A wide horizon is the promise of an exciting adventure. It’s the wonder of boundless possibilities and the open road.
In the small seaside town of Ballina on the NSW north coast, businessman Clayton Kearney has turned that promise into an award-winning motorhome brand.
Horizon Motorhomes started modestly from the former motor mechanic’s workshop and used car yard in the late 1980s. Three decades later, Kearney moulded this idea of boundless possibilities and exciting adventure into the Horizon product line and made history by winning Manufacturer of the Year three years in a row at the NSW Caravan and Camping Industry Association NSW Awards.
And 2017 also saw Horizon Motorhomes pick up the Best of the Best category for the second year, cementing its reputation for high-quality workmanship as well as enter the Association's Hall of Fame.
Clayton Kearney settles into a Casuarina Motorhome showcasing the exemplary styling for which Horizon is known to explain the trials behind the team’s success.
He recalls how it started with one motorhome in his used car yard. That van sold immediately. Looking for similar opportunities, he started repairing and refurbishing motorhomes.
“That led into buying second-hand Toyota Coaster buses and refitting them,” he says.
“We put them out in the sales yard and people would ask: ‘What brand are they?’ We didn’t have a brand name,” he laughs.
Smiling, he remembers mentioning the conundrum to his wife, who on reflection suggested Horizon. By her reckoning, it was a name that represented “the landscape – the wide horizon of Australia”. With that, history was created and a legend was born.
“We then started doing more and more fit-outs to second-hand buses,” Kearney explains. Then around 1998, as if glancing over a new horizon, he learned of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter’s arrival on the Australian motoring scene.
As far as Kearney was concerned, this five-speed rear-wheel drive bus was his next opportunity. Soon, Kearney and his team were fitting out the first of many.
Looking back, Kearney says refining “what we do” was the key to his success, telling Caravan World that recognition didn’t come overnight.
“Towards the late 1990s we got into the C class type chassis and in the early 2000s, I decided to specialise in van conversion and try to be the best in Australia.”
It took a decade before Horizon was winning the awards, suggesting he’d achieved that goal. Kearney says they reached it by “listening to the customers” and providing exceptional customer service “right through the whole process” from the time they met a prospective customer through to after sales “for many years to come”.
He says when you administer that sort of service, customers help spread the word.
Beyond that, Kearney says he puts a lot of store in what customers say and directs that feedback into the product in a process of continual refinement.
For Kearney, Horizon is also enjoy about Australia’s vast terrain.
“I have built some customised vans over the years to suit my family. We have done extensive travelling from short weekend trips to longer trips of one month or six weeks covering the outback,” he says.
Trips through the Kimberley region of West Australia and cross the Gulf of Carpentaria from Darwin to Cape York were particularly memorable. Always with an eye on business, Kearney says they’ve been vital in refining Horizon’s products.
However, through his market variations and trials and tribulations with the business, Kearney has stayed true to his goals.
“It hasn’t been an easy road, there’s been plenty of up and downs and times when things change and sales drop off,” he says. “You question whether we should change lanes, shift gears and do something different. I think the important thing is to not be too reactive.”
He says instead he works to “stay true to our beliefs and be the best van converter in Australia, provide a quality product and supply quality customer service”.
Looking back over the years Kearney says he is humbled that his business focus, his attitude of looking over the horizon for future opportunities, and his desire to care for customers has led to industry recognition.
“Sometimes you question that you are doing it right but you continue on with your passion and your dream,” he says. “Then to be rewarded and recognised by other people, particularly our industry associations, is a fantastic feeling.”
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #571. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!