Many of you will know our story, which started fifteen ago, as we have the pleasure of our loyal customers returning (some of you lots of times!). For those of you who don't already know, Choose Leisure started in summer 2008 as just a twinkle in Paul's eye...
Nottingham-born Paul Santos was no stranger to the motorhome industry having cut his teeth as a salesman twenty years ago before moving on to be a Sales Manager and then General Manager for major UK motorhome dealerships. This culminated in a move to Canterbury and his passion for the industry was set.
He was trading motorhomes for himself in 2007 when the lure of an empty site in Canterbury, next door to the reduced-sized Brownhills, proved too tempting. In 2008 Choose Leisure was born.
Paul tells the story "We started out with just three of us. Me with my mechanical, sales and business background, my wife Jenny, whose experience in accounts and marketing have proved to be invaluable, and Wayne who had worked as a salesman for me before. We had about six vans which we would clean and rearrange every day to make it look busy!"
The timing couldn't have been worse in terms of the country's economy with recession being declared in the autumn of 2008.
Paul said "It was a tough start. We sold our house and invested absolutely everything we had. It was a huge gamble but we’ve never looked back."
The team started to grow... Left to right: Jools, Wayne, Paul, Steve, Pete & Chris.
Choose Leisure created ‘Motorhome Brokerage’ as a hassle-free way to sell for a higher return.
"Five years ago if you Googled ‘motorhome brokerage’ it didn’t exist. We’re really proud to be the first people that did this and take it as a compliment that so many others have since followed suit. I believe we’re by far the best though!" Paul Santos, MD
Can you tell we had a little more time on our hands back then...?
A successful summer meant we started to need more space for our 'sold' row. Business was definitely growing despite being in the middle of the recession.
Increased sales meant a growing number of happy Choose Leisure customers, many of whom have come back to buy from us on more than one occasion. Our feedback page says it all: Choose Leisure Customer Feedback.
The South East lost two major dealers of the time back in May 2009 when both Brownhills and Discover Leisure closed their sites in the area. Business went from strength to strength for Choose Leisure and in September 2011 Paul and Jenny purchased the former Brownhills site and showroom on the A28 in Chartham.
We always make time to have some fun! We wrapped an entire Elddis Autoquest 160 as a Christmas present from Mr and Mrs Taylor for their very excited daughters.
A full pitch of stock attracted a full car park and used vehicle sales were rapidly gaining momentum.
To celebrate great results we organised a day away for the whole team. We've done something different every year since, meaning a number of fun trips for all!
In 2013 we teamed up with Kent County Cricket Club who are based very locally to us in Canterbury. We have been proud sponsors ever since.
In February 2013 we took delivery of our first brand new Auto-Sleepers. Despite having been offered many new franchises, we felt that this was the right partnership. The quality product is backed up by quality support which is vital for our business and our hard-earned reputation.
Now selling brand new Auto-Sleepers, Wayne and Paul went to trade on the Auto-Sleepers stand at The Caravan & Camping Show at the NEC in Birmingham.
It was at the show that we took our first order on a new van.
To date, we’re delighted with our level of Auto-Sleeper sales and plan for it to be a long and fruitful relationship.
Here is the team posing at one of the latest NEC shows.
Our team began to expand more rapidly. As we continued to grow busier we needed more hands on deck and Dom, second from left, joined us as Sales Manager in 2014. After being in this role for 7 years, he then went on to become Sales Director for a further two years at Choose Leisure.
The UK Summer Motorhome & Caravan Show came to the Detling Showground in Kent for the first time. Being on our home turf, we were keen to have a stand there and have been back many years since.
Charlie joined us as Service Coordinator (now Service Manager) and we became fully equipped to carry out mechanical servicing alongside our existing habitation workshops. Father and son, Tony and James Spriggs, made up our Mechanical team. The youngest son of the Spriggs family, Curtis, has since joined us as a Hab Technician - truly a family business!
We have always loved selling to people who are ready to start their adventures in a new motorhome. Choose Freedom, Choose Adventure, Choose Leisure!
(As an aside, someone once commented that "Choose Leisure" wasn't a business name at all, but a lifestyle statement!)
In 2011, when we took the huge step of buying our current showroom, workshops and forecourt, we gave up half of our previous site next door, thinking we’d never need it again - little did we know! We were bursting at the seams so were delighted to have taken that site back over again giving us another huge workshop and masses more forecourt space.
Written in-house and performed by Jenny, Caz and Ann-Louise, we recorded our very own jingle for our Smooth Radio adverts.
Choose Leisure turned 10 years old so we celebrated in style with bubbly, a BBQ and (of course) a birthday cake made by our fantastic in-house Pastry Chef, Carla!
Having recently expanded our upstairs store rooms into bright and airy open-plan offices, Paul, Jenny, Dominic and Molly move up to their new homes to make more space downstairs. Sharon (Finance Assistant) and Gary (Finance Manager) joined us to make the new finance team.
A decade of using our beloved site from when we first started left it a little aged (it happens to the best of us!) and, even though lots of you told us how much you liked it, Google didn’t agree. So, Marketing Molly and Karl of Jack Frost Creative got their heads down and created the website you see now.
Paul said: “We’re proud to have been recognised by automotive industry giant AutoTrader for the importance we place on our people and culture here at Choose Leisure – it’s something we work very hard at and I know our customers and suppliers feel the benefits too.” Jen added: “This is a win for the whole team”.
The lockdowns were an enormous challenge that made us look at different ways of working. We introduced video tours of our motorhomes so people could see them from home and took the opportunity to give our pitch a refresh. Many more people discovered the joy of motorhoming during these unusual years so we were excited to get back to business and meet new faces!
When the opportunity arose to expand across the road, Paul was keen to take it. However, this chance cropped up just before lockdown so all plans were dropped when the pandemic started and the future felt less certain. In Summer 2022 however, expansion was on the cards again and Paul seized the opportunity.
This exciting change made us able to open the diary up to more mechanical servicing. This new workshop was the ideal space for PDI work, meaning our original workshop was freed up, along with some additional pitch space.
Paul Santos said: “As Jenny and I continue to step back from the business we started 15 years ago this July, it’s great to have a new driving force join the company to take my place as Managing Director. Dave’s many years of experience in the industry, and existing relationship with Choose Leisure, will stand us all in good stead. Having also known Dave personally for over 20 years, I have no doubt that, working alongside Dominic and the rest of the amazing management team and staff, Choose Leisure will continue to thrive, whilst keeping that ‘family feel’ ethos we work so hard to preserve”.
Dave added: “When we appointed Choose Leisure with Auto-Sleepers ten years ago, little did I know what lay ahead would inexorably lead to me joining them as MD after 11 great years with Auto-Sleepers! But, having supported and seen them achieve milestone after milestone over the years, I’m over the moon to be entrusted with leading their incredible team, in what I know first-hand to be one of the country’s finest dealerships, as we continue to grow the business and provide our customers with the best possible experience synonymous with the ethos of Choose Leisure.”
We sell a number of brand new motorhomes from manufacturers who have similar values to us. We always look for brands that focus on quality and personality. Get to know each of the brands we work with so you can choose the right motorhome for you.