Kimberley Kampers is back from the dead, again, I hope (because every other time I’ve said so, the news has changed not long after!). After months of negotiations over the intellectual property of the brand, a former dealer, James Cockburn, working with former general manager, Brett McLaren, have begun to reestablish the manufacturing and start selling core Kimberley Kampers products again.
To find out if it’s all actually real and not just another bum steer (in the last 15 months the company has gone into voluntary administration, had a director resign, been liquidated, almost resurrected and had all its assets auctioned off – I’ve spoken personally to four different directors – or hopeful directors – of the business in that time), I caught up with Cockburn to see if we can trust the news. Here’s our conversation.
Brendan: Great news that Kimberley Kampers will be returning to the market, but after all the turmoil, why would you want to bother?
James: I’ve worked with Kimberley Kampers for over 12 years being the south east Queensland dealer since 2007 and one of the things that I’ve always said is that I’m exceptionally passionate about the product, about the customers, about the industry and definitely about the brand, Kimberley Kampers, it’s always, since I’ve started working with them, been the iconic brand and the flagship of my dealership for sure. And fundamentally, I’m a corporate accountant by trade and I always thought it was a stable product but I suppose over the last few years, focus and mismanagement of the core business has resulted in where it has ended up. Fundamentally I think it is a very strong brand; I’m in touch with a lot of customers and it is really impressive and really fulfilling to know how many passionate customers we have. [*Ed’s note – he’s right, I’ve already had a call on my personal mobile from a customer who tracked me down to tell me how happy he is about the news].
Brendan: What do you see as the core Kimberley product, then?
James: The core Kimberley product is, of course, steeped in heritage. It’s an off-road product that’s at the forefront of the industry. We will be continuing with the camper. We’ve realised that it’s come under pressure from cheaper imports, but there’s a market place in Australia for a good, strong, Australian built camper trailer. The Kimberley Karavan has been out since 2006 and we see it in the market place once again. We believe that there is nothing quite like it and that’s something we hear from our customers time and time again. That will hopefully become our bread and butter. The Kimberley Kruiser which was released in 2012 was our biggest order book, so that’s obviously a huge growth area from us. So we’ve tightened up a whole lot of parts of the business, so we can concentrate on our mainstream products.
Brendan: You’re, I think, the fourth Kimberley Kampers director I’ve spoken to in 12 months; how can people be confident Kimberley’s got a decent future.
James: Hopefully because I’m a name that’s been part of Kimberley for over 12 years, and to be honest with you, I’ve walked away from the potential of this deal a number of times and it was persistent customer feedback and persistent staff and suppliers, and they were saying that if this business needs to come back, James, you need to be involved. Once again, we put a lot of faith back into the brand and its something I’ve always tried to build up in my business over the years. A loyal customer base is one of the most important things we can have.
Brendan: And you’ve got former general manager Brett McLaren on board, too?
James: Yes, I’m not a specialist manufacturer so we have to have someone who knows the ins and outs of it. Brett and I worked very, very well together over a number of years. When he was general manager, we had a good working relationship. I think both of us complement each other really well.
Brendan: The company had around 70 staff when it closed down last year. How many of them have you got back?
James: We’ve gone around and identified a core nucleus of existing staff, although unfortunately after what happened last year and the significant time delay many of the old staff have got new jobs. We definately won’t be starting off on the same scale that it closed down and it will take us some time to get back there. So we’ve got a core nucleus of staff, so we haven’t got any external staff and we’re hoping to ramp up as we grow production.
Brendan: There were some customers who were left in the lurch when Kimberley shut down, some of them have waited in hopeful anticipation for a Kimberley product. How are they going to be looked after?
James: To the best of our abilities is the short answer. Going forward we are definitely realise that the existing customer base are whats going to keep us afloat and they become our biggest advocates and our biggest salesforce out there. We’ve got a strategy around what we need to do for those, but I think in the interim what we need to do is get production going and start building up on the brand. It’s taken a bit of a hammering and had a lot of bad press in the last 18 months and we need to build up on that. We’re going to have to be fairly tight on what we’re doing going forward, but that will be for the greater good of the customers going forward. We want to build value in all of the units that are out there again.
Brendan: Will you be manufacturing in the same facility in Ballina?
James: We are. The landlord in Ballina has been exceptionally tolerant and friendly towards us and they want the whole venture to succeed, so we’ve managed to renegotiate rent in that area and once again we want a huge focus on the heritage of Kimberley Kampers. It’s got a huge heritage, almost 25 years, and we want to build on that and Ballina’s the place for that to happen.
Brendan: What about the former Kimberley dealers – are they being supportive and are a lot of them coming back on board?
James: We are talking with existing dealers. Once again confidence in the brand. A lot of the dealers have stood by the product through all of the ups and downs over the last 12 months, so we are talking to the majority of dealers and just letting them know what our plans are. We’re not going to jump the gun and get everyone back on board – we don’t want to get into a situation where we’re over promising and under-delivering, so it’s just smaller steps at the moment, so hopefully something out there is better than nothing.
Brendan: When do you think the first Kampers will be rolling off the production line?
James: At the stage we will be shooting for a release at the end of April this year and we’ve got some rationalisation of the product and changes that we want to pit through. So we’re working on a couple of changes to make the products a bit more robust. I’ve been working on Kimberley Kampers of the last 12 years and fixing them for that long, so we should have a fairly good feel for what we need to change. And one of the principles we are going to adopt going forward is the KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid. We just want a product that works, is reliable and gets people into our vans.
Brendan: I know former director Todd Cannock wasn’t adverse to the idea of manufacturing some of the components overseas. What’s your take on that?
James: I think it’s a global market that we sell in and also a global market that we source from. There is obviously a lot of components that we use in Kimberley Kampers and a very solid supply chain that was not just from China but also Taiwan, Germany and the USA, so we’ll be looking at all that supply chain and evaluating what we’re doing. At the end of the day we’re all in business to make money but we’re very passionate about keeping it Australian made and Australian built.
Brendan: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge for Kimberley over the next 12 months?
James: Probably just ramping up. As you’re aware, the whole of Kimberley got broken down and during the liquidation everything was sold off. It’s a positive and a negative. One, we’ve obviously got a big task in front of us – there’s a huge, huge positive because we’ll have a blank canvas to start with, so we’re not inheriting any old tools or out of date tools or defunct product or stock; we’re able to go in and establish the best manufacturing methods for what we’re trying to achieve and also we’re able to run as lean as we can. We’re going to be flexible and agile in our approach to manufacturing, whereby we’re able to ramp up where we need to and pull back where we don’t.
Brendan: And I understand you’re planning on having product on display at he Rosehill Caravan and Camping show in April. Is that correct?
James: So that’s the plan at the moment. Kimberley was always famous for being able to turn product around really quickly, so Brett and the manufacturing team will be releasing the new Kimberley range in April and we’re confident we’ll get it there and get the product into the market when we say we will and build on that over the year.
Brendan: That’s great news James, thanks for your time.
What do you think? Are you glad Kimberley is back, or skeptical of the same old story? Comment below.
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