In an AMP exclusive, managing director, Alastair Gibbs, looks back on 30 years at TPG DisableAids.
Way back in 1985, my father had been made redundant from the agricultural industry where he sold tractors and machinery to farmers. My uncle Francis had recently started a company with three friends which made a unique pump out waste shower tray, Chiltern Medical. So rather than sit around and wait for a job in the agricultural business he decided to enquire locally if this shower system would be of interest to the local health community. The answers were loud and clear, not only the showers were welcome, but also any products that could help with the elderly and disabled community to enable more normal lifestyles. So the family business of TPG DisableAids was born – the name stems from my mum and dad’s initials.
Dad started as a sole trader and I assisted at evenings and weekends whilst still working full time as a telephone engineer for the Post Office (now British Telecom). We sold the occasional stairlift in the early days, which was the Minivator Ambassador or Consort. These were very basic, very heavy, but ultra-reliable stairlifts that started us on the course of delivering engineered solutions to our growing customer base.
Curved rail machines were quite rare back then with the Stannah Golden Rail or the Gimson Stratus being about the only choice. The measuring was all done with tape measures, spirit levels, protractors and post-it notes or blutack. We even had to weld together the sections on the early Gimson machines. Putting spark sheets and protection on the staircase then wheeling in the arc welder seemed commonplace in the 1980s but would scare me to death now with current H&S laws and some of the demanding customers we now see.
The choice of mobility products was also very limited. Most scooters had three wheels and the BEC Sterling scooter was a great leap forward from the little front-wheel drive scooters or the Elva Special that only had drive to one rear wheel. The Elva Twin Special came along but was so heavy that you had to be quite fit to use it!! We also sold a few power chairs like the E&J Elite or the Carters (J&A) Cruiser. These were so very basic and heavy, with no consideration for posture or pressure care, but at least our customers were beginning to become mobile.
When I joined dad full time, the business took off and we had a van (second hand) each. We lived, ate, slept and breathed work, seven days a week in those days to grow a business that offered a level of service not seen before in this industry. We now run around 30 vans, have loads of staff and turnover the size of a telephone number. But we have always tried to give that same level of service to our customers no matter how complex or high tech the solution has become.
Sadly, I spend most of my time now doing management and director duties with little time for hands on with customers. However, it is always nice when less experienced staff can come and ask a question and be surprised that the ‘old boy’ can still teach them a thing or two.