Yorkshire Care Equipment’s CEO Tom Hulbert is accelerating the company’s growth beyond expectations and confirmed that new markets such as case management and wetrooms as well as a focus on its fast-expanding supply-arm will lead his ambitious plans to treble in size by 2020.
You mentioned recently that you’re hoping to treble in size by 2020. How feasible is that and how will you look to achieve that?
We have had year-on-year growth every year since 1995 but what we are looking at now is even faster growth. The ways we see that happening are that we’ve split the company into two sections — we’ve got Yorkshire Care Equipment and we’ve got Innova, which is a sister company. We see much faster growth with Innova because it’s project-led and so there are very big projects to be won.
We recently won a £850,000 order for tracking hoists in a new-build hospital and what we’ve tried to do is build up our own portfolio of products rather than just being a dealer. We have developed our own branded products and distributorships of foreign companies where we’re importing. That’s allowing us to tackle those much bigger orders and contracts. I think that’s how we are going to get our growth — through unique products and offerings.
It seems as though the supply side of the business is really taking off this year…
Yes, absolutely. What we started to see around five years ago was that the dealer as a middle man was beginning to get cut out more and more and although there is always going to be a place for dealers, and that’s still a strong side of the business for us, I think the real growth will come from going a step further back in the supply chain.
Will you step back from retailing or will that side also scale up along with Innova?
The way the business is at the moment, we are still growing our retail side but just not at such a fast rate. It’s more like 10% growth in a year rather than 30% or 40% on the other side. I think also we will maybe be replacing some of those dealership products with our own products as we go.
Would growth of your dealer side include new sites?
That’s not something we’re particularly looking at. Although Yorkshire Care Equipment has got the retail side to it, that’s only about 20% of the business. The rest of it is through social services which is based in the North of England, and with that side we certainly see scaling up into Scotland and potentially further down south as the years go on. There is certainly a lot more potential there.
A lot of companies are struggling to grow at the rates they want to because of market pressures. How challenging is it from your perspective?
Of course it’s challenging because financially you’ve got to manage your cash flow as you’re growing. But I think what it’s about is making sure that your productivity is as good as it can be. That means running a tight ship in the way of expenses and growing without just increasing your expenses at the same rate, because otherwise you can start getting challenged with your growth. And because we import a lot from Europe factors like Brexit and the weakened pound make it challenging, but what we find is that everyone is in the same boat. Quite a lot of decent products that we are competing against are imported from Europe. Factors like this are not good for end-users as there are price increases and they do sometimes have to be passed on.
I suppose you are at a bit of an advantage given that you sell a lot of your own products rather than buying in as much as other distributors might…
Yes, definitely. And I suppose it means you have control over where things are manufactured. There are certainly some product lines now that we potentially would look at moving from Europe back into the UK. There are opportunities that come with it.
Are you looking to expand your dealer network at all?
What we are tending to do now is sell directly to end-users. Our plan is not to have lots of dealer customers, we are finding more that we are going direct to end-users, whether that’s hospitals, OTs or private individuals. And just really increasing our offering and service to them — we do a lot of install products now like ceiling track hoists. We work a lot with the architects and the contractors and we do a lot of project management for things.
Could you tell me a bit about your Lento chair?
We have been a distributor for a lot of UK manufacturers for a number of years for specialist seating in particular and we’ve become very well known in the north of England for specialist seating. We have a lot of assessors who are out all day every day doing care chair assessments. Because of our experience we thought we could develop a chair that had all the features you needed on one chair, so rather than having one chair for different things, we reckon now we’ve developed a chair that will suit 80% of users because it’s so adjustable. We do see it as a first chair in potentially a range of chairs. I think it will fill a gap in the market to suit more people and at the same time we’re bringing the cost down for the end-user.
Will you eventually be looking to replace all products you sell with your own products?
Yes, I think we will be looking more towards exclusive distributorships and our own branded and own design products. We would have those products manufactured for us. More and more that’s the route we are going down. However we have our specialist areas and there are always going to be some product areas that I don’t think we would touch.
Is specialist seating and hoists your main focus?
I would say that specialist seating is a big area for us, yes. But moving and handling is another big area for the company. Another area for Innova is moving into hospitals with beds and mattresses. They also do a lot with hospices, it’s a niche they have focused on but they sell a whole range of products in a package form to hospices. They do anything from specialist baths to hoists, mattresses, furniture, chairs and we have even done some hydrotherapy pools recently, so there have been some quite big projects.
Looking at the months ahead, how do you think the mobility sector is likely to change?
I think 2018 could well be another challenging year. I think last year was a challenging year for everybody and I think 2018 will be the same. But because it’s such a big market there are opportunities for SMEs like ourselves to win and to do really well and to grow very fast. There is certainly a demise of some of the big boys. I think there are opportunities for us and that we’ll get good growth but it’s still going to be a challenging year for everyone.
Yorkshire Care has just celebrated its 45th year trading. How have you seen the market evolve during your time with the business and how do you expect it to change in the near future?
Since I’ve taken over, both online and the way we do marketing has changed a lot. Now when you’re talking to people about products they already know much more about equipment than they would have done previously. Going back even 10 years ago it was so much more mail shots and telemarketing driven, now it’s all about building your brand. There is just so much information that is accessible about everything online and when people come to purchase something they know so much more about it than they would have done previously.
What kinds of product trends do you expect we will see in the market moving forward?
I think digital will become much more in-built in our products andthe industry at large. Building technology into products is going to be an absolutely key factor for us . I feel it could arguably be moving faster than it currently is. The fact that there are so many pressure sores, for example, with technology as it is now, things like that could be avoided more and could be tracked better through the use of things like sensors and other solutions that incorporate digital technology. I personally think that’s going to be the biggest change for us in the industry in the next five years or so — mobility products coming out that are much more intelligent.