Barnsley mobility dealer focuses on service-side to compete against chains

Since setting up just over a year ago, one of the mobility market’s infant retailers has shown that independent shops can find success in areas national chains would struggle to maneuver in. Total Mobility’s managing director reveals to AMP how the business has developed in the last year and how it has surprised itself and others with its success. 

The mobility retail landscape is tough. Even for established operators, opening up a new store requires careful consideration, significant investment and forethought. On top of that, you need the specialist product and medical knowledge to provide the level of customer service necessary to go up against established dealers and national chains.

When Nicola Makings and Steve Rushworth launched their debut dealer site in Barnsley last July, they were setting up in the backyard of an established retailer and a national chain. While a shop opening will sometimes create a short-term, local buzz, new mobility dealers need time to establish themselves and build trust among consumers. Total Mobility Ltd, then, could be forgiven for fearing that it might encounter a struggle in getting a foothold in the fierce local market.

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But luckily for Makings and Rushworth, the business has managed to find its feet incredibly quickly and get off to a much stronger start than it could have envisaged. One year on and the business is growing fast and continually expanding its product and customer base. This though has not been through pure chance.

Nicola Makings has already secured accounts with major suppliers.

Both Makings and Rushworth boast 18 years in the mobility industry between them. Experience is something that can’t be bought or taught and so is absolutely priceless when it comes to setting up in the field. The two directors were both employed at Simplyhealth in Leeds and have taken their retail experience with them into their new venture.

Makings knows how important a reputation and exposure is in this industry and she says there has been a correlation in the short time Total Mobility has been operating. Business has picked up since it has been pushing its name out. In Barnsley there are already two juggernauts. Parkgate Mobility is a Motability-accredited retailer with a 14-strong portfolio, while Eden Mobility runs a national operation and an impressive estate of outlets.

So far though, Makings is surprising her rivals. “To be fair, going up against the big names has not been as bad as we initially thought. We have picked some customers up from both of those places. I think it’s because of the excellent service we provide. We run the company and we’re responsible for it. Whereas when it’s not your own company you’re working for you don’t always have the same drive for customer service,” she says.

While Total Mobility may have got off to a strong start in the face of two major competitors, it is by no means guaranteed that any start-up retailer will find success in the market. Luckily for Makings, not only could she call on her experience from Simplyhealth but also the contacts she acquired there. As such, breaking into the market with a new business was relatively easy, she says.

Experience in the industry means Total Mobility has contacts for suppliers who are only too happy to work alongside the retailer.

“We had already got a lot of contacts from working in the industry for a long time. We were really lucky. With the mobility industry some retailers can be funny about their suppliers setting up accounts with other retailers in the same area and if we hadn’t have known all those reps and suppliers I think it would have been a different story. But because they all know us quite well it was not a problem getting accounts with the big suppliers. It’s important to us to work with big name suppliers who have access to the best products. We know how they work and we can trust the products we sell.”

“Some retailers can be funny about their suppliers setting up accounts with other retailers in the same area. If we hadn’t have known all those reps and suppliers I think it would have been a different story”

On the face of it, it seems that extensive experience and industry contacts are vital to starting a new mobility retail outlet. That said, smaller operators without the same level of experience and looking to surface in the sector should by no means be discounted. Many small, independent retailers are now exploring new avenues for growth where larger chains would struggle.

Some industry observers are urging smaller dealers to focus on the service side of their business rather than a flamboyant product offering in order to survive against the big names and internet firms. Most large retailers are not at the moment able to promise a scooter repair within hours of it being brought in, for example.

In five years time, Makings hopes her business will be a serious competitor to other stores in the area. “We hope to be the first place that everyone in Barnsley and the surrounding area thinks of when they need mobility equipment. I think we’re on track for that,” she says, laying out her plans. And looking at Total Mobility’s first year, it would take a brave onlooker to write off her hopes.

Mobility retailers around the country starting out and looking to become established, reputable firms should not be cowed by the size of the players in the game and the level of competition they face. With every shop opening that occurs, the market is proving that there is room for retailers who can provide impeccable service for their customers and their products. Total Mobility is certainly testimony to that in South Yorkshire.

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