Millbrook Healthcare believes it now has the expertise and capacity required to re-launch a retail concept to build on its strategy to offer a fully integrated service for health commissioners.
The assistive technology provider, which has nearly 30 service centres across the UK, was bought by private equity firm Cairngorm Capital LLP in July, which regards itself as an ‘expert in online retail’.
Millbrook provides wheelchair, community equipment, telecare and home improvement services to local authorities and NHS trusts around the UK, and formerly ran a bricks-and-mortar mobility retail operation called MiLife.
It had a cluster of outlets which operated from some of its service centres around the country where end-users could purchase aids that were not available on the NHS.
The concept was sound but it soon became clear that based at service centres, MiLife was not going to attract the footfall required for a viable retail model. Millbrook soon exited MiLife, selling its outlets to other distributors.
However, with new investment from Cairngorm Capital, the company is looking increasingly at preventative healthcare and as part of that offering is considering including retail once again.
Similar to other assistive technology providers, most of which operate a retail channel, Millbrook thinks that an online direct sales platform will offer service-users choice.
Dr Amit Thaper, investment director at Cairngorm Capital, says that providing choice is important when service-users want equipment that might not be available on the NHS because of budget constraints.
“Part of what I think we need to do is to educate service-users around what is permissible under the contract and what isn’t,” he said.
“The retail option is interesting because if there is only one product available during a particular timeframe, users can buy something different. People appreciate having that option even if they’re not necessarily going to use it.
“We haven’t gone into whether it’s bricks-and-mortar or an online set-up yet. But we do think the market is there for it. Our view is that it is probably better online but I can see why a store concept works, so we’re still thinking through that.”
Dr Thaper added: “As part of that thinking we’re bringing in some of the Cairngorm Capital experts in that online retail space. We’ve got a few companies that play online, one of them is called Building Supplies Online, which operates in a very different industry.
“But the board understands what it takes to win in online retail and we’re bringing some of that thinking to this space. Ultimately a retail offering is on the cards.”
Based in Southampton, Millbrook has 29 service centres across the UK and achieved revenues of £115m, according to its most recent accounts.
Millbrook’s new owners said they plan to increase Millbrook’s market share, extend the company’s range of services and broaden customers’ experience.