After a tough battle to find any positivity in the mid-year, mobility retailers up and down the country will be keen on making up for lost time in the last quarter of the year.
Despite some losses in season trade through the summer, there is still time this year to claw some ground back. AMP catches up with dealers from across the UK about their plans as they head into the final quarter of the year.
On the panel:
Karen Sheppard – People First Mobility
Darren Macey – Lifestyle & Mobility
Alastair Gibbs – TPG DisableAids
Dave Thompson – Warrington Disability Partnership
Mike Williams – Ableworld
How has COVID affected plans for Q4?
KS: COVID has meant some growth plans for our business have had to be delayed this year until next year. We have had to change the way we now work to ensure we are COVID secure in the shop, limiting the amount of customers in the store at any one time.
The day of just browsing has been replaced with people only shopping for what they need. Customers have not wanted home visits but are also still afraid to venture out so this is resulting in people managing with equipment they have already got. We have tried to offer an appointment only service a couple of evenings a week so that people feel they can shop safely.
DM: Unlike a lot of businesses in and out of our industry, we have seen record sales figures since the government have opened up the retail sector. We was expecting a bit of a bounce back business, but nothing like what we had. We were blown away by the amount of business we had coming through the doors.
So as we enter into Q4 we are feeling very optimistic and positive about the next stages of how COVID will affect us. We believe this is down to a few factors, obviously built up business while we was shut during lockdown, customer contact, the staff that weren’t furloughed were tasked to regularly call our customers to see if they were okay.
This wasn’t to sell them anything, but more to ensure they weren’t lonely. We feel this kind customer contact has gone a long way and we stayed in there forefront.
AG: There is no doubt that 2020 will be a notable year in the history books, from early year flooding to COVID Pandemic and looming Brexit, it has tested to the extreme the core values of many businesses.
DT: There is no doubt, we are having to do things differently, as we respond to the needs of our customers. Confidence levels for many disabled and elderly people varies, but many remain very low, due to them feeling worried about venturing out of their homes. As a result, we are offering more home assessments for lower level items. We have also reduced our hire range as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. In addition, we have moved our annual Disability Awareness Day exhibition to on line.
MW: There is no doubt Coronavirus has affected us all but overall we are really pleased with the steps we took as a business. Remaining open and being able to continue to support customers, with a reduced team in each location meant we could protect our staff and our customers, and ensured we could continue without the need to make redundancies.
What plans have you put in place given how 2020 has turned out?
KS: Opening mid-June has allowed us to trade for a couple of months of the busy season which will possibly be extended until October locally. More people are having staycations but it tends to be the younger generation. Knowing that turnover will most probably be lower for many businesses this year, I think those who manage not to sink will be able to swim even stronger in the future.
DM: We have some exciting plans ahead. We are expanding our specialist operation in Potters Bar to a new bigger and better location and we shall be moving our Bournemouth Store to what could be newest Flagship. All I can say for now is watch this space.
AG: TPG are building on mid-year gains where some of our traditional competition chose to furlough too many of their staff and took their eye off the ultimate goal of delivering customer satisfaction.
It became too easy to be swayed by hysterical media reporting that told us the end was near and we should all batten down the hatches and expect the worst.
Those of us that really understood our vulnerable and needy client base continued to fulfil our contractual obligations and picked up contracts from others without the foresight.
DT: We are looking to build on the home assessment needs of customers, with plans for a vehicle carrying a range of low level equipment that can be purchased from a van. In addition, we are developing an on line self-assessment model with one of our partners.
MW: We did start our Sale earlier than planned in June, and the offers we have had over the past quarter have proved very popular with our customers. Our next campaign is very much underway and will offer customers more great offers as the darker nights draw in.
Have certain products or launches been delayed until the spring?
KS: With NAIDEX cancelled and reps working from home, there has been a real lack of knowledge of what is available from suppliers this year, special offers or new products.
AG: There have been some supply problems and there have been some customer and staff protection issues, but none of this detracts from the fact that the basket of products we supply and maintain are collectively known as ‘Aids to Daily Living’.
They are not Aids to Weekly or Monthly Living, and as such quality of life is massively affected by our quality of service. This is where distributors and retailers can really add value to the products.
It is perhaps something that Manufacturers and Importers would do well to remember when they are considering going Direct to Customer.
DT: We were planning to expand our hire range, but COVID-19 has resulted in us reducing the range due to cleaning and decontamination requirement. We are still planning on moving to a larger premises in one of our locations.
Has the re-opening of retail allowed for any sort of seasonal bounce back?
KS: Mobility retail will fight back, however with suppliers now going direct to the end customer and charging far less than their RRP that they have advertised to dealers, telling potential customers that they have dealers in shops but that they are a lot more expensive, means dealers who have been loyal for years will find alternative suppliers.
I think the more well-known brands in the mobility industry may take a back seat by the end of the year and we will see some new up and coming suppliers.
DT: We saw an immediate increase in sales for the first four weeks after shielding was lifted, but this has dropped slightly. We do expect this to bounce back after the schools reopen.
MW: The biggest impact we have seen recently is with the supply chain and the delay in getting products from some of our suppliers, but we are working with them to find a solution for our customers.
We have continued with our original plans including range reviews and successfully introduced a number of new products over the period, along with expanding our store base, which will continue into 2021.
Compared with last year’s predictions, how do you expect the year to turn out for you from a business point of view?
DM: Although we have lost a couple of months, we do expect to our overall turnover to end up the same or similar to last year. However, we are now forecasting an increase in profits, as we are benefiting from rates relief. I think a lot of businesses will be pleasantly surprised to see a similar thing.
AG: Sales of new product still have some making up to do, but the service delivery, that is most important to the users, has certainly made up the difference.
DT: There is no doubt, our overall sales figures will be down on our original forecasts, but overall income from business grants and Furlough payments, and savings made on general running costs, should close that gap on the bottom line.
MW: Looking forward to next year, we aim to continue with our expansion plans by growing the business by at least three to four new stores.