Practical Motor Caravan Magazine
- John Wickersham
John Wickersham, author of the Haynes Motorcaravan Manual (essential reading for all motorhome owners), reports on a company whose van conversions incorporate your own particular requirements.
'I don't seem to be able to get the point across', said Mike Young when I visited his company's new factory in Bletchley. 'The brochure describes our unique approach, yet many customers still misunderstand our mission.'
So, I hear you ask, what is the company's unique approach? Well, unlike most of the major motor caravan manufacturers, where there's a 'take it or leave it' policy, a motorhome from Young Conversions is made exactly to suit a customer's wishes.
For instance, the conversion can even be completed on a secondhand base vehicle, if you're looking to save costs. It's even possible to order a part-finished project, with jobs remaining that you'd prefer to complete yourself. When I heard that, I really became interested.
Your word is their command
Self-build motor caravans.
There are some pretty determined motor caravanners around these days. Go to any major rally and you'll find a number of self-constructed van conversions. It's true that some look pretty grim, but there are others which are just as well built as the mass-produced models from one of the major converters.
Of course, if you go back far enough, many well-known manufacturers first started out after dabbling in DIY. When Siddle Cook reached his fifties, he built a DIY caravan. It was so impressive he was urged to build more - so he did. And, turning his first name back to front, he invented his subsequent trade name - Elddis. He later founded compass too.
So, DIY endeavour has much to commend it, but the trouble is that no matter how keen a self-build enthusiast you might be, very few builders can be good at everything. For instance, you might be competent at carpentry, but trying to complete all the upholstery yourself, using little more than a domestic sewing machine, might make a mess for all to see.
So, the essence of 'doing it yourself' is, don't try and do it all yourself. Be honest and self-critical. From the outset, establish the precise boundaries of your specialist knowledge, your practical skills and the tools at your disposal. And, when you come across tasks that you are neither qualified nor able to tackle, entrust the work to an expert. This is where people such as Mike Young can help.
The fact that Young Conversions are prepared to assist customers on a part-build basis, is what sets them apart from most of the other manufacturers. As regulations become more stringent, elements like gas installations are not something an unqualified person should contemplate (you have to be CORGI registered in this case). So, it is greatly reassuring, therefore, that all is not lost for the eager amateur when confronted with these important parts of the build process.
Then there's the problem of finding suppliers of crucial components. For instance, creating folding bed mechanisms or sliding seat systems is fraught with problems. Mike Young can either source and fit the systems for you; or he can install some of his own ingenious constructions. Let's take a drop down bed for example.
I've always been a fan of the drop-down beds in large A-class models like the Hymers, the Euroyachts, the Swift Bel-Air and others. But, in van conversions, this is a rare feature. When La Strada models arrived in this country from Germany last year, we learnt that a drop-down bed could be fitted in a van conversion, too. But, Mike Young had developed his notable mechanism many moons before that arrival. In fact, one of his demonstration models in the factory shows a truly excellent drop-down bed in a Volkswagen LT.
So that's one of the elements you might want installed in your 'dream motorhome', particularly when you lack the resources to make one yourself.
But lets forget DIY for a moment. Some potential owners have neither time, nor inclination, to engage in a dirty-hands endeavour. They want a motor caravan fully completed - and who can blame them if they've got the money.
There's only one problem. When you start looking at the models on offer from large manufacturers, there's seldom a design that is completely right. When visiting showrooms, you will often over-hear a potential customer's disappointments. 'I'd prefer a microwave oven here, and a cupboard there! If only the double bed was wider! I wonder if they would build this with a vinyl floor covering? Who chose those dreadful florid furnishings - I couldn't live with that ghastly upholstery!'
Time and again, motor caravan buyers find that adjustments to the basic package simply cannot be accommodated. However, if you saw the assembly line in many factories you'd soon realise why a large manufacturer simply cannot make special alterations for you or I. Throughput figures are the determinants of these companies profit or loss.
But, Young Conversions are not mass producers and can meet your individual needs. That's the point they find difficult to get across to many enquirers.
Maybe it's the fact that, if you look at our Buyers' Guide, you'll see that Young Conversions has seven models in the list, with accompanying data on features like the number of berths, payload and so on. Now, it's perfectly true that these models can be ordered as listed. But the point that needs to be emphasised is that no two vehicles leave the factory the same.
As a rule, each customer normally indicates a particular request for an adjustment here or a modification there. It might be a small request like fitting an extra reading light; alternatively it could be something more radical like an alteration to the wood trim around the furniture or the inclusion of an additional bunk.
And then there's the matter of the base vehicle itself. For example, another comment expressed by many buyers' runs like this. 'If only the manufacturer would build this beautiful interior onto a second-hand base vehicle. I might be able to afford it then!' Well, at Young Conversions, they can provide this service as well.
Pre-owned base vehicles
We all recognise that a motor caravan is an expensive commodity. In fact, a brand new conversion often falls just beyond the reach of many would-be owners. So, turning to the classified advertisements is an alternative way to achieve ownership. But, there's also another strategy.
Young Conversions offer a service whereby the company will track down pre-owned low-mileage base vehicles according to how much you want to spend. It works like this: you decide what type of vehicle you prefer and discuss it with Mike Young. If you want a red VW, you ask for a red VW! Once a deposit is paid, Mike then conducts enquiries around his dealer networks.
As soon as a model with the mileage and other features you've specified appears, Mike gives you a call. His advice at this point is precise - pay for a full RAC or AA engineer's report and satisfy yourself that the vehicle described is what you want. In many cases, the proposed vehicle will be sent through to the Bletchley factory for your further inspection. Once you're happy, the balance for the vehicle is then paid to the company, and details of the conversion itself are clarified next.
So, individuality and customer satisfaction are both at the heart of the matter. To prove the point, one customer even sent Young Conversions a detailed model of his required interior layout. After some discussion the about practicalities, the project was carried out exactly as the customer had built in balsa wood.
Now, you don't have to go into that degree of detail, but it's well worth looking at the remarkable case history photographs of previous projects. These are carefully filed, and Mike's portfolio makes interesting reading. Every customer is different; and so is the final product.
Not surprisingly, the company is making very pleasing progress and will soon have reached its 15th birthday. In October 1999, Mike and Linda Young moved from Ruislip to larger premises in Bletchley, in Milton Keynes and one of the most senior members of the workforce moved house as well. So, I decided it was high time I gave them a call.
When I visited the factory, in January, everything was extremely tidy, efficiently laid out and planned in a thoughtful manner. 'Moving house' always offers a chance for a tidy-up and a re-think.
And one of the ideas that has come out of this bold decision to relocate in Bletchley is the need to organise factory open days. Unfortunately, I missed the first open weekend, on account of the recent Boat Caravan & Leisure Show at Birmingham but you can check out the current dates by clicking on events. These would be the best occasions to see for yourself the quality of workmanship and the flexibility of construction on offer here.
No one sees Young Conversions taking on the 'big boys', least of all Mike and Linda Young. But they know a customer's expectations and seek to satisfy a need. Theirs is a niche market, and personal experiences play an important part. Unlike many manufacturers, the Young's really do go on motor caravanning holidays themselves.
And is their product one to trust? To answer that, a framed certificate confirming that the company has achieved the standards required for membership of the National Caravan Council is displayed near the entrance.
Or, if you want further proof, the Islay built on a long wheelbase VW was winner of the motor caravan of the year award 1997/98 for design and quality at Stratford show a couple of seasons ago. So if you really want something to meet your particular needs send for a brochure. Better still, make arrangements to attend an open day. You won't be disappointed!