At Naidex last year TGA used the show as a launch platform for its largest ever product release. This has been followed with a number of follow-ups over the last 12 months as the mobility supplier makes headway in the market. AMP caught up with managing director Daniel Stone and national sales manager Tim Ross to hear about TGA’s product strategy, which new equipment has really taken off and its thoughts on the year ahead as it rumbles down the runway into 2018…
How did your big Naidex launch go in 2017?
Tim Ross: It went really, really well. We launched six products in all and every product had something different to offer. We had the Minimo Plus 4, which works very well as a folding scooter, we then had the Ibex scooter, which is a really nice-looking, technologically-advanced mobility scooter and it also doing really well in the market.
Which scooters shone out?
Daniel Stone: I think we’ve really succeeded with the Minimo Plus 4. There’re lots of folding scooters out there but this is one of very few that has a wide front wheel base. You’ve got the two wheels at the front far apart and that means that you’ve got quite a bit more stability. I think in the UK people do prefer that configuration of four wheels.
TR: Apart from the scooter launches, the solid canopy on the Breeze has done really well. And the export market for powerpacks has done phenomenally well. We’ve even found a distributor in Taiwan which is great — it’s very satisfying to be selling a UK-made product to Taiwan because of its quality and reliability.
What kind of feedback have you had from your retail network?
TR: I think while the initial Minimo has done really, really well as a folding scooter, some have said that some people still like a standard four wheel configuration. And that’s why it’s done so well.
DS: For me, the key element has been that we’ve really been able to push our range on in terms of the quality and the offering. It’s moving out some of the older models and shifting it all along. One of the really important things is being able offer a great range and for me the WHILL really stood out. It’s moved us into a new area. The Minimo Plus 4 is really great in that you’ve got a market there and it’s a popular market right now. But on the back of that we’ve introduce exciting new things that are pushing us into slightly different areas. It’s been a challenge to get them all to market and there’s a lot to try and coordinate.
I imagine with the required operational processes, the parts and the support it’s been challenging to manage such a large product launch in a very short space of time…
TR: One of the things we’ve done is that we’ve been very organised about it. We’ve got a great quality manager and we’ve got lots of systems. We’ve absolutely been rigorous to make sure manuals are done, brochures are done and we’ve made sure everything has been done in the right order without cutting corners.
DS: It was a good year in terms of the growth, and those things help you move on as a company and you end up needing a lot more systems and processes in places just to keep up with it. And it’s a learning curve for us because we’ve had some good, steady growth over the years but you have to adapt and change as you go, which we had to do quite a lot last year with introducing those new products. We’ve been a lot more formalised about everything and strategic. The bigger it gets the more organised and strategic you need to be.
Is this strategy of bringing lots of products to market something you’d do again?
DS: I think I probably would. It’s very nice to introduce everything in a steady, step-by-step fashion, but life doesn’t really happen like that. And certainly, having done it last year, it wouldn’t stop us rising to the challenge again. It does seem to happen in a way where you have a year where your focus is on the products and then a lot of the focus is on the infrastructure and the systems and then it’s the marketing and then it’s back on the products. It does to a large extent happen in cycles and that cycle all came together quite well last year.
TR: It really did, everything just seemed to happen at exactly the same time. One of the important things was to make sure we had the right spares, the right parts available, the right products in stock to make sure all those things are sorted. One of the highlights for us was the Zest Plus — it’s fitted into a new market sector that we’ve not really been into before and it’s done really well.
You’ve been sampling new areas in the market, is that something TGA will be experimenting more and more with?
DS: I think we will stick to what we know best and that is wheeled mobility. I think we’ve explored niche areas but we’ve got enough expertise to be pushing into those areas. I don’t think we’d go off on completely different tangents.
TR: There are very few competitors who do, in a way, as little as we do. All we do is wheeled mobility. We don’t do rise and recline chairs, we don’t do baths or stair lifts, we’re absolutely focused on our specific products. A really, really important thing is the quality system that we’ve got, where everybody around the building and the reps on the road, the service engineers on the phone, the guy who opens the box from overseas, every single scooter that’s sent out from TGA has a minimum 28 point check. If anybody hears of any issues from any dealer or customer it goes on a log and those logs are looked at.
