 12 months.
After the paperwork is completed and you have paid the bill, that isn’t quite the end of the story especially if you own a Swift Group caravan. Swift have an online system that their dealers have access to so they can update the records for your caravan and Sue in reception is responsible for making sure all your service records are updated. So in the future when you sell your caravan, and the new owner takes it for a service, the new service agent can see the full service record for the caravan and that all the warranty requirements have been met. Which is important for the future resale value of your caravan.
After every service probably the most important guy in the place gets his hands… or brush on the caravan. Steve gives every van a thorough clean down.. there is a saying in aviation “People judge the servicing of the aircraft by the stains on the drop down table” and the same is true for caravans!
I rang Sue to let her know ‘we’ (that’s me and the caravan) were ready to be collected. While I waited Jonathan Robe called in from the main site to see how it had all gone. We sat in reception chatting for a while and I got chance to ask Jonathan a few questions. I was intrigued to know just how many caravan motorhomes and static caravan Glossop’s sold in a year. Jonathan was guarded in his reply but He did tell me and it is a jaw dropping figure… and sorry I’m not going to tell you. Dealers like manufacturers like to keep figures like this close to their chest and I respect that. Trust me though, the way that the leisure industry has increased over the last five years and if Glossop Caravans numbers are anything to go by it won’t be long before Jeremy Clarkson’s worst nightmare of every car towing a caravan is realised.
I would just like to say “Congratulations” to Jonathan as he get’s married this weekend. I did ask if the honeymoon was in a caravan and he said….. well lets just say the answer was no.
The contact details for Glossop Caravan’s Service Centre:
Telephone : 01457 863 232
Email : email@example.com
A word of thanks…
I would like to just take a moment to say a huge thanks to all the team at the service centre. I’m not a big hitting journalist, nor is Caravan Chronicles a major mainstream caravanning publication, so for Glossop Caravans to allow “a bloke that writes a blog” behind the scenes access to their service centre was a privilege. Thanks Everyone.
My thoughts on using a main dealer…
OK, this is a big one. A lot of people say that dealers are overpriced and you can get a service done by any caravan engineer. Well, it’s a good argument and maybe they are right. But I take a different view. My Granddad used to have a saying “Owt cheap’s’ dear”.
Main dealers and caravan service centres have to be efficient, well equipped and well-trained. They usually carry a stock of the most required items, it’s no good starting a job then having to order something because it needs replacing. That’s not efficient and customers generally are not to pleased being told they will have to wait. Having a modern well equipped workshop usually means they can tackle the unusual problems they come across quickly and finally training, to keep up with all the current training requirements requires a huge investment in time and money. OK, this means that overheads are more, therefore they have to charge slightly more.
But it goes beyond that. If you have a main dealer, especially the one that sold your caravan to you do all the annual servicing, when it comes time to trade in or trade up the residual value of your van will always be slightly more, and here’s why. If you went to buy a second-hand caravan (or vehicle for that matter) and you had a choice of two identical vans (or vehicles) and the dealer said to you:-
“We sold this one to the first owners and they traded it in when they bought another new one from us. It has always been serviced by us and we know it’s full history…..the other caravan we took in part exchange when the owners bought a new caravan from us, it has a service history but not by us”
Now which caravan would you go for? Two things stand out, to me. The first is the dealer sold two new vans, one to an existing customer that had come back and second, one to a customer that had not gone back to their original dealer. Now it could be that it was a superb discount that attracted the customers, but customers tend to remain with dealers if they have had good service from them and change dealers if they feel they haven’t been looked after.
There are some excellent independent caravan engineers out there that can come to your home or storage site and do an annual service. However there are one or two that may not be up to scratch, and that’s what bothers me. If you read some of the forums there are a reports of mobile engineers allegedly cleaning the ‘one shot’ wheel hub nuts from their previous job and passing them off as new, just to save £10. (Did you get the old one shot nuts from your last service?) Other reports state that wheel hubs haven’t been removed to check the brakes. To my mind if it’s too cheap, something is not right. Unfortunately most of the time these ‘engineers’ cannot be named as the forum owners run scared of ending up in court.
I think mobile engineers come into their own when you have a problem on site or you are hundreds of miles away from your dealer. That said, I think it is always worth checking in with your dealer first if you have a problem as they might just be able to help as a lot will know people in the area that they can rely on to help out from time to time and usually will go the extra mile to keep their customers happy and make sure they come back in the future.
I hope you enjoyed my little insight to our caravan’s annual service at Glossop Caravans. So remember, battery in the smoke alarm, don’t block the floor vents, inspect your tyres and beware spiders webs!
See you on a pitch sometime
PS.. Oh yes I have my nuts in a bag… one shot nuts that is… in a plastic bag left by John in the caravan doorway… and I’ve put a new battery for the smoke alarm with the caravan keys.