The mobility industry is as challenging and fast-paced as any and those in the trade know it is important to work together so everyone can achieve growth. AMP hears from suppliers about why dealer training schemes and support are so important if retailers are to offer customers a seamless journey and make the most of this burgeoning sector.
Suppliers know that to get the best out of their relationships with retailers, it is essential to offer support and training wherever possible. The sheer pace with which new products flood into the mobility market each month means that it can be difficult for dealers to keep up with the necessary product knowledge and expertise that customers demand. As such, there are suppliers across all categories who look to complement their products with various schemes, marketing and PoS material, knowledge, installation and product support.
Generally speaking, manufacturers and equipment suppliers are fully aware of the importance of offering their retail network support. For Autochair’s partner manager, Tom Smith, it is absolutely key. “With more than 30 years’ experience of partnering with retailers, we know how often mobility scooter and wheelchair hoist enquiries are made, so our aim is to ensure they have the most relevant and up-to-date information to hand for all such conversations — offering their customers the complete package,” Smith says.
Most firms know that sharing skills and knowledge among members of the trade benefits all parties involved. Mobility giant Invacare sees its retail network as the front line to end-users and therefore believes it is essential to put its weight behind partners with training and marketing help. The company understands that it will benefit financially from ensuring its retail partners have the appropriate knowledge and tools to help customers select the best product for them.
Stanley Handling, which offers stairclimbing solutions, is similarly conscious of the need to provide its partners with customer support. It has a range of finance, maintenance and training packages which are designed to help its distributor partners. Meanwhile, wetroom and bathroom specialist Impey believes one of the key things is to keep its dealers abreast of new product developments.
“Only by creating a confident, empowered and efficient partner network who live, breathe and trust our products and brand will more end-users benefit”
“For example, the recent high profile launch of our new Elevate half-height door commenced with a series of field trials with several dealers across the country and culminated in a full-scale launch accompanied by detailed information about the product and its unique functions,” explains Neil Whitehead, brand manager. “Any questions which arose from the launch were welcomed by the team, who relish the opportunity to interact with our network of dealers and offer product demonstrations wherever possible. Interaction with our customers is an integral part of our success and we recognise that their feedback and knowledge is instrumental to our continued progression; keeping us ahead of the market in terms of innovation and product development.”
Claire Jones, marketing co-ordinator for Sunrise Medical, reiterates the importance of educating dealers on new products: “It’s vital. Our dealer network are at the frontline of selling and servicing our products so it’s really important that they have access to training courses which allow them to fully understand the products and which gives them the ability to confidently recommend, set up and maintain products for their customers.”
Sunrise offers training courses through its STEPS programme including clinical, product and technical courses to help dealers develop the latest practical skills in prescribing and maintaining mobility products.
Not only can retailer support improve immediate product sales and customer service, but it also strengthens trade relationships which is beneficial in the long-run. One of the main benefits of Stiltz Lifts’ installer training course is that the manufacturer continues to provide a strong level of support even after the course.
Rob Pinion, technical support manager, says: “This is why we have put a team in place which is able to work with the retailer network and help them develop a solid and successful relationship with the Stiltz brand. By providing a strong dealer support team, which includes training, customer service and marketing, it gives the dealer reassurance that they have the back-up of a manufacturer who can help them every step of the way and ultimately grow their business for them through the sale of Stiltz home lifts.”
“By providing a strong dealer support team it gives the dealer reassurance that they have the back-up of a manufacturer who can help them every step of the way and ultimately grow their business”
The reassurance dealers get from having a supportive supplier behind them is just one benefit retailers get from partaking in training schemes. And this can prove invaluable when dealers are fronted with difficult customer scenarios. Thanks to the internet, clients are increasingly aware of different products and are frequently researching thoroughly before stepping foot in a mobility shop. Customers now demand, rightfully, more information and product detail and expect assessments to be thorough and conclude with the right specification.
Smith understands this and aims to ensure training schemes mean that dealers will have the correct knowledge and advice front of mind to support their customers practically and efficiently. Being able to advise and inform clients quickly is an extremely useful skill for retail businesses to have and training schemes that can deliver that to dealership staff can help to drive sales and growth.
Building on the idea of delivering quick and quality customer advice, retail outlets are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the level of knowledge required considering the extent to which new products are entering the market. And not only are there now simply more products, but items are becoming more complex and technologically advanced.
Melanie Scrivener, marketing and communications executive for Invacare, offers the example of powerchair controls. “It’s important that we ensure our customers have a detailed understanding of the type of product they’re selling or issuing to a client. Increasing and building knowledge gives our network confidence to help them align the most suitable product for client needs. In addition to attending a training course, we have a vast array of additional support material, documentation and media such as clinical guides, knowledge banks, videos and digital platforms like the Rea microsite dedicated to our passive wheelchair range. These are specific by product or topic to build ongoing knowledge and provide support,” she comments.
Ensuring dealers are kept up to date with complex products like powerchairs is one thing, but it is arguably even more important for retail partners to be kept in the know when it comes to installation products. #
For Impey’s contractors for example, who are responsible for installing entire bathroom solutions, it is vital for both firms that installations are seamless. Anything less than a quick and hassle-free installation can dent the reputation of not only the installer but also the wetroom brand. Impey is fully aware of this and so is continually looking to make sure its contractors are kept up to date with any new product or process developments.
Whitehead comments: “With an active R&D division and a progressive product range, which evolves often ahead of the market, Impey’s Healthcare team appreciates the need for dealers to be well-versed in all product updates and are happy to offer in-store training wherever possible. The team works in a consultative capacity to ensure that dealers are familiar with the extensive range of Impey products and can pass this superior knowledge onto the specifiers and end-users whom it will benefit.”
Training for the future
With the mobility industry moving as quickly as it is, it is no surprise that suppliers’ support is adapting and shifting with equal pace. Smith outlines how Autochair has recently refreshed its Partner Portal in response to the changing nature of digital communications and the importance of it as an expanding business tool. He says this channel will continue to develop to offer further support and advice for partners — existing and potential.
“Autochair signed its 600th partner shop in April of this year and we are on track to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. Our aim is to extend our comprehensive, professional support package to the industry’s leading mobility retailers and we are committed to sustaining and developing our detailed dealer support to make working with Autochair easy and rewarding for everyone. Only by creating a confident, empowered and efficient partner network who live, breathe and trust our products and brand will more end-users benefit from good advice, assistance and improved quality of life from the Autochair product range,” Smith comments.
Similarly, Invacare is aware of the increasing need for online media and digital technology to be accessible. It is therefore looking at the possibility of more online training with assistive videos, and the use of ‘live’ videos over Skype or using Facebook Live at events. Impey already allows its installer partners to FaceTime while on a job if there is a need for clarification — this is particularly useful during installations when time is of the essence. It seems that suppliers are moving towards increasing digitisation of their support schemes. But it is hard to see things like online webinars and tutorial videos completely replacing hands-on training courses and product advice. Sunrise also offers FaceTime but admits that more complicated jobs still require face-to-face assessment.
Although the industry is indeed growing, the retail climate remains tough and there is uncertainty surrounding the future of different sectors. But moving forward, dealers can certainly expect the support and training they receive from suppliers to become even more comprehensive. Given the changing nature of the mobility market it makes perfect sense for retailers to invest in as much specific product and installation training as time and money affords. When business is competitive, and customers expect dealers to be able to answer all the questions they have, knowledge is a powerful weapon.