What Italian supplier’s new UK base means for British mobility dealers

triride close up crop

The gap between wheelchairs and powerchairs has only recently been filled. Until a few years ago, people struggling to access certain locations in manual wheelchairs were forced to either live a limited life or invest in a powerchair – a major and often undesirable step up in equipment.

It is unsurprising then, that there has been a surge in demand for affordable electric devices that manual wheelchair-users can attach to their equipment to power quicker and longer journeys over awkward terrain.

Triride is one of the pioneers in the power add-on space and has quickly become known for offering some of the toughest and most capable kit available. Many mobility dealers will already be familiar with the brand and it is not uncommon nowadays to see a flash of green, white and red as a wheelchair powers past fitted with one of Triride’s devices.

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But spying a major opportunity for itself in the UK, the company now has plans to extend itself in the home market and wants to expand using a group of carefully selected dealers.

One of the first things Triride has done as part of its strategy to become the leading power add-on supplier in Britain is to set up a UK base.

General manager Nathan Milgate, who formerly worked for years in the manual wheelchair business as a dealer, explains that Triride’s decision to part with its exclusive UK importer and set up its own office in Hampshire was made to ensure better support for partners. The supplier’s physical presence means it can now offer quicker, more direct and structured support to its network of 11 retailers.   

Triride can support its dealers more effectively now it has a UK base.

If there is an end-user, warranty issue or a parts question for the dealer, says Milgate, it is a lot easier to facilitate now Triride has a UK unit. For example, he is able to assist dealers in complex assessments and the presence of physical demonstration stock can help dealers to secure sales

Milgate comments: “Triride has 12 models, which is a large – and potentially unrealistic – number of devices for dealers to invest in and purchase each model. We now hold stock here for demonstration purposes and production purposes. After the summer we will also have a stock of ready-made products here in the UK which will speed up delivery times for the end-user. It lightens the load on the dealer in terms of their financial investment.”

The hope is to add a workshop area and small showroom onto the 300 square metre space so that end-users can visit the supplier for product demonstrations. Milgate notes that there is a trend for end-users wanting to contact manufacturers directly but adds that Triride will always refer would-be customers onto local dealers for purchases.

The supplier’s profile is growing internationally.

Aside from demonstrations, a UK stock holding will mean Triride can shorten its lead times. It is currently working on around six weeks, depending on the configuration of the individual product. With stock on home soil and accurate planning Milgate hopes to deliver units within a week on standard configurations.

If Triride’s European exploits are anything to go by, the UK market could become one of its largest customers yet. The business sold more than 1,500 units in Italy alone last year and 8,000 worldwide.

It is available in 30 different countries and with Personal Wheelchair Budgets (PWBs) being rolled out the scope for success in the UK is expanding quickly. PWBs will see end-users able to use funding from NHS commissioners to purchase items that meet their social needs as well as their clinical requirements. Milgate hopes PWBs will spark more interest in not just Triride’s products, but the whole power add-on market.          

“[Power add-ons] are growing dramatically in the UK. It’s a trend that was probably started a few years ago and slowly mainstream manufacturers have all started to produce add-on devices because they can see the benefits to the end-user.

“I’ve been a Triride-user for the last three-and-a-half years and it’s changed what I can do in my daily life without changing my daily life. For example, I can still drive the same car. Power add-ons are the next big thing for sure.”

Such is Triride’s popularity that it has distributed more than 150 units in the UK in the last two months. But Milgate thinks a lot of that demand has been driven by Triride’s increasing investment in the UK, as opposed to PWBs alone.

For instance, the firm has ploughed a lot of money into shows like Naidex to increase brand awareness and demonstrate that it now has a physical presence in the country and is not just using a single importer. 

Milgate certainly thinks the investments have paid off and believes Triride’s brand is strengthening “week by week”.

He says: “We can see it growing by the number of enquiries we’re seeing without having to market particularly heavily. Through our dealer network we’re quite selective. We look for dealers that have a lot of experience and who have a very customer care-based focus and who can provide the extensive knowledge necessary for using this type of device.