How challenging is that and to maintain that flexibility as you scale up?
TR: I think because as we’ve grown we’ve put the right people in the right places, actually, that hasn’t been too much of a challenge. We’ve got a really good quality guy who’s been with us for a while and he encourages people to give feedback. We’re very careful before we take a product on to make sure it’s good. We don’t work with the cheapest manufacturers out there.
DS: For me the supplier relationships have always been as important as the customer relationships. So much work has been done over the years with the suppliers and it’s the length and experience in those relationships that push it all forward.
TR: We haven’t jumped and changed suppliers. So many of our competitors will bring in and try new suppliers every few months. That’s not our story, we don’t feel that’s the right way.
DS: Our two main suppliers have been with us for about 15 and 20 years which helps us maintain consistent quality. When you do bring new products to market there are always going to be niggles and problems and it’s about how you work your way through them.
TR: And I’d like to think that because we’re specialist we’re good at nipping things in the bud quickly and resolving them at the source. We will not send something out if we’re not happy with the quality, we just won’t.
The WHILL powerchair is an exciting entrant to the market. Could you tell me a bit about that decision?
DS: Coming back to those supplier relationships, we got introduced to WHILL through a motor manufacturer who we work with. It’s a great-looking, exciting product, it takes a fresh view and as we’ve worked through it we’ve found it doesn’t quite fit in the powerchair market, it doesn’t quite fit in the scooter market but that makes it exciting and a good fit for us.
How is the dealer distribution for that working?
TR: We’re going through a select number of dealers.
DS: They have to be specialised, they have to have the back-up. With a product of that value we have to make sure that the end-user is absolutely suited to it so it has to go through people who we’ve trained on the technical side. There are so many features to it and so many subtleties to it that take a lot of explaining that you can’t get that across en masse so we’ve gone to a very select few. We do hope to grow it a bit but they have to be very specialist.
The WHILL is a very high-tech product and many of your other launches last year featured things like USB ports and LED lights. What other trends are you expecting to see this year?
TR: In terms of ourselves, we can’t give too much away but there are a couple of really exciting new possibilities for March and April. There are a couple of products that we’re very, very excited about and feel will do really well.
DS: On the whole for us, 2018 is going to be about honing what we do and fine tuning everything, given our big launch in 2017. In terms of wider trends for the scooter market, I do think that it’s moving along in leaps and bounds at the moment. There are quite a lot of exciting products out there and coming through.
How ready do you think end-users are for these high-tech products?
DS: Not as ready as perhaps we’d like. I think mobility is still quite a traditional marketplace. Everyone is very keen to think that all end-users are online, surfing the web on tablets doing product research, which a high percentage are now, but I still think there’s a traditional element to the market. And you can’t force it along too quickly. You’re talking about a market that needs to feel comfortable with the product. There’s no point in high-tech for high-tech’s sake. That might work in the automotive industry, but not in our marketplace.
TR: As every year goes on you’re reaching a different type of person who’s a lot more tuned in with technology.
DS: I think that’s a very valid point and I think that product design is moving on with every year. But it’s moving on subtly.
Looking at the market as a whole what sort of challenges are you expecting to see?
TR: It’s going to be challenging to grow the 17% we grew last year.
DS: With the market as a whole, I suppose we’ve seen a bit of a shake-up at the end of last year. There’s a lot of uncertainty and there’s a lot of compliance in the year ahead — we’ve got changes to the medical devices regulations for example, and a lot of challenges as a business to make sure everything’s braced up. There’s still massive uncertainty over the elements that we’ve got no control over so we’ve got to carry on doing what we’re doing as best as we can. The recent changes do make you think about the retail side of things and the challenges those guys are facing.
TR: It’s about making sure we’ve got the right product and the right parts in stock. I know that’s a very basic message but it’s important. Making sure we’re getting on board with the right partners. We’re BHTA members and we want to be working with people who have got the same mentality and approach.