CEO Peter Munk on Hull's caravans of love

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 20 Nov 2017

Years of experience give Willerby Holiday Homes CEO Peter Munk the right ideas for firm.

It is the largest manufacturer of holiday homes in the UK, with its products found at leisure parks and tourist destinations throughout the country, as well as being shipped to Europe where they continue their journey across the continent. 

But did you know Willerby Holiday Homes is also one of the UK’s largest manufacturer of kitchens? Or that it once featured in an episode of BBC hit comedy Only Fools And Horses?

Me neither, until I had stepped alongside one of the company’s vast production lines – one of which is reported to be the most productive on any factory throughout Europe in terms of the volume.

Peter Munk, CEO, said: “Willerby is quite unique in that we make all of our own kitchens and cabinets. That’s more than 8,000 kitchens every single year.”

READ MORE: How you can take a peek inside Hull's luxury holiday homes

The first stage of production begins with the chassis, which is wheeled through the vast factory doors marking the start of the manufacturing process. Every 30 minutes, this chassis automatically moves to the next stage of the production line, with teams of staff building each holiday home from the ground up, concentrating on adding their own elements, from windows, walls and door panels to bathrooms, kitchen cabinets and cookers.

Production manager Aaron Cambridge led me through the factory. 

Aaron has clocked up 16 years of service with Willerby, and was recently joined by his son, Ethan, who is now in his second year as an apprentice joiner at the firm.

Walking further into the factory, it was hard to believe the structures in front of me, complete with sofas, bedside tables and toilets, had just a few hours previously been only a chassis.

Pointing to a huge stack of MDF panels, Mr Cambridge said: “Everything is made on the shop floor; we go through 70,000 pieces of MDF a week.”

READ MORE: See inside the 'UK's first caravan for dogs' which is made by a Hull firm

Each component is quality-checked throughout, with line managers monitoring every stage of the process, both by sight and with the help of handheld tablets. If an issue does occur, it is flagged up on these tablets in red so it can be resolved without holding up the process.

It is a swift, yet smooth operation, and employees have to undergo thorough training – including weekends – to equip them with the expertise and speed required to keep up with the pace. “It is a very skilled process,” said Mr Cambridge. “A lot of the people working here have been here for years. It takes 30 minutes, for example, to install the kitchens. 

“People would not be expected to do this on their first week of joining the company; they undergo a lot of training until they reach that stage.”

Willerby was founded in Hull in 1946 by Walter Allen, an entrepreneur whose former business interests centred on  
beehives and beekeeping equipment, timber imports and engineering.

Caravans were, at that point, still something of a novelty. In the post-war years, however, families had increased  
leisure time and prosperity compared with what had been endured during the Second World War.

Spotting an opportunity in the market, Walter Allen teamed up with John Richardson and began building touring caravans from a small site in Main Street, Willerby. After beginning with the York caravan – a two-berth model with a price tag equivalent to £150 – by 1949 the company was shifting about 1,000 units a year, paving the way for expansion into larger, more innovative designs.

As well as making static caravans and lodges, today Willerby designs, manufactures and installs modular timber frame buildings for the leisure sector and for social and private housing, through its Willerby Innovations division. 

Its Innovations division includes Willerby Bespoke, which recently created 120 bespoke woodland lodges for the Enchanted Village at Alton Towers Resort, complete with Hobbit-style doorway, pointed roofs and crooked chimney pots – a far cry from what we perceive as a typical holiday home.

Mr Munk said: “Innovation is central to Willerby, and always has been.

“Customers are getting much more educated about what is available and while some people would never have considered staying in a caravan, these same people are now holidaying in luxury lodges.

“A lot of this has been driven by the growth in staycations.

“The staycation trend was happening before Brexit, but recent events mean it is now really accelerating.

“That, together with the fact people over the age of 55 can now unlock their pensions, is a huge opportunity for us.”

READ MORE: Hull firm creates magical lodges for Alton Towers' Enchanted Village

Mr Munk came to the UK from Denmark 22 years ago to work for Black and Decker. He stayed with the company for 12 years, heading up its European business, before moving to office supplies company ACCO Brands to head its European operations.

He was then appointed global president for Jacuzzi hot tubs in California.

It was while in the States that the opportunity arose to join Willerby. 

“I have three children and had kept my family home in Ascot while working overseas,” he said. “Willerby provided me with a fantastic opportunity to come home, but also to get involved with a fantastic business.

“I have always worked for global brands. Willerby has been going for more than 70 years and is a very strong brand, with a huge amount of customer loyalty and a brilliant workforce. As a market leader it had great products, however the former management team could not agree on decisions about where the company was going, and when that happens it does not take long for a company to get into trouble. So, Willerby needed someone to take it to the next level.

“I knew Willerby was renowned for quality, but even I was surprised at the level of world-class technical competence. It was a very exciting proposition.”

Since joining the company, Mr Munk has enjoyed a first-hand experience of life in a lodge.

He said: “I stayed in the North East with my wife and it was superb. The lodge was stunning, the view was fantastic and the people were great.”

With a workforce reaching 1,000, including a comprehensive apprenticeship programme, Mr Munk says the company is about to introduce a graduate scheme.

“There are 20 apprentices in the company at the moment and we are about to take on seven more,” he said. “Many of the existing employees, including senior managers, began as apprentices.

“The next step is to introduce a graduate scheme, to further develop talent.

“We have a fantastic workforce where everyone is responsible for quality. To be a great business, you need a strong product and strong people – and Willerby has both.”

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