A mobility retailer with plans for rapid expansion and to eventually ‘go national’ will aim to open 22 new showrooms designed to be an environment “nothing like anything that people have experienced” in the mobility industry before.
Ricky Towler, managing director of Middletons and co-founder Tom Powell, recently secured £4m of funding to roll out its retail concept, and told AMP that they want to create an “aspirational shopping experience” that breaks away from consumers’ traditional perception of mobility stores.
“If you walked into a [Middletons] store you’d see that it’s a clean, fresh space with a feel-good factor to it. It’s very much like if you or I might go into a Furniture Village or a DFS,” Towler said.
“We wanted it to be the same experience for our customer base so it didn’t feel like it was all crammed into one area with walking sticks hanging up.
“The baby boomers coming through now, that’s not what they want to see. We don’t feel like a ‘mobility shop’ needs to feel like you’re on death’s door.”
In fact, Middletons thinks of itself more as a lifestyle specialist rather than a mobility retailer.
Other retail concepts in this sector have attempted to radically change the format of their showrooms before to offer a more experiential store more in line with what mainstream retailers are doing. But the most extreme ones, for example Simplyhealth’s Unlimited Company’s model, failed to profit.
But Towler and Powell are confident Middletons strikes a good a balance. The pair felt that some stores can appear too clinical and are more in line with an Apple store.
“We think where some have gone wrong is that first and foremost their priority was to sell the small ticket items.
“There’s only so many people who are going to come in and buy a pair of slippers. Whereas we specialise in large ticket items – chairs, beds, scooters and the ancillary products come second.”
Towler insisted that the Middletons concept is a sustainable model that can be rolled out successfully to the point where it is a national retailer with one store within a 50 mile vicinity of one another.
“The beauty is that we’ve got a good relationship with the Development Bank of Wales, they’re pretty well connected with people who have got experience with store roll-out programmes.
“It’ll be about building relationships with them, making sure everything’s managed that way. We’ve got a pretty strong team here but we’ll probably be adding to that.
“We’re working quite closely now with some property agencies who have done this kind of thing before and who have done store roll-out programmes.
“We’re taking on people for various new roles who have been there and done it – it’s strengthening the team, giving it more strength and depth.”
Towler and Powell recognise that the inherent challenges of scaling up, finding the right properties and the economic and retail climates are barriers that will have to be overcome.
But they believe Middletons should not be overlooked as ‘too ambitious’ and said they are committed to shifting people’s perception of ‘mobility’ with the new stores.
“Given that we started out with £500 in our back pocket and we built our business in such a small amount of time, then ambitious is what we’re all about.
“You won’t find two people who are more passionate about the industry and the difference we want to make to it. Given the challenge, we will embrace it.
“We’re very excited about it and we want to make a difference to people’s lives. We want to revolutionise the way that mobility is perceived in this country because right now it doesn’t feel like it’s aspiring in any way, shape or form.”