EDITOR’S VIEW: TUC exit shows how difficult it is to get the formula right

There’s really only one place to start this month: Simplyhealth’s decision to back out of the mobility retail space by closing down The Unlimited Company.

Signs that things weren’t quite right first emerged earlier this year when the company restructured the division’s management team, while last month Simplyhealth commercial chief Raman Sankaran gave an interview to AMP where he suggested the firm was heading in a different direction, with a much more service-oriented approach to business.

A year ago, such an outcome would have been impossible to foresee. The Unlimited Company appeared to be steaming ahead with its rebranding and expansion was the name of the game.

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The speed of Simplyhealth’s U-turn is remarkable but it perhaps illustrates just how aware it was that the model wasn’t right. Why persevere with something that you don’t think you can fix? Better to cut your losses and move on — something that a large, financially-secure organisation such as Simplyhealth is more comfortably-placed to do than, say, a smaller outfit that has hedged all its bets on making the business work.

Rival mobility retailers have differing views on what went wrong (which you can read here) but there are some familiar themes. One of those is that while the trend for high street retailers has been to take a fresh, streamlined approach to store design, this was never going to work in the mobility space. Customers visiting mobility stores ultimately want to see and test the equipment that will impact their everyday lives. The Unlimited Company endeavoured to create an ‘experience’ but in the end it was one that didn’t fit the market.

Its abrupt departure certainly doesn’t mean that new retail businesses with fresh ideas won’t emerge in future, but it is a timely reminder that some aspects of mobility retailing are best left as they are.

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