Mobility retailers in the north of Scotland have stepped in to offer their support and services to an estimated 3,000 Ableworld customers who have been left without their local equipment provider when one of the company’s franchises closed last month.
Moorings Mediquip, based around 25 miles from Inverness, is one dealer to have leapt to the aid of customers who were affected by Ableworld’s store closure after a glass panel ‘exploded’ at a franchise branch in the city.
Ableworld’s managing director, Mike Williams, has assured impacted customers that they will not lose out on deposits or order deliveries. He said the company is setting up support networks for past customers of products and writing to customers explaining the situation.
But Tracy Murdoch, of Moorings Mediquip, which is based in nearby Forres, told AMP that the retailer plans on advertising in a local magazine to reach out to potential customers and support them.
She said: “We will be advertising in a magazine for the Inverness postcode. It will show how we have been here for 30 years because what we’ve found is that in the past we’ve had some businesses come and open up and close very quickly.
“We’ve been here 30 years and are one of the longest trading mobility dealers in Scotland. We cover the whole of Scotland so we know the product range that Ableworld was selling and primarily the suppliers they were using are obviously our suppliers too.”
Ms Murdoch said that Moorings is happy to accept impacted customers and added that it will be trying to get that message across to people.
There are only several mobility retailers within the Inverness area and customers in rural North Scotland often have to travel tens of miles for their equipment needs.
Able Care and City Mobility are the two closest retailers to Ableworld’s Inverness site and could be set to take on more business in the coming weeks.
The real boost in business for local providers though could come from ex-Ableworld customers needing equipment serviced rather than increased product sales.
Ms Murdoch said that the dealer’s service and breakdown arm has already been impacted by the closure.
“Our retail stays at a happy level. If we can add to that we’re delighted. But where we know it will impact on us is that certainly within the next few months we will see a definite uptake in repairs and servicing coming from the Highlands.”
Promising Ableworld’s suppliers that they will not lose out, Mr Williams said either Highland Mobility (Ableworld Inverness) will settle all accounts or Ableworld UK will satisfy suppliers.
He said: “Too many businesses in our industry and others pull the plug and leave their customers and suppliers ‘high and dry’, which is something that we will not do.”
The closure of Ableworld’s Inverness branch was the first store it has ever had to shut and it attributed the termination to immigration issues the franchise owner had and health and safety concerns caused by a broken glass panel.
Some local competitors though have questioned the viability of a franchise model in areas like the north of Scotland where customer requirements are sometimes different to the rest of the UK.
Ms Murdoch said that depending on where a customer is in the UK they are asking their equipment to do “entirely different things”, especially with powered products in rural Scotland.
She added: “People in our part of the country are not always interested in lower prices.
“Take pavements for example. In small towns in Scotland local authority budgets mean there might not be a drop kerb for a mile-and-a-half and there may not be a level crossing. And there’s the terrain too. There’s lots to think about.
“A lot of people will live on the outskirts of the town which might mean going eight miles to the shop and eight miles back, and believe me it happens. It’s not like using a small class 2 scooter to nip around the city centre.
“With the franchise model a store might only have the ability to stock certain products from certain suppliers which could be an issue.”