Lifestyle & Mobility has just added to its portfolio with a fourth flagship store in Bourenmouth. Part inspired by Apple retail outlets, it is a move away from traditional mobility stores and is already delivering better-than-expected results. Having earmarked expansion in Poole later this year and a redesign of its portfolio probable, the ambitious dealer could be setting itself up for major growth in the South.
Well known as a premier dealer in the South of England, Lifestyle & Mobility already had three shops before opening its new flagship in Bournemouth last month. The 1,000sqft new outlet in Sovereign Shopping Centre will be a flagship for the company and will trial a new store model which could see its sister sites follow suit.
The outlook is promising for the latest shop. It has already exceeded its first month sales forecast and picked up “massive amounts of new Motability customers”, according to its store manager. The initial success has not gone unnoticed and even engineers from rival mobility firms have been approaching the dealer for jobs.
Founded in 2002 by Ron Sverdloff, Lifestyle & Mobility has stores in Basildon, Southend-on-Sea and more recently opened in Potters Bar. As a family business it has enjoyed organic growth over the years but nevertheless has bold ambitions. At the helm of its latest site in Bournemouth is Simon Sverdloff, cousin to Aaron Sverdloff who now runs the business with his father, Ron, in the background. As store manager, Simon will be looking to bring success to the new venture and thanks to the new model design at the flagship, he already has a strong foundation from which to build.
“It’s been laid out as a very modern, relaxed, open fronted store in a shopping centre,” explains Simon Sverdloff. “We’ve got no shop front; instead we’ve got a rolling shutter. We’ve got an open front and ensured we have daylight lighting. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere for customers. When taking inspiration from other retailers, it was very similar to looking at Apple really. But not being minimalistic, we’ve gone for a very bright, modern look — spacious but with lots of products. ”
“The key thing now will be opening a second store by the end of the year, probably in Poole”
The actual layout and overall design of the shop is not a far cry from Lifestyle & Mobility’s other stores, but where it differs is the input from its supplier partners. As a business that specialises in higher-end mobility scooters and powerchairs, the retailer has a close relationship with TGA, Invacare, Kymco, Sunrise Medical, Pride and other major suppliers. It stocks the latest, cutting-edge scooter products and in this new shop, the manufacturers have looked to support the dealer further with a range of material.
“The other shops are similar in design but with this store we’ve managed to get suppliers to decorate the site with their own livery. We’ve got a very nice point of sale display. That’s unique to the flagship. Because we’ve got the most up-to-date marketing material alongside the most up to date stock we can maximise sales,” comments Sverdloff. With what appears to be a successful model in Bournemouth, will the other shops follow? He reveals: “The other outlets will probably come in line with the same design and layout of this site. This will be in the very near future, I think Southend will be first.”
Having the backing of key manufacturers ought to be dream for any mobility dealer. But access to such a rich product pool brings its own challenges. Mobility retailers offering large products struggle for stock space at the best of times and Lifestyle & Mobility has not been immune. “Since we opened the store we realised it wasn’t quite big enough for all our major stock and all our stock lines. So we’ve taken a concession stand in the middle of the shopping centre which is about six metres from the store. Now we’ve got an external display area for some of our larger products,” comments Sverdloff.
Being situated in a shopping centre, the site is inherently exposed to floorspace challenges. The only way to expand in a shopping centre is to acquire neighbouring units which can often be problematic. Having said this, Sverdloff insists the shop is in a prime location for business. “The opportunities are huge. We’ve got disabled parking with a multi-storey car park right behind the store, which makes it very easy for disabled people to park and come into the shopping centre and visit us. It gives us immense footfall from the car park and we have big, big retailers next door to us. We’ve got a lot of major retailers in the main shopping centre itself, which is a big draw for customers,” he notes.
The centre has 54 units and means the dealer is well-placed considering current pressures on high street retailers. Retailers in shopping centres are less exposed to the effect of ‘high street decline’ and neighbouring shops closing.
Setting up a store can be a stressful exercise but Sverdloff admits that the biggest challenge was keeping keen customers at bay. “When we were decorating, with the rolling shutters, people could see through them, and our main challenge was trying to not let customers in the store whilst we were trying to set up. People wanted to come in and buy our prodcuts.”
Sverdloff currently runs the store on his own alongside one other employee and having already exceeded sales so far, there are high expectations for growth. This though, will mean expanding the team at the dealership. “We’re actually on a recruiting campaign now,” comments Sverdloff. “I’m interviewing now for a business development manager and also new engineers to support our growing service arm. We’re already taking a lot of customer mobility scooters on for servicing. Our staff need to have experience within the industry. Whether it’s experience in seating and positioning or mobility industry knowledge, they need experience.”
Sverdloff himself has been in the industry since 1989, having entered retailing in 2010 after 21 years as a manufacturer and importer. It seems then that the Bournemouth branch will be run as a tight ship and will look to offer the level of customer care and service that is demanded of any successful mobility dealership.
Looking ahead, how will the store and the company develop to ensure continued performance? “We’re going to evolve the store. We’ve got workshops and service areas upstairs that we need to develop once we have the new staff on board. The key thing now will be opening a second store by the end of the year, probably in Poole in the shopping centre there,” Sverdloff reveals. He also notes that Lifestyle & Mobility will be breaking into the stairlift sector with a new arm to the company, although it won’t be associated with the new shop. It is likely that the firm will offer a range of Brooks stairlifts, although nothing has been officially confirmed yet.
The outlook for the Bournemouth site is bright and if the model can be replicated at Lifestyle & Mobility’s other shops, and indeed its future sites, the company can feel confident about its future growth prospects. At present there are around three competitor mobility dealerships in the Bournemouth area but with plans to open at a shopping centre in nearby Poole, Lifestyle & Mobility will hope the inspiration it has taken from Apple will help it stake a claim to be a dominant force in the area.