Managing DirectorSouthdowns' Managing Director Michael Ayling is something of an evangelist. He established the company in 1999, believing wholeheartedly that not only does life look a little brighter from the driving seat of a motorhome, but that owning one is actually good for your health. We asked him to tell us about his role as MD and to explain why he thinks buying a motorhome could add 10 years to your lifeÖ
Q As MD, what are your key responsibilities?
A Obviously I have to take overall responsibility for managing the business and our staff, with all that entails. But my key role is in building contacts and relationships with both customers and with the manufacturers who supply our vehicles. One of the advantages of running a small business is that I do have a lot of customer contact unlike the MDs of bigger dealerships who spend most of their time sitting in an office.
Q What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
A One of the things I enjoy most about our business is the pleasure of creating a dream for people who come back to us happy with the vehicle and with the change they have made in their lifestyle. No one has ever come back to us to say they havenít enjoyed their motorhome.
I am also delighted that we are now a family business and that I am spending time and working with my sons to a common end. The only thing I regret is that we canít all take holidays together!
Q What made you decide to establish a motorhome dealership?
A Having been motor caravanning for 40 years, I love the lifestyle and I also identified a business opportunity created by the fact that people are increasingly keen to travel, are retiring earlier and have more leisure time.
Q Have you always worked in the leisure industry?
A No. I spent almost 30 years in the army, rising through the ranks, becoming Regimental Sergeant Major and then a commissioned officer. When I left the army in 1986, my interest in classic cars led me to start Fernhurst Motor Company with a business partner and then to set up Portfield Sports and Classic Cars in 1992. After a brief spell as Sales Director of AC Cars I saw the opportunity to develop a business out of a lifelong love affair with motorhomes. So here I am.
Q What is the appeal of motorhomes for you?
A I associate them with great times. Travelling in a motorhome is relaxing and fun and gives you the freedom to go more or less anywhere you like. Anyone who joins the army is probably a bit of a nomad and I think , for me, touring satisfies that wanderlust. Also, in the army if you canít carry it on your back, you canít take it. In a motorhome, the same thing applies!
Q What was the first motorhome you owned?
A A split-screen air-cooled VW campervan which I designed and fitted out myself. It took my family all round Europe.
Q If you could own the motorhome of your choice, what would it be?
A Obviously a Concorde - they are the ultimate European motorhome!
Q And if you could take that Concorde anywhere in the world, where would you most like to go?
A Iíd like to visit the Eastern Bloc countries and just keep going east as far as you can - I would have liked to have gone to that part of the world before the wall came down.
Q If you could fulfil one ambition, what would it be?
A To go off and do what I recommend other people to do every day of the week - put together the perfect vehicle, with a motorbike in the garage and get to see all the parts of the UK Iíve never visited. Then Europe and thenÖwho knows.
Michael lives at Southdowns. His wife Kay lives at home and hopes that one day he will take a day off......
Michael was interviewed in August 2005.
Michael can be contacted on :
Southdowns Switchboard Number: +44 (0)2392 674820