Four Season Business

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.
FAMILY BUSINESS
“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.
IDYLLIC VILLAGE
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.
SMOOTH OPERATOR
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.”

Avon Park
Tel. 01789 299492
www.avon-estates.co.uk

Practising What They Preach

Practising What They Preach

Practising What They Preach main picIt’s hard to imagine a more perfect, unspoilt location to spend your retirement years than Pant Mawr Residential Park; nestled in a secluded, wooded valley above the pretty town of Harlech, amongst the stunning scenery and wildlife of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. A select development of just 29 homes for the over 50s, retired and semi-retired, Pant Mawr started life in 1955 as a caravan park. Acquired by Neil Collis and his family in 2004, the park achieved a change of licence, two years later, to become a residential park. Since then, under Neil’s careful ownership and management, Pant Mawr has won numerous awards including Park of the Year in 2013. “My aim for Pant Mawr has always been to operate a park that I would be happy for my family to live on,” says Neil. “In fact I do! I live at the entrance to the park and actively run it myself, only employing one part time gardener and occasional construction contractors. Residents become friends here and we all feel so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place.” Pant Mawr is in the final stages of development and there is just one plot still to be sold. The residents of the current 28 homes enjoy truly spectacular views of the Rhinog mountain range, the golden sands of Tremadog Bay and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Harlech Castle. The prestigious Royal St David’s Golf Club is just minutes away. Neil has made every effort to ensure that the park and its homes harmonise with the exceptional surroundings. Traditional dry-stone walls constructed by local craftsmen add character and, the landscaping complements the natural beauty of the Park’s woodland setting. “Pant Mawr means ‘Great Hollow’ in English,” explains Neil, “but the park is much more peaceful than its name might suggest. Residents can relax in a very private and secure location, surrounded by mature trees and fields, along with all kinds of wildlife. Living in Pant Mawr really does represent a special opportunity to live life to the full in a unique place.” However, running a park, regardless of its enviable location, still brings its challenges. “In 2014, the Welsh Government introduced its own Mobile Homes Act, which is quite different from the one in England,” says Neil. “Some of the legislation is proving particularly challenging to park operators and certain parts are subject to a current judicial review in the High Court.”

PARK LEGISLATION

Practising What They Preach pic 4The main differences between the park legislation in England and Wales is that in Wales, the park fee can only increase by the much lower rate of CPI, instead of RPI in England. A manager or owner of a Welsh park has to pass a fi t and proper person test and park licenses have to be renewed every five years, which means much closer monitoring by the Local Authority that issues the license. This is great news for residents and undoubtedly helps to protect them from unscrupulous park owners but such rigorous rules can cause extra administrative headaches for upstanding members of the industry. Following a public consultation on the park homes commission rate, currently 10%, the Welsh Government recommended a phased reduction in the rate and has commissioned further financial analysis to determine how to action this change. The result is likely to mean higher park fees. With just one plot on the site remaining, any changes are unlikely to impact too forcefully on Pant Mawr. The buyer of the final plot is able to design their own home. All of the homes on the park are different models from Omar, ranging in size from 40 x 20 to 45 x 20 feet. Each home benefits from mains water and drainage, LPG central heating, an individual block-paved driveway and turfed garden with shed, as well as telephone and satellite TV connection. “We try to take care of everything for our residents so their move here is as relaxed as possible,” says Neil. “Attention to detail makes all the difference in providing them with comfort and peace of mind.”

CLOSE LINKS

Practising What They Preach pic 5Neil and the residents of Pant Mawr also like to give back to the wider community. The park enjoys close links with the small town of Harlech and its many amenities and independent shops, just a few minutes walk away. The local swimming pool is community-owned and receives great financial support, as well as volunteer staff, from Pant Mawr. The Welsh Air Ambulance is also well supported by the park and its residents. With Pant Mawr almost complete, Neil is content to spend his days looking after the residents and ensuring their continued enjoyment of the exceptional surroundings. “There are no plans at the moment to expand the park or invest elsewhere,” says Neil. “Pant Mawr is a little slice of heaven in North Wales… I can’t imagine ever wanting to be anywhere else.”