Industry Legends – Mike Halliwell

Consultation with structural engineers enables Mike Halliwell to develop a range of safari tents able to withstand wind speeds of up to 75mph


Mike HalliwellProfile

Name: Mike Halliwell
Role: Owner/Managing Director
Company: Bond Fabrications
Contact: 01453 767171/www.bondfabrications.co.uk

Favourite tipple: Generally red wine, though I’m partial to a nice G&T while sat in the garden in the warmer months of the year.

Last holiday destination: Oslo in Norway with my wife, Michelle, and our two teenagers. Experiencing the city was great (though a little expensive), but the few days of fantastic skiing nearby at the Tryvann ski resort was the highlight – great family fun and a little bit of competition between me and my teenage son, thankfully no injuries.

Cats or dogs? Definitely dogs, which seems to be a pre-requisite living in the Cotswolds. We have two Labradors, Moose and Chester, though we also have a cat called Arthur and Custard the rabbit – so anything our kids convince us to own really.

Current boxset/TV must watch: Crime drama usually – The Night Manager was excellent. Although truth is I’m also a sucker for Countryfile on Sunday evenings with a glass of red wine after a big family roast.


How did you get started in the business?
Bond Fabrications will be 30 years old next year, but we actually bought the business five years ago. Having spent over 20 years managing international businesses both in the UK and for eight years in the USA, it was time to bring things closer to home and nurture a business of our own. With my technical background in coated fabrics, the nature of the products produced by Bond made for a perfect match. I was particularly interested in the glamping tents, as it was clear that this market was just in its infancy at that point, and had incredible potential. The outdoors and camping has always been a passion for us as a family, so we were keen to be involved in a business where we really understood the market and our customers’ goals.

What is the history of Bond Fabrications?
Bond Fabrications has been designing and manufacturing bespoke marquees for almost 30 years, and first entered the glamping market with a safari tent 10 years ago. The first offering was available in just one size, but it was a great start and soon became a fast seller. We were keen though to develop a range that would be of incredibly robust structures and so, around four years ago, designed a new range of safari tents based on box section galvanised steel frames. Recently, we have employed a team of structural engineers to put all of our safari tents through a rigorous selection of tests, and the results have been incredibly positive.

Glamping tentWhat is the appeal of your products to glampsite owners?
Along with the steel frames, our tents are made using impermeable 650gsm PVC roofs and a poly-cotton 407gsm canvas treated to be waterproof, rot and mildew resistant – yes, perfect for British summers. The interior space is open and free of supporting poles so, interior arrangement is unobstructed. Since working with the structural engineers, we are now thrilled to report that all our safari tents offer excellent performance in wind speeds of up to 75mph. Bond Fabrications is the first company to offer safari tents performing at this level. We also offer premium upgraded safari tents in all sizes which, in accordance with the structural engineers’ report, offer additional performance for permanent use site-specific wind speeds. We can, in fact, provide a recommendation based on UK postcodes to determine site-specific permanent use wind speeds at their given location.

Clients are investing a great deal of money and time into setting up glamping sites, not to mention the cost of acquiring the correct planning applications, so the proven structural performance is a significant factor in purchasing safari tents.

Interior Glamping TentWhy do end users love your tents?
Aside from the high performance of our frames and materials, our customers get a personal and tailored service from the team at Bond. We make all of our products at our Gloucestershire factory, hand finish each and every structure, and I personally oversee each installation. Quality and workmanship take centre stage, and we make the majority of our tents to order so we can customise if needed.

Our testimonials speak for themselves. Kate Tregonning, owner of Brownscombe Glamping in Devon, is just one of many happy clients now running a successful luxury camping location: “Having opened with three tents in May 2015, we have now finished two seasons. Right from the beginning, Bond were different from other tent suppliers in the market place. They were competitive on price, but what made them stand out was the customer service – changes were made to their basic design to suit my site. The team came to put them up over two visits and they coped with the rain and long hours with good humour.

“We are based in Devon, which gives us an advantage, however, we have been really pleased that our occupancy has gone up from 56 per cent to 86 per cent in the same period from May to October, and it is 100 per cent in school holidays. This was way ahead of our business plan, as we had budgeted for 70 per cent. The feedback on the product has been very positive and I would highly recommend Bond.”

We are very proud of our relationships with our customers, and it is a great joy to watch their businesses take shape and dreams come true.

How would you describe the state of play in the outdoor hospitality market?
It’s clear that the glamping market is not just growing, but also evolving as it does so. We are seeing a greater demand for our larger tents, where our customers can provide beautiful, spacious interiors to match any experience normally found in five-star accommodation, with internal bathrooms and roll-top baths, antique furniture and sumptuous bedding. Of course, the beauty of our tents is that they are a blank canvas (no pun intended), so some clients opt to kit them out with simple pleasures in mind while others take it to the height of luxury. There is room for many different variations on ‘glamping’ in the marketplace but it certainly pays to create something unique.

Since Bond also designs and manufactures marquees too, we are seeing a similar trend there also. Fewer customers are looking for plain white marquees, but instead looking to create a more unique look or experience for their clients. It is an interesting and exciting business to be involved in at the moment.

Field with glamping tentsHow have you personally impacted the industry?
We have worked hard these past few years to develop a range of safari tents that will stand up to both the test of time and the increasing wrath of Mother Nature. Our customer service and aftercare is important to us – we are at the end of a phone for any emergencies or repairs and have a great relationship with our customers. Let’s be honest, there are quite a few providers of safari tents in the market right now, and that is a good thing – competition is a healthy monster and customers need to have choices for both different budgets, aesthetics and end uses. Currently, we are not aware of any other safari tents that have the proven structural credentials of ours, and we seem to be attracting clients who are keen to know and understand the technical specifications of the tents, in particular wind loading (and snow, dependent on location).

What plans do you have for the future?
Bond Fabrications will continue to grow within both the UK and overseas, yet it is our passion to remain in control and close to each and every customer of ours. We are committed to providing seriously robust safari tents of the highest quality, and, of course, manufactured here in the UK, along with a personal approach to each sale. The safari tent range, with our galvanised steel frames, has created a new generation of structures here at Bond, and the whole team have been involved in the design and evolution of our product offering. In the future, we expect the trend for high-end luxury offerings to grow both within the bespoke marquee market, and also in safari and glamping structures. We will stick to our mantra ‘creating quality, affordable solutions with honesty and craftsmanship’.

Campstead