Dealer profile: Peter Heffernan, owner of Wallaby Motorhomes
Date Posted: 5 December 2018
Buying a campervan or motorhome is a serious investment and, as a buyer, you want to deal with people who are serious about the RV lifestyle. This month we introduce Peter Heffernan, owner of Wallaby Motorhomes in Sydney, who chats to us today about about all things motorhomes.
How long have you been in business?
I have been in business for 25 years previously selling light commercial vehicles but wholly in motorhomes for 22 years once we started our arrangement with THL. We had a business before and dabbled with campervans and motorhomes but then into a relationship with THL. We are the longest partner with THL.
What are some of the main changes you seen?
Probably the inclusions. Now it is pretty standard to have things like solar panels. They had showers and toilets before, but they are a lot more refined now. The vehicles are lighter and nicer to drive and on better chassis and then there’s fuel efficiency. Previously you had very heavy vehicles on a truck chassis whereas now a lot of them are built on Mercedes and they are very easy to drive, very car-like. That’s the biggest transition. And everything THL does is car licence of course.
Do you only sell THL models?
Absolutely - always have. We have remained true to the brand because of the original handshake agreement that we had. It was a gentleman’s agreement that we would sell them and they would rent them – we have never rented a motorhome even though we’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so. THL has its own rental outlets so we just refer them on.
Do you get people who have rented wanting to buy?
Yes, we do get a bit of that. A lot of people are unsure and so once they have rented one they realise it isn’t daunting. They are a big-looking vehicle, and that’s another thing that has evolved – they are all automatic transmissions whereas previously a lot were manuals. Just the ease of operation is amazing.
Do you sell new and ex-rentals?
Yes, but we have mainly ex-rentals. And we have models which are only nine to 12 months old and still covered under factory manufacturer’s warranty.
Tell us about the Wallaby moniker?
All our models are rebranded as a Wallaby – it’s a brand that I came up with about 18 years ago. The main reason for that is when you see a Wallaby you know that it is privately owned. The Wallaby has always been a sales brand. We see vehicles we sold 18 years ago which are still branded – it’s basically a moving billboard for us.
Do customers want to customise their ex-rental?
The stigma has gone from ex-rentals and people see them now as a very well maintained and serviceable item. They seem to be more durable, especially the Maui and Kea product. They are built tougher and people recognise that. And they represent incredible value for money. We get a lot of people who have bought another motorhome and they come in and look at ours and are seriously depressed because of what they have paid elsewhere. We are basically a factory outlet. Our motorhomes come straight from the source and there is no middleman and we have a steady supply all the time.
Do you have a favourite RV?
Not really because the models change. I do prefer a bigger vehicle. If it is just myself and my wife going away we would still take a six-berth because you get more room. So probably one of the bigger vehicles on a Mercedes chassis. That’s the comfort zone.
How have your customers changed over the years?
A big change is people getting out of caravans. They hadn’t embraced motorhomes because there wasn’t a big supply of used models in Australia, not like there is today. People don’t always like the hitching process, the fuel consumption when towing and the fact that they need to spend $100,000 on a tow vehicle. And then you add on $80,000 for a caravan, and they think, well we could buy a motorhome for $60,000 or $70,000. Now we also see families buying them. The beauty of these units is that they retain their value. We have people who bought their motorhomes three years ago and they get their money back. It’s amazing.
Do you often have repeat customers?
Yes, and we are starting to see more of that as well. We have customers who bought something 10 - 15 years ago and they are very loyal to the brand and have had a good run out their motorhome and want a newer model. We get a lot of business through referrals and word of mouth.
What about warranty on your vehicles?
From the start, we put a three-year warranty on our vehicles and that is included in the price. Everywhere else is an extra – it’s not with us. That’s why as part of our branding we call ourselves ‘The Home of the Three-Year Warranty’. We outsource the servicing aspect of the business.
What tips do you give first-time buyers about motorhoming?
My sales guys are governed by what customers want. They will ask questions and if they have no understanding at all then my team will go through and explain to them the ins and outs of motorhome and things like free camping. It is really conditional on what experience people have had. Some have had caravans or motorhomes before, but if they are new to it then we suggest to them that they start taking it away of a weekend and get used to it, and then go further afield.
Do you get calls from customers on the road?
Absolutely. The other day we had one from a couple who called us to say they had no power. They had gone to a caravan park and plugged it in and nothing worked. One of my sales guys said ‘can you walk out of the motorhome and follow the lead, and where the lead is plugged in, turn it on!’ He hadn’t turned it on! So we use our experience with calls like that. The guy just burst out laughing and said ‘so sorry!’ They might feel embarrassed but we have heard it all before.
What is it about motorhoming that makes it an attractive travel lifestyle?
It’s the fact that you are almost like a turtle – you take your house with you. You have your car, your kitchen and accommodation. You unpack once and you are in your own bed. So you are not getting used to a mattress in a hotel every night. And if you are going to have a drink you just park it somewhere and stay the night.
Have you travelled a lot?
A friend of ours years ago nicknamed us ‘the turtles’. We did a lot of travelling with our three children and we did quite a few trips in holidays across different parts of Australia. They love it – they are some of their fondest memories. We would love to take six to 12 months and take our time travelling around Australia, not rushing. That’s a dream.