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Marquis: Introduction and Overview PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

Erroneous Description and Subsequent Illegal Sale of an Autocruise Starblazer Motorhome by Marquis Motorhomes
June - July 2014

Introduction and Overview

Barry and Margaret Williamson

The Next File: The Initial Account of Events and Complaints

See all Nine Marquis Files at: Marquis Malpractice

This is the story of how Marquis Motorhomes failed to deal with any of the several complaints we made arising from their mis-advertising and mis-selling of an overweight motorhome from their South Yorkshire branch and how they refused to refund the money we had paid without inordinate delay and draconian conditions. 

This is a first draft and is subject to further development.

Much more detail can be found by following the links below or reading through the other 8 files in this series.

This story is almost unbelievable. We lived through it for over a month in the summer of 2014, not believing what was happening, even as it happened. Almost every day produced another twist and turn in the plot (mainly twists) and it has been quite a challenge to present the many facets of the tale. Let's see how it turns out.

The Stage

The action is set in the large rambling site known as the South Yorkshire branch of Marquis Motorhomes on the western outskirts of the town of Dinnington. We are just north of the A57 and east of the M1.

Marquis acquired the site following the bankruptcy and liquidation of its former occupants, South Yorkshire Caravans in January 2014. We guess that this is the mechanism by which Marquis has expanded, Brownhills-like, to its present size of 11 branches spread throughout England.

The original staff were retained although, as we shall see, their knowledge was limited to the sale of caravans. They were being asked to advise on and sell motorhomes with little evidence of any supervision or training, and motorhomes were taken to a local garage for servicing and repair.

Other scenes are played out in the Riverside Caravan Park almost in the centre of Worksop, about 10 miles east of Dinnington.

Cast of Characters

The Victims:

Barry Williamson
Margaret Williamson

The Bit Players:

Mike Gratton: Experienced Caravan Sales Executive
Andrew Milne: Experienced Caravan Sales Executive with some knowledge of motorhomes
Steve: Experienced Caravan Demonstrator

The Barons:

John Ivell: Sales Manager, parachuted into an unenviable role within the newly acquired business

Alan Doherty: Group Aftercare Manager. The man with power within a vaguely defined role at Marquis Headquarters in Southampton

Supporting Cast:

The Readers of this Website 

Behind the Scenes:

Cath: The wonderful manager of the Riverside Caravan Park in the centre of Worksop

Dean Brookes: The brilliant salesman at the excellent Brownhills Motorhomes of Newark

Preamble:

Barry and Margaret had spent the winter in Sicily and spring in the southern Greek Peloponnese, living in their Lunar Quasar caravan which was pulled by a 3.5 ton VW Crafter van. Contemplating the coming summer, they decided that a caravan was great for living in, with the VW van good for carrying up to 2 tons of essentials, but to be travellers again they needed a motorhome. They had tried two tow-vans (Sprinter and Crafter) and three caravans (Compass, Bailey and Lunar) and it was time for a change.

The motorhome had to be less than 3.5 tons to match Barry's driving licence, which had lapsed from 7.5 tons when their second American motorhome was sold in October 2011. Furthermore, in mainland Europe, road tolls increase dramatically and become more complicated over 3.5 tons and there are increasing restrictions on access and speed limits throughout the continent.

They also needed a 'garage', a large storage area at the back of the motorhome for their bicycles and cycling equipment as well as all the other things that wouldn't fit inside the motorhome itself. This also necessitated a good payload within the 3.5 tons limit.

The Enquiry:

Using a good internet connection near Corinth, they sourced a seemingly ideal vehicle on the Marquis Motorhomes website: 3.4 tons, large garage, overcab bed area for extra storage and a number of extras. They completed the enquiry form in the website, mentioning a 3.5 ton limit and a garage. The emailed reply from John Ivell put them in touch with Mike Gratton, defined as a Sales Executive.

Barry sent an email to Mike Gratton, again mentioning the 3.5 ton limit, and finally arranged to view the motorhome on 23 June 2014 after arriving back in the UK. This required a refundable deposit of £250 to reserve the vehicle.

The Plot Thickens:

The scene having been set, Barry and Margaret now take over the telling of the story.

On Monday 23 June Mike Gratton showed us over the motorhome, freely admitting that he had worked with caravans in the business's previous incarnation as South Yorkshire Caravans. It was Marquis who now insisted that he, and others, sell motorhomes as well as caravans. His lack of knowledge and experience showed under questioning; he did reply '3.4 tons' when we asked him to confirm the maximum weight of the motorhome. Probably he was reading from a placard but he never doubted or checked this 'fact'.

Mike Gratton encouraged Barry to take a test drive, without asking about his driving licence. The drive went well and we were very impressed with the potential of the motorhome. So much so that we paid a further £1,750 to confirm the deal, which included Marquis taking our Lunar caravan (though not the VW Crafter) in part exchange.

