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On the road since 1954: TrailLite celebrates 70 years in business

2024 marks the 70-year anniversary for New Zealand-owned motorhome company TrailLite. Idealog hears from two generations of the Newman family about the firm’s longevity and running a business from Pukekohe.

Cabinetmakers. That is where TrailLite began – as a company making furniture, caskets and storage systems.

Peter Newman started work at TrailLite in his early 20s in 1970 as an apprentice. He remembers the business being a bit more “manual” and slower than it is now, and campervans weren’t made “fast enough”.

“As the levels of modernisation improved, caravanning only got more and more popular,” says Peter.

“Back then it was odd to see a beachside plot where there wasn’t one parked up.”

When his mentors retired in 1980, Peter Newman bought the company and kept it in the family. His sons Shaun, Dan and Adam took over the reins in 2015.

Now, TrailLite is a $57 million business.

Owners of a 1956 caravan.

Shaun Newman grew up with TrailLite and saw the potential of the business which his father developed from its cabinetmaker beginnings.

Dad Peter says that while they’re happy the company has stayed within the family, they are constantly working to scale it up.

Consumer behaviour since 1954 has changed greatly, with TrailLite entering the market when caravans were a new concept. Since then, motorhomes have become a significant feature of Kiwi life.

Change has been a constant over years, especially as bigger and global brands start making their way into New Zealand.

But they say being local is their secret to success and longevity. “We just try and play on the things that we can do really uniquely here,” says Shaun.

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Consumer behaviour has changed hugely, but Shaun says that they stick to the basics that made them successful to start with: customer interaction.

“That whole customer experience, the fact that I’m talking directly with my customers and they tell us what they like and what they don’t like. We are very responsive. We’re really nimble. We can make changes super quickly.”

Shaun, Dan, Peter and Adam Newman.

That’s difficult for global brands who can’t make changes so fast.

“We just try and give people a really incredible quality and fit and finish in our products. If you are a little bit smaller, it’s easier to do those things than if you’re an enormous, big corporate pumping out 100 motorhomes a day,” he says.

“For us to be continuing to grow and to be competing against some really large international players and to be doing it with the level of success that we have is extremely exciting. And then, to look back and consider that the business has been around for 70 years and still going strong is very cool.

“We are in manufacturing and people keep saying it’s a dying industry and it’s tough and that you can’t do it in New Zealand and all of those kinds of things. To be involved in manufacturing, building a world-class product in a small factory in Pukekohe, to me, is super, super exciting.”

A lineup of early TrailLite caravans in 1976.

Working with his brother and family has been another key to success, Shaun says, as they have the same goal in mind.

“[It’s] been really cool being able to come to work with my brother every day and work together really, really closely on growing the business and having someone that you can trust with all those decisions and to be able to talk about things when things are, a little bit more challenging as well,” he says.

And when asked if there were any brotherly fights that arise from working together, he answers with “very, very rarely”.

To mark their 70th anniversary, the Newman family are keen to get new and existing customers to take part in celebrations. But for them this is a milestone they’ll use as fuel to further their ambitions.

“For us, it’s really about looking back, remembering the things that have made us successful up until this point, building those into future products while also looking to grow and to innovate.”

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

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