Simon Poole.



What is your business called?

Jerba Campervans.

What does it produce?

Jerba converts brand new Volkswagen Transporter T6 vans into campervans. We produce around 50 campervans each year, offering six standard configurations. As a registered converter for Volkswagen, Jerba is an established brand name with customers throughout the UK.

Where is it based?

North Berwick.

To whom does it sell?

We sell straight to the general public, rather than through an agent. Average customers are keen campers who fancy something more comfortable than a tent. They’re normally 50+, their kids may have left home and they tend to be downsizers and cash buyers.

What is its turnover?

£2.7m this year and growing.

How many employees?

17 in total – 15 members of staff and two directors.

When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

I always wanted to have my own business, I was just looking for the right idea. I’ve always been creative, I’m happy managing people and I’m a bit of a risk taker.

When I was 38, I bought my own campervan and fitted it out myself. I got great feedback for it. Then, not long after, I spotted a gap in the market as people were buying bespoke VW campervans from a company based in Surrey. Some had to travel miles just to view a van before even buying it.

I was also keen to create a workplace that both motivated and rewarded staff, which was why we have recently become an early adopter of Employee Ownership.

After the move to Employee Ownership in January this year, my co-director and I transferred 100 per cent of our shares to a trust which will pay us back an agreed value from profits over the next five years. This allows us to have a structured exit from the business and to leave our staff in a very favourable place, with future profits shared equally amongst employees. It’s a model that gives us a fair return, secures local jobs for the long term and gives employees real financial reward for their input.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I worked for Cancer Research UK as a fundraiser for 13 years – and then as a fundraising consultant for a couple of years. Working in fundraising was very enjoyable and certainly had its challenges, but it came to the point in my life where I decided that if I was going to start my own business I just needed to take the plunge!

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I borrowed money from family and friends to buy two new vans to convert – I had to look like a credible business and not just have one campervan to show! I was lucky that I could do that, but the financial risk was low as the vans were capital items that held their value. If it didn’t work out then I knew I’d be able to sell them, even if it was at a small loss.

What was your biggest break?

I managed to meet one of the important guys at VW who could help us partner with them. But I’m a firm believer in ‘you make your own luck’. Clever networking is key; I know from charity days that you have to be savvy with who you contact and not rush building relationships.

What was your worst moment?

The first time we exhibited at the NEC for the annual Motorhome & Caravan Show in 2009. Over 100,000 people attend the show over six days and I went with an expectation that everyone would want to order one of our campervans. We didn’t take a single order! In hindsight it was a great learning experience in setting realistic goals.

What do you enjoy most about running the business?

I really enjoy employing people and giving them a good, stable job that’s local to where they live. In rural places like North Berwick job opportunities outside the tourism and service sector are limited. At the end of the day when I’m locking up, I think about how people can pay their mortgages and enjoy their life thanks to the business - it’s really satisfying.

I love the fact that we have been able to implement an employee-ownership model – it has given the team and the business a huge boost and I’d recommend it whole-heartedly.

Second to that is, of course, knowing that we’re giving customers what we reckon is a wonderful lifestyle and experience through their van. By their very nature, most of our customers are genuine enthusiasts and keep in close contact with us.

What do you least enjoy?

It can be difficult to make sure that every employee has a voice, no matter how hard you try. I do believe that employee-ownership is certainly the best model for all staff to feel empowered.

What are your top priorities?

Ensuring that customers get a top-quality product and service is my number one priority, closely followed by making sure that my employees are well-looked after.

And then it’s product innovation – we’re always looking for ways to improve what we do, in every aspect, to stay ahead of the game.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned?

When I worked with at Cancer Research UK the then head of fundraising had two great sayings that I still live by today. They are: “A clear strategy enables you to say no to a good idea” and “data takes the emotion out of decision making”. Many a decision I’ve made over the past 12 years has been underpinned by both of these!