Diversify and Conquer | Nene Overland

Over the past 20 years Nene Overland has become one of the UK’s leading Land Rover specialists. We talk to the owner about the company’s origins and what it offers now

There’s a reason why the Land Rover Defender is still in production – no other vehicle can be used for so many diverse reasons. Use it on the farm, take it on an expedition, pile the kids in and take them to school. It can be what ever you want it to be. It has been an understanding of this plus reacting to owners many requirements that has seen local company Nene Overland grow from a cottage industry to one of the leading Land Rover specialists around the globe.

‘What I’ve tried to do over the years’ says Andrew Harrison-Smith, the company’s founder ‘is diversify into as many niche markets as I can all connected to this core product, Land Rover.’

The genesis of the company goes back to the Eighties when Andrew was a full-time farmer. Needing to diversify and make the farm more efficient he begun buying and selling farm machinery as a sideline. Having an interest in Land Rovers and off-roading he began dealing in the famous four-wheel drive as well.

‘From 1988 through to the early to mid nineties I was running the business on a much smaller fashion and the farm at the same time’ he told us. ‘I have a good friend who farms close to here who was in a similar situation and so we decided to combine forces, making the two farms much more efficient, freeing up my time to develop Nene Overland.’ The result was he quickly went from stocking around five vehicles to over 20. With his passion and understanding for the brand plus being a natural salesman the business quickly grew.

‘The core part of the business has always been vehicle sales, that’s what got us to where we are now. We’ve gone from selling a few cars a year to around 500. Although the majority of those are used, new Land Rovers from across the range are also sold weekly.’

Yet car sales are only the tip of the iceberg. Andrew has slowly created a one-stop shop for Land Rover owners offering all the services they might need. ‘There are between 20 and 30 Land Rover specialists in the UK’ he explains ‘and most of those will only sell vehicles where as we have a full complement of services.’

This started in the late nineties when customers started asking if Nene could service their cars and do little jobs to the vehicles. It now employs about 30 people over two sites – here at Ailsworth and at a body shop in Thorney. ‘We offer general servicing, MOT work, crash repairs and can reupholster thanks to our full time trimmer.’ Nene caters for all models, from old series Land Rovers to a brand new Range Rover. But most of its business tends to be Freelanders, Discoverys, Range Rovers and our core model, the Defender. ‘We also have all the modern diagnostic equipment to cater for all new Land Rover products.’

Nene will accept specialist bespoke commissions. These range from putting a tipping body onto a Defender for a tree surgeon, turning a standard Discovery into a commercial van to preparing a car for an overland expedition.

The company has been doing the latter for 15 years and stems from Andrew competing in extreme winching competitions plus two years travelling the world when he left university. This has given him a sympathetic understanding of what’s needed for an expedition and is ideally placed to suggest what works and what doesn’t.

Andrew has an understanding of what is needed for an expedition

And so they might upgrade the suspension so it will carry more weight, put some protection underneath (so when they’re driving over rocks it wont smash the differential), long range fuel tanks, water tanks, split charge electric and roof tent. Everything you need for an expedition across Africa or China for example.

And although Nene doesn’t organise overland trips, they have a member of staff who can give advice where it’s safe to travel, the kind of travel documentation you need, how to sort the insurance out etc. Basically everything you need to plan your adventure.

Yet despite its off roading abilities, the Defender has become much more about lifestyle and image recently and Andrew has reacted to this. In the last few years there have been more people who want an up market Land Rover Defender. ‘And so Nene can modify them up with sumptuous interiors, add upgraded wheels-tyres, body kits and finish with bespoke paint work. We can also tune the engine by remapping the ECU to improve torque and horsepower.’ So popular are these conversions he is now offering them under Nene Overland’s own brand – “Defender ICON”. ‘We love the Defender brand’ he says ‘and we don’t want to change it but we needed to create our own to encapsulate all the bespoke upgrades and modifications we can offer’.

Any Defender can be turned into an ICON

Any Defender – from a brand new model to an older example – can be turned into an ICON. It all comes down to your requirements and budget. And it can also be a car you already own or one you buy direct from Nene’s experienced sales team.

Yet despite Nene Overland being one of the most successful Land Rover specialists in the UK Andrew is aware of the challenges that lie ahead. To begin with he is keen to push the internet/mail order side of the business via the company’s website. ‘We have a comprehensively stocked parts and equipment showroom ready to look after all our online internet enquiries from at home and around the world.’

Yet Nene’s biggest challenge lies with production of the current Defender finishing in around 2015 in preparation for a brand new model. With it still being core to Nene Overland, this could have an enormous effect on the business and yet Andrew remains confident. ‘When they stop manufacturing the current Defender our ICON brand should be strong. And so for those who still want one they can come to me with, say a three year old model for example, for us to make it new again with all our ICON upgrades.’

Any company that’s based so much around one product will always face an uncertain future when that product comes to an end. Yet thanks to Andrew and the team at Nene’s passion for the brand plus their foresight to always diversify will see Nene Overland continue to grow and conquer any obstacles that lay ahead.

Nene Overland
7 Manor Farm, Ailsworth, Peterborough, PE5 7AF
Tel: 01733 380687

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