Triride makes a range of products with various functionalities.

“We’d love to grow more dealers but it has to be the right dealer and it has to be the right relationship between the end-user and dealer and the manufacturer and dealer. Triride is customer-orientated and focuses on providing a bespoke solution for the end-user.”

According to Milgate, the feedback from Triride’s UK partners on its operations so far has been positive, which is evidenced by their investment in the product. Almost all of the manufacturer’s dealers have continually replaced demonstration stock with updated products, which is not necessarily something they tend to do unless they feel they are confident in the equipment.

Aside from the product itself, one of the main reasons dealers are happy with the supplier is the training provided. Each partner has visited Triride’s factory in Italy for a two-day training session and once its UK base is properly established it will be able to offer in-house training.

As with any new launch, Milgate notes that Triride’s entry into the UK market has not been without its challenges. But he hopes that any issues dealers have moving forward will be smoothened out by the fact the UK base means customers now have someone on the other end of the phone who is based in the same country. 

Milgate himself comes from a dealer background, having worked with one of the more specialist distributors in the South. He can therefore empathise with Triride’s customers and understands that assistance and other processes need to be turned around quickly so end-users are not left waiting.

But there have so far been few technical issues and for Milgate, quality is one of Triride’s main strengths when it comes to making an impression on retailers.        

“You can have the biggest margin but if you’re constantly repairing the product and servicing it and dealing with the customer then your margin is eaten away piece-by-piece. There are some products out there that have huge margins but if they’re always going wrong it’s costing the dealer.

“Our margins aren’t huge but they are good for the dealer and a worthwhile investment. It’s a reliable product, not something we have many issues or warranty cases with. It’s a product the dealer can sell and hand over and ultimately just deal with consumable components like brake pads and tyres that only need to be replaced from time to time.

“On the other side, the dealer has a reasonable margin to work with and we support the dealers with marketing and advertising. The investment for the dealer is not as high now because with our UK base we’re doing a lot of that marketing for them.”

Arguably, one of the barriers to Triride’s march into the UK is the question over regulation. All of the industry’s powered mobility products are under increasing scrutiny with campaigners demanding stricter rules over the use of certain equipment on public land.

But Milgate is confident that Triride is better equipped than most manufacturers when it comes to meeting regulations because it is able to quickly adapt its products.

He explains: “For us regulation is important because we want people to be able to enjoy the benefits of using a Triride and without that regulation, if there is an incident it could cause difficulties for everyone else. For us, it’s not a difficult product to handle because we design all of our control boxes and so if regulation was to come in tomorrow setting a new maximum top speed then we can adjust every Triride on the market without having to change any components.”

Aside from regulation, another challenge Triride has identified is the UK’s departure from the European Union and the impact Brexit could have on costs. Milgate says that the UK’s looming departure is part of the reason a British base was established, so that Triride users can still be supported properly and stock can be made available.

Naturally, company bosses are aware of the impact of increased costs within the supply chain but few industries are immune and there is little that can be done at this stage to prepare for the unknown.  

Despite external factors like regulation and Brexit, the market for power add-ons shows no signs of slowing and Milgate is keen for dealers to steal a share of the sector. He cedes that there may be some retailers who are considering partnering with Triride but may not be convinced that they should choose it over other power add-on products.

To them, he says: “It is a growing market, there are many manufacturers for add-on devices and you should consider them all, but we specialise in an add-on device. We’re not a manufacturer that has jumped on the bandwagon, it’s a thought-out, well-constructed device.

“With PWBs rolling out hopefully we’ll start to see a change in mentality in funding. Don’t shy away from it. Yes, products can be expensive when they’re so niche and specialist, but it’s becoming a very important part of the market now.”     

Some dealers are already fully aware of what power add-ons can do for their revenues and are making good use of what suppliers have to offer. For those yet to discover the potential of products like Triride’s, now is an excellent time to experiment. There are still plenty of warm days to come before winter and retailers could find that an investment now means a bumper summer in 2020 and beyond.

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Joe Peskett

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