March 2017 Cover Story
CELEBRATING 40 YEARS in business, Alan Graham’s Caravans and RVs is a well known and highly respected family business on the Central Coast. In fact the Graham family has enjoyed a much longer history in business in the region than the four-decade milestone they are celebrating this year...
It was Alan’s father Leslie, who saw great potential in Gosford in the mid 1940s, while working for the Ford Motor Company in Geelong, Victoria. Leaving his job as sales manager with Ford, Leslie seized the opportunity to purchase Richardson Motors opposite Gosford Railway Station and move his family to the Central Coast in 1946 (he later moved the dealership to Erina Street and renamed it COV E R S TOR Y Grawill Motors). The family has been firmly entrenched on the Coast as successful business owners ever since. Fast-forward 71 years and the Graham family business legacy continues with Alan’s son Andy now holding the reins as General Manager. But the journey hasn’t always been a smooth one, as this story will tell. Alan’s journey Alan Graham began his working life as an accountant. After 12 months with a Gosford based chartered accountancy firm, he took a position at his father’s Ford dealership as the family accountant in 1959. A natural with people, Alan was soon drawn to sales before later being promoted to Sales/ General Manager, a role that added significantly to his business acumen. He spent a total of 18 years at Grawill Ford. During this time he met and married his wife Judy and together they started a family. 1966 marked a turning point for Alan and Judy. It was the year the couple first took to the road on a caravan trip with their 2-year old son Andy, the beginning of many caravanning adventures. But it wasn’t until 1974 when the couple and their three children embarked on a caravanning trip around Australia that Alan’s passion for the caravan and leisure sector was ignited. Once back home, Alan began researching the industry in earnest and discovered great future growth potential. “There weren’t many successful caravan dealerships back then despite growing interest from the marketplace,” he said. In January 1977, Alan and Judy started their business in West Gosford. They strategically chose not to have all their eggs in one basket and sold used cars as well as caravans. This decision proved instrumental to their survival in the 1980s at the height of the fuel crisis when the number of caravans manufactured in Australia plummeted from 40,000 units per annum to just 5,000. Such was the downturn in the industry that it put iconic caravan brands like Millard and Viscount out of business. Alan was also adamant from the start that the business would have an onsite service centre, which gave them the capacity to look after customers long after they had left the dealership with their purchase. The service aspect has been another key ingredient for the business’ longevity as it has always offered a point of difference in a competitive marketplace. Had you asked Alan back in 1977 if he could envisage his company becoming one of Australia’s most successful and respected caravan dealerships 40 years down the track, it would have been difficult to imagine. The Central Coast was far from the sprawling, bustling region it is today. And for about the first third of his business journey, Alan would not have believed that they would ever have been able to rely solely on the sale of caravans and RVs to create sustainable success. But one of the hallmarks of a successful businessperson, especially one that has stood the test of time, is the ability to adapt to a changing marketplace. And that is something that Alan has always been very good at. The business grew so rapidly in the early years that Alan and Judy purchased additional land at Wyoming (the current site) on which to establish a separate caravan sales arm of the business. They also grew their team, at one point employing 22 staff. Their son Andy joined the business in 1994 after serving ten years in the Army. Until 2002 they sold used cars from West Gosford and caravans from Wyoming.