In drawing up the financial agreement, we noticed the inclusion of a Road Fund Licence (or Vehicle Excise Duty – VED) for only 6 months, but it was easily changed to 12 months at our request. The cost for this was given as £230 which was reassuring – being the cost for a Private Light Goods Vehicle, that is one weighing less than 3.5 tons.

Tragedy:

We collected the motorhome on 8 July, having delivered the caravan to Marquis and paid the balance of the money due. After a briefing by Steve, a friendly man though handicapped by the same limited knowledge of motorhomes as Mike Gratton, Barry drove the motorhome about 12 miles to our base, the excellent Riverside Caravan Park in Worksop.

Later that evening, browsing through the wallet of leaflets, booklets and papers provided by Marquis, we came across a single sheet that was to change all our plans for the summer. It showed that the motorhome had a maximum weight of 4.15 tons following the addition of rear air suspension several years ago!

Into Action:

The next morning, Wednesday 9 July, we telephoned the Sales Manager at the Dinnington branch about our findings and arranged to meet him at 11 am. He was very concerned and reassured us that a solution would be found. He explained that problems had arisen from the decision to retain the staff from the bankrupted former caravan dealer. He also admitted that the maximum weight had been incorrect in the original website advertisement for this Autocruise Starblazer motorhome. Later he was to discover similar errors in other advertisements.

His initial proposal was to explore the possibility of returning the motorhome to 3.5 tons, suggesting that he would arrange for it to be collected the following Monday, 14 July and have it taken to a weighbridge.

Unable to wait so long, on Friday 11 July we took it to a weighbridge in Worksop ourselves, where for £10 we found that 'unladen' it came in at 3.45 tons! No way (sic) could it be given a maximum weight of 3.5 tons - a payload of just 50 kg.

Trying to contact the Sales Manager with this news on Friday 11 July, both the receptionist and the man himself proposed we take the matter up with Mike Gratton, our original Salesman! Perhaps he thought we wanted to buy another motorhome instead! Eventually the Sales Manager agreed to meet us at 11 am on Monday 14 July.

Preparing for the meeting, we checked the tax disk and found that it was for a Private Heavy Goods Vehicle and cost £165 (rather than the £230 for a Light Goods Vehicle, listed on our invoice)! A Private Heavy Goods Vehicle has a weight between 3.5 and 7.5 tons, requiring a category C1 licence.

Despite a promise from the Sales Manager not to sell our traded-in caravan until the problem was resolved, we noticed that it was already for sale on the Marquis website, and at a mark-up of 40% on the price they had given us. This was after only 4 days, during which nothing had been done to it.

All that had happened so far in this sorry story was written up with copies printed ready for the meeting.

When we met, the Sales Manager's earlier optimistic mood had gone and he appeared nervous and tense. He had been through to his manager, Alan Doherty at headquarters. All he could do was to ask us to write up our experience for Doherty, along with a statement of what we wanted to happen. We weren't given information on how to contact Doherty, so we emailed a statement and the chronological account to the Sales Manager for forwarding.

The Empire Strikes Back:

By Tuesday 15 July, in a state of hubris at the helm of 11 branches, Alan Doherty the 'Group Aftercare Manager' decided that we had to sign an agreement to sell the motorhome back to Marquis and wait for the money until we could give them the Vehicle Registration Document, which would come from the DVLA to our home address.

Through John Ivell, Doherty provided a statement that we were peremptorily asked to sign, with no opportunity to take further advice. The only alternative given to us was the prospect of lengthy, expensive and further time-wasting litigation. And the mighty Marquis Group would be able to employ specially trained and expensive lawyers.

The clever (almost to the point of being admirable) result of this manoeuvre by Marquis was that they avoided responding to or taking any responsibility for the multiple mistakes they had made, up till then and later. In effect, rather than simply taking the motorhome back and reimbursing what we had paid for it, they were buying it back on their own terms.

Not least, this made things look good on their books - they had sold a motorhome, they bought a motorhome - but it gave us the second worst possible outcome. There was no response to our complaints, no compensation and a long wait for the refund of our money. Having sent the Registration Document to the DVLA on 6 July 2014, the Sales Manager said it would arrive within 2 weeks and payment would be immediate thereafter. It actually took 25 days to return and a further 5 days for the final payment to be made on 5 August 2014.

But why did Marquis try to stall and gag us? Were they so ashamed of the way they were treating us? Why not live up to their own propaganda and send us away content that their mistakes had been rectified and we had been recompensed? 

While we were waiting for our money, Marquis had immediately advertised the motorhome for sale on their website. But how could it be theirs to sell until we had been paid for it?

Keeping up the Pressure:

We continued writing to Marquis, with a focus on discovering whether or not they had a complaints procedure.

