15th October 2018
Asking the general public for product ideas can be a tricky business and with Walkers Crisps walking the product development tightrope in the 1980’s by asking us Brits what flavours we would like to see; a collective snigger could be heard in Woolworths when we saw hedgehog-flavoured crisps on the shelves.
However, asking potential customers for input is a widely recognised way of measuring market forces and data collation has moved on somewhat from the heady days of 1980’s experimental snacks.
Wikipedia describes a focus group as being ‘a small, but demographically diverse group of people whose reactions are studied especially in market research or political analysis in guided or open discussions about a new product or something else to determine the reactions that can be expected from a larger population’. In short, sketch, build or bake a prototype and ask a carefully selected group what they think.
The development of Bailey’s all-new Phoenix followed the focus group route and Helen (my wife) & I were lucky enough to tag along and see how the process worked. Secrecy is obviously important during these early stages so non-disclosure agreements were signed before we were led to the top-secret bunker at Bailey HQ. I got to know the Pursuit incredibly well during the last couple of years and along with many family holidays in a brace of 560-5’s, I towed a 530-4 to the Arctic Circle and a 550-4 to Istanbul.
Questionnaires were distributed and made for a methodical inspection process, ensuring that key areas were given a good going over. Looking at the process in reverse, the finished Phoenix looks remarkably like the full-sized prototype, but with the devil being in the detail, it’s interesting to see how many of the points raised made it to the final design brief. The most notable difference between the outgoing Pursuit and its Phoenix replacement must be Bailey’s trademark front windows which, traditionally, were destined for their more expensive models. These proved popular with the group and understandably remain, but an assortment of tweaks have been made which make a world of difference to potential purchasers.
The ‘new’ Pegasus was also on display but with the Phoenix sharing the same body shell as well as several interior fixtures and fittings, it soon became apparent that the focus group were struggling to identify which caravan was which and folks could be seen glancing at the exterior decals to make sure the correct forms were filled in. This identity crisis was obviously noted as the Pegasus became the 8ft-wide Pegasus Grande for the 2019 model year.
Following this process from beginning to end, we took the Bailey Phoenix 760 on a family tour of the UK, France, Germany, Holland and Belgium to see if this family ‘van would work as well as expected. Being a twin-axle, the fixed-bunk Phoenix is understandably roomier than the single-axle, fixed-bunk Pursuit and the design touches that we’d discussed around the focus group table became obvious as our trip progressed.
The centre washroom never stopped feeling huge, the kitchen is a step forward at this price point and the TV occupied a position that suited us all. Even after 1500-miles and five countries, we’re still getting a feeling of déjà vu when we spot something from the focus group, and we’re pleased to report that no hedgehogs were harmed during the manufacture of this caravan.