Swift Group was founded on a simple principle of making products that innovate in the key areas of design, quality and value for money. The business was founded in the winter of 1964 by the Chairman’s father, Ken Smith, when he built the first Swift touring caravan ‘The Ten’. This was the first of the Swift range and was built from the premises in Hedon Road, Hull. Ken Smith took on the giants of the industry to give Swift customers something special in which to enjoy their leisure time.
Swift currently operates in three different markets; touring caravans, motorhomes and holiday homes. Since starting out, Swift has grown significantly within the region and now turnover £209 million annually, operating alongside other successful leisure vehicle manufacturers. It operates from two sites in Hull and East Yorkshire, with some production elements of the business operating 24 hours a day, particularly in areas where Swift has invested heavily in capital equipment.
Swift Group’s touring caravans have around 40% of the market in the UK. When the company started, the raw materials required to make up the main elements of touring caravans were imported into Hull, making it the ideal location to invest here. As the holiday home industry has grown over the years, the coastal resorts in this area have generated continuous demand for products, so much so that over 80% of the UK’s holiday home market is now manufactured in Hull. Other UK manufacturers of touring caravans include Coachman (who are based in Hull), Bailey, Elddis, and Lunar. Recently it has also seen an increasing presence from European manufacturers, many of which are German; however Adria, a Slovenian manufacturer has also entered the UK market in recent years.
The Group is also the UK’s largest motorhome manufacturer and in the top 3 manufacturers for holiday homes in the UK. The other two major manufacturers being Willierby and ABI, whose factories are both located within 10 miles of the Swift Group sites.
James Turner, Managing Director at Swift, said:
“A competitive environment is always healthy in business and good for consumers. However, as a market leader Swift naturally strives to produce the best products in the market, whether that’s using the latest innovative technology, or cutting edge design. Swift has a significant influence on the expectations in the industry and aims to lead the way regardless of competitor activity. There is always a drive for the industry to push for better standards and Swift aims to set that standard with a strong team of aligned people within the organisation who are working hard year on year, striving to achieve a shared vision of better products and services to enhance the customer experience”.
Swift Group is the only manufacturer in the UK to manufacture all three types of leisure vehicle, making it imperative to operations that it stays ahead of the competition and market trends. As with other similar industries, there are increasing demands in terms of customers’ expectations, products and services.
How does Swift Group stay ahead of changes in the market? James explains:
“As a manufacturer, the main emphasis is on surpassing these expectations for customers. For example, the touring caravan market has seen an increase in consumer driven products with much higher levels of sophistication, designed to meet the standards of modern living. The vehicles continue to be constructed in new ways with contemporary materials to benefit the user in terms of their customer experience, with the product’s longevity in mind. We also see the significance of taking into consideration the customer’s emotional experience which has become of equal importance to the product. As a result, the marketing has moved towards more experiential activities to engage with consumers on another level”.
As a privately owned organisation, Swift has grown independently over the years, without any local funding. With several other manufacturers also operating locally in Hull, there will always be interest locally and a degree of business competition within the area.
This interest has had a positive impact on the local industry, explains James:
“With circa 50% of the UK’s touring caravans and over 80% of holiday homes being manufactured in Hull, there has always been a vested interest in these markets from the public and local media, which in turn has led to many positive PR stories for the company”.
Swift Group sources its materials for manufacture on a global scale, however it also works collaboratively with local suppliers, several of which are major contributors to the production facility, who Swift has built longstanding relationships with.
Speaking of the UK market and the opportunity in the Humber for suppliers and distributors in this sector, James said:
“Swift supplies a network of over 100 UK dealers, some of which are located within the region also. One of the industry’s major exhibitions and largest annual product showcase ‘The Lawns’ is run by The Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire Caravan Manufacturers’ Association and is located just a few miles from the Swift factory. It attracts visitors from all around the UK and this helps to demonstrate the strength of the link between the region and industry.
Due to the fact that the majority of caravans and holiday homes are manufactured in this area, the local supply chain is geared up to accommodate many of the requirements. Some of the suppliers Swift deals with for specialised, niche areas of the business are local to us and are often major players within their markets”.
In regards to staffing, Swift now employs over 1000 people and is committed to recruiting locally whenever possible. Swift is below the national average for staff turnover and extremely proud to have a large number of employees with over 20 years of service. More recently, the Swift Academy has been launched which encourages students and graduates into the business where they are supported to help them to further develop their skills internally. Last year Swift Group recruited 12 apprentices in manufacturing and is preparing to take additional apprentices on an ongoing basis.
Swift is committed to manufacturing first class products and providing great customer service. In recent years, Swift developed its customer service offering significantly, launching its own dedicated social media channel – a service completely unique to Swift and its customers.
“Swift is the only manufacturer to communicate with its customers via a dedicated social network, ‘Swift Talk’ making it unique in the market. 16,000 members are currently signed up and directly linked to the technical team. Swift also operates a system called Swift Connect - a dedicated online interface allowing customers and dealers to be informed with regards to their products from Swift”.
The attention to detail and ability to fulfil customer’s needs has led Swift to win industry recognition and many awards for product design and innovation – most of which have been voted for by its customers. Most recently, Swift Group won the ‘Practical Caravan’s Owner Satisfaction Awards’ with the Sprite range of products receiving a satisfaction rating of over 90%. The Bessacarr brand has also been awarded ‘Motorhome of the Year’ in the customer voted Caravan Times Awards at the end of last year.
Customer recognition and satisfaction is what drives the team at Swift.
“To know that customers are rating the products so highly is the best kind of accolade Swift could ask for,” said James.
For Swift, an improving economy, growing consumer confidence and a reasonable summer climate have all helped to make the leisure industry more buoyant in recent times. This, combined with the fact that its product offering has become stronger, puts it in a great position to grow both now and in the future.
“Swift invested heavily in its plant facility and equipment in the last few years and will continue to do so to ensure the products remain market leading. It is currently involved in expanding the production facilities at the Cottingham site which will ultimately provide additional production capacity” explains James.
He continues: “I see a positive future for businesses in the Humber region. Attracting new businesses to the area will become easier with the enhancement of infrastructure and transport links and it could also encourage existing businesses to develop further”.