Four Season Business
The Parks business is in Nic Allen’s blood. Now Managing Director of Avon Estates, Nic’s grandfather Bill was the well-known founder of the eponymous Allen’s Caravans in the 1950s.
Allen’s Caravans was initially focused on holiday parks but Bill returned from a visit to the USA in the 1960s enthused with the trend for residential park living across the pond. Inspired to take things in a new direction, this move would change the trajectory of his family’s business interests for years to come.
When Nic’s father John decided to move away from Allen’s Caravans in 1984 taking three parks with him, Avon Estates was born. The company’s first residential park was bought in 1989 – St Mary’s in Birmingham – and was only sold last year.
Today, Avon Estates owns and operates six leading residential parks As well as five luxury holiday parks. Under the leadership of Nic Allen for the past eight years since his father John passed away, the company has doubled in size and significantly increased its residential portfolio.
“I’ve been involved in the family business for 20 years, but since I’ve been at the helm of Avon Estates, growing the residential side of the company has been my preference”, explains Nic.
“Not that we have neglected our holiday parks. We have just completed a £4 million renovation at our flagship Stratford Park.
But as my father and grandfather identified, park homes more easily guarantee a steady income and lead to a stronger business model that can literally weather all seasons. ”
During the last 18 months, Nic has secured two brand new parks and alongside a couple of other joint ventures, this makes a total of 320 residential bases to be installed. Nic estimates that this represents at least 10 years of future development.
“We have many new parks in the pipeline and last autumn we acquired the five-star caravan and camping park, Broadmeadow Park, in Ross-on-Wye, where we plan to add some residential homes,” says Nic. “Having achieved a level playing field in the business means that I now have more time to focus on acquisition.”
With this in mind, history has come full circle with the setting up of a new company six months ago, a joint venture between the two family businesses, Avon Estates and Allen’s Caravans.
Out of the six residential parks in the Avon Estates portfolio, three are currently the primary focus: Marston Edge and Welford Chase close to Warwickshire’s Stratford-upon-Avon, and Presthope Grange in Shropshire.
Welford Chase is a select riverside development of just 28 brand new plots for the over 50s in the idyllic village of Welford-onAvon, boasting outstanding country and riverside views.
The centre of the village, which is situated just four miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon, is designated as a conservation area and contains a number of attractive thatched houses, including what is believed to be the original “chocolate box cottage” in Boat Lane, reputedly the most photographed street in Warwickshire.
Marston Edge is another new park in a stunning location on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds. 49 single storey homes are surrounded by the serenity of the Cotswold Hills whilst having the lively buzz of the market towns of Stratford-upon-Avon and Chipping Campden just a few miles away.
To the west in historical Shropshire, the new hillside development of Presthope Grange is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty. 130 park homes are being developed here, on a site that lies 1000 feet above sea level among rolling hills and picturesque woodland, just 10 minutes from the pretty market town of Much Wenlock.
It’s obvious that location is of paramount importance across the Avon Estates portfolio and Nic admits to being “very picky” about the geographical areas they invest in.
“We are completely location driven when we are looking to purchase holiday or residential parks,” says Nic. “Most of our parks are close to tourist hotspots and even the newest one in Ross-on-Wye is situated just a couple of hundred metres from the picturesque town centre. I can’t think of a better retirement destination!” Avon Estates Head Office is itself located just minutes away from historic Stratford-upon-Avon on its riverside holiday park.
A team of just over 100 are employed across the business but the majority are on the holiday park side. Sales are managed in-house but development is handled by Park Evolution and most other roles such as maintenance and landscaping are contracted out.
Nic says his excellent relationship with manufacturer Omar helps to keep the stocking plans of the parks running smoothly but he works with a number of different home manufacturers depending on individual customer requirements.
Nic recognises that this is a business in which the customer is king.
“We are getting to the stage where we are quite a large operator now,” explains Nic, “but still operate an open door and open book policy, and we meet every customer who joins us. All the residents have my mobile number and I spend a lot of time on the parks.”
Nic is proud that the family values that have always been significant in Avon Estates, still permeate the business as it grows ever bigger.
“The park homes business is a constant learning curve but we are getting closer to getting it right. We pride ourselves on our customer service. From the moment of first enquiry, to looking after our customers during the move, and onto the handover and after sales, Avon Estates is second to none.”
“I’ve learnt so much over the last few years and the sector is constantly changing. I think the biggest challenge is still people’s perception of what a park home is. Some customers literally cannot believe their eyes when they visit one of our show homes!
Everyone in the industry is trying their hardest to up their game and transform the old prejudices. We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years but there is still some way to go.”
Tel. 01789 299492