Over 800 organisations involved in the sale, maintenance, storage and camping of caravans and motorhomes are members of the NCC. Major motorhome dealers like Brownhills, Broad Lane and Lowdhams have signed up the NCC Code Of Practice. Among other things this binds them into having a complaints procedure with the NCC itself, ensuring access to low cost independent redress. Unsurprisingly, given our experience, Marquis is not a member of the NCC and has not signed up to its Code.

Comparing Marquis with Brownhills is like comparing Greece with Germany.

Marquis South Yorkshire occupies a desolate 50-acre site along a side road into the former mining town of Dinnington. There is no signage around the site, except for 'Reception' over the entrance to a single building. Inside there are no facilities except the shared use of the small staff toilet.

A large number of caravans and a small number of motorhomes occupy the otherwise empty site, with no clear indication of which, if any, are for sale. Or which are open to inspection. An advantage is that you are unlikely to be disturbed by a sales executive.

By contrast, the Brownhills site in Newark has easy access from the A1 and the A46. The site is clearly signed from the outside and around the inside. There is defined parking for visitors and a warm welcome from all the staff you may meet. Only motorhomes are sold on this site and the advantages of this specialism are immediately obvious. All the motorhomes that are for sale, used or new, are open for inspection and the sales staff are immediately available but not intrusive.

Other facilities open to the general public include an excellent and reasonably priced cafe, a well-stocked accessories shop, good modern toilets and a machine for free drinks (tea, coffee, soup or fruit juice) inside the vast indoor motorhome showroom.

Buying a motorhome gives automatic membership of 'Club Brownhills' with the following benefits: unlimited free overnights with a hook-up and free WiFi; water-filling and toilet-dumping, a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna, coin-op washer and drier, washing-up room, toilets and showers, TV lounge with books and games. All this plus 10% discount at the café and the accessories shop. As long as you continue to own any Brownhills-bought motorhome!

Buying a motorhome at Brownhills is a pleasure, working through a competent and transparent staged process, which is well explained and documented at every stage. Motorhomes are thoroughly prepared, serviced and repaired in one of several specially built workshops on the site. Accessories can be fitted at any stage before collection.

Where Did Complaints Procedure Come From?

Eventually, on Saturday 26 July, John Ivell sent us a copy of what he called the Marquis Complaints Procedure, claiming that we had been following it. But we were seeing it for the first time and the document named Alan Doherty, the Marquis Group Aftercare Manager, as the second line of complaint if the matter couldn't be resolved within the branch! The matter could have been resolved amicably within the branch, but Doherty had interfered to ensure that no complaints were investigated or dealt with: rather he attempted to gag the complainants.

There was no mention of what procedure could be followed if the complaints still remained unresolved!

In other words Marquis had their own and hopefully unique form of complaints procedure.

The 'complaints procedure' was 5 brief paragraphs in a Word document on plain paper, with no date, no ownership, no heading, no protection. It only took a moment to discover that it was written in its present form at 10.48 on the morning of Friday 11 July, two days after we first made our complaint. It was written by Chris Bennion, the manager of the Marquis Sussex branch. There were no previous versions of the file.

We put this puzzling information back to the branch Sales Manager and the Group Aftercare Manager, but received no response from either of them.

The Dénouement:

Learning that the Registration Document had arrived at our home address on Thursday 31 July, we hired a car to collect it and took it round to the Marquis South Yorkshire branch. The next day, John Ivell took details of our bank accounts over the telephone (there were three payment to be made, a small credit card amount for the initial deposit and a large debit card repayment for the balance). He promised the rapid transfer of money.

The credit card amount appeared on Saturday 2 August, the debit card payment on Tuesday 5 August, some 28 days after our first complaint.

However, all was not lost. On the morning of Friday 11 July we had learnt the worst after taking the Marquis motorhome to the weighbridge in Worksop. That same afternoon we drove the Crafter van 25 miles south down the A1 to Brownhills of Newark. Thus began a very pleasant process, led by salesman Dean Brookes, towards the purchase of a 7-metre, genuinely 3.5 ton Corado motorhome with a garage. We finally took delivery on Tuesday 29 July.

Pictures of the Carado at: http://www.magbazpictures.com/new-carado-motorhome.html

Brownhills fitted a comprehensive alarm system, Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham subsequently added extra locks on all four doors, a second leisure battery and a solar panel, and the excellent Autogas 2000 in Thirsk equipped us with two lightweight refillable gas bottles, each with a capacity of 11 kg of LPG. Now we are ready for the road after losing over a month to the unforgiveable interruption caused by Marquis.

We write this in Moffat on the Scottish borders, on our way to meet Dan on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. On Tuesday 26 August we sail from Newcastle to Amsterdam, hoping to catch up on some of the travelling and cycling we missed this summer.

The Next File: The Initial Account of Events and Complaints

See all Nine Files at: Marquis Malpractice