Topic: Gipsy Caravans, Levin

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Celebrating 60 years of business, Gipsy Caravans is last remaining caravan manufacturing company in Levin.

According to local historian, Corrie Swanwick, the company was created when the NZ Belting Co. Ltd. (makers of heavy leather and industrial machine belting, established in 1938 by Frank Croot) diversified into manufacturing caravans.

 

 

From left:

Wendy and Robin Croot, directors, daughter Nicola, admin manager, and sons David, coachbuilder, and Andrew, marketing manager.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The company website (www.gipsy.co.nz) has an extensive history of the company:

Original Factory 1938
An Original 1953 Gipsy Caravan
The Croot Family Holiday - 1951
     
 
October 1951 – work started on the first Gipsy Caravan, which was completed by Christmas 1951

Initially the company traded under the name of Crotan Caravan products, and was mostly involved in the manufacture of private and commercial vans and in the making of all types of caravan parts & awnings. The company founders were Frank and Laura Croot. Frank’s background was in engineering
 
In 1955 the company name was changed to Gipsy Caravans Ltd, and started specialising in caravan building only
 
In the early days of Gipsy Caravans, a great number of commercial vehicles (pie carts, catering vans, mobile dental clinics, etc) and mobile homes (living accommodation for the show and circus people) were built
  In 1961, Frank & Laura’s son, Robin Croot, joined the company full time, after being involved part time since a young age. Robin and wife Wendy are the current directors of Gipsy Caravans
  The business flourished through the sixties and early seventies as more holiday style caravans were built, with the 10’ to 14’ vans the most popular size
  In the early 1970’s, Robin Croot took over as General Manager, and staff numbers grew to 28 in the mid 70’s
  In May 1978, Muldoon’s National Government introduced the sales tax on caravans. All caravan orders, except 2, were cancelled over night. All staff were given notice, with only Robin and the factory manager staying on to complete the current jobs
 
In took 4-5 years for the caravan business to pick up again.
  Frank Croot retired in the late 1970’s and passed away in 1980, at which time Robin Croot became Governing Director
 
In 1989, Gipsy Caravans incorporated Classic Caravans, when Phil May, the then owner of Classic Caravans retired
 
In 1983, the staff had increased to 8, but to date, the staff level has never reached the heights of the mid 70’s. The old factory was too small due to the increased size of the caravans being built. A new 4,500 sq. ft factory was built
  The original factory (3 army barracks from McKays Crossing at Paekakariki: 2 side by side & one on top) has since been leased out to various other local companies. It is currently occupied by Elders Merchants
  About the same time, the land and house of the adjoining property was purchased, and this became the sales office and show room
 
In 1996, the original Gipsy Caravans was taken over by Robin and Wendy Croot, and the name changed to Gipsy Caravans 1996 Ltd
 
In 1997, Robin & Wendy’s son, David Croot, returned from living in Sydney, to take over the factory manager’s position. David is now the third generation of caravan builders in the Croot family
  Robin and Wendy’s daughter, Nicola Croot, had been involved in the company from a very early age, but joined the company full time in 2004 as administrative assistant, and continues this position today (although she is just about to depart on maternity leave)
  Robin Croot semi-retired in 2008, but can still be seen around the factory and yard on an almost daily basis
 
In May 2008, Tim Murray joined the team as accessories shop manager, and is still here today. Tim is now an expert on caravan parts and accessories
 
In April 2009, Robin and Wendy’s other son, Andrew Croot, returned from living abroad, and is now helping with marketing and management issues, as well as sales on the yard

 

The following article appeared in The Chronicle on 20 May 2011:

Standing the test of time

Back in the 1970s the caravan industry was the life blood of Levin employing hundreds of people.

Almost overnight the industry died.

Prime Minister Robert Muldoon announced a luxury tax would be added to the price of caravans. Unemployment in the Horowhenua soared as businesses downsized or closed their doors. By 1980 it seemed the iconic Levin caravans were gone.

The sole survivor is Gipsy Caravans, which after 60 years in business has an awful lot to celebrate -the fact it survived those tumultuous days, remained in Levin and has employed three generations of the Croot family and continues to do so.

Survival is largely thanks to the foresight and entrepreneurial skills of Levin engineer Frank Croot, his son and grandsons after him.

"Grandad moved to Levin in the early 1930s," grandson and marketing manager Andrew Croot said.

"In 1950 he took the family on a trip to Australia where they hired a caravan. It was a Gypsy caravan. They loved it, and that was it, Frank decided he would start up a caravan business as soon as he got home.

"Grandad had a large factory in Oxford Street, it was an old army barracks shifted from McKay's"crossing. His company was the New Zealand Belting Company, they made bicycle seats."

The building still exists alongside the Gipsy Caravan factory at the south end of Oxford Street.

In 1951 the first caravan, just over three metres long, was ready for Christmas. From there it grew and just 10 years later son Robin joined the thriving company that is Gipsy Caravans.

"By then caravanning holidays were a popular choice for the average Kiwi family," Andrew said.

"Our staff numbers peaked at 40 and we were putting out six caravans a month." ' Using their entrepreneurial flair Frank and Robin entered the commercial realms, building mobile xray and dental units as well as outside broadcast radio transmission vehicles.

It was the 1970s and times were good, but nothing lasts forever and the bubble was about to burst.

In 1979 a 20 per cent luxury tax was introduced, killing the caravan and yachting industry, among others.

" Virtually all orders were cancelled overnight, all staff had to be laid off," Andrew said.

"It was a tough time alright."

The Croots stayed positive and diversified, the secret of the company's survival

They bought a gas station, began a caravan rental business building up a fleet of 20 vans, started a tool hire business and a few other sideline ventures as well.

"We climbed out of the doldrums," Andrew said.  

The company moved on, expanding into bigger premises but always staying loyal to Levin using local businesses wherever possible.
"This land in Oxford Street is an amazing legacy left to us by my grandfather," Andrew said.
"We have every' intention to carry on grandad's tradition."
Today, 60 years on, Gipsy Caravans is still very much a family affair with Robin and wife Wendy semi-retired but in the directors' chairs, their sons David a coachbuilder and Andrew in marketing, while daughter Nicola handles company administration.

A further four people are also on board.

"Caravanning was out of vogue for a bit, but it's enjoying a strong resurgence," Andrew said.

In typical entrepreneurial fashion, they are meeting the market with plans to re-establish their rental fleet, expand the accessory shop and continue coachbuilding.
"Looks like Gipsy can look forward to at least another 60 years of success,' Andrew said.

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Gipsy Caravans, Levin


Website:www.gipsy.co.nz
Contact phone number:06 368 5548
Contact postal address:5 Oxford Street, (State Highway 1) Levin 5510