Campervan and motorhome wins top Ballina business award
CLAYTON Kearney said it was "by accident" that he started selling campervans.
But the accidental start didn't matter when he stepped up last Saturday night to receive the Business of the Year Award at The Northern Star Coast and Hinterland Business Excellence Awards, organised by the Ballina Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Kearney is the owner of the Ballina Campervan and Motorhome Centre, and also the manufacturing business Horizon Motorhomes.
"What a great honour," he said at the gala awards night.
Mr Kearney, a mechanic by trade, started the business as a car yard, with his parents, back in 1988.
He said they accepted a campervan as a trade-in, and it sold pretty quickly - and this was in the days before the grey nomads were hitting the roads in retirement.
But that sale led to Mr Kearney noticing a gap in the market to sell to those wanting to live the dream of life on the road, and the Ballina Campervan and Motorhome Centre was born.
In 1995, he started the manufacturing business Horizon Motorhomes, and the 500th vehicle was recently sold.
Mr Kearney admitted there were some tough times in the early days, but the campervan and motorhome market has grown, and he said Horizon was now a leading brand.
Mr Kearney employs 20 people in Ballina.
He said he has a "passion for the lifestyle" which campervans and motorhomes offer.
And as his business grows - along with his children - he said he hopes to enjoy the products he sells more often.
Meanwhile, Trent Morgan, from Evolution Cafe and Wine Bar in Ballina, accepted the People's Choice award for the second year running.
He thanked his family for their support - but that family includes not only his wife and three boys, but his customers.
Mr Morgan was able to pinpoint a few of his customers at the gala awards night, and identify them by their favourite coffee.
The Don King community award, honouring the late Don King and sponsored by the firm he once worked for, albeit under a different name, Crowe Horwath, was this year shared by the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club and the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.
The event attracted 380 people, which was the biggest attendance since the global financial crisis started to bite eight years ago.