Key industry figures divided on mobility retail fortunes in 2019

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Neil Medhurst, managing director, Gold Star Mobility

“We speak to many people in the mobility industry and get a glimpse of what is happening in the sector. We feel across the industry, smaller retail companies are finding bricks-and-mortar shops battling against the internet and larger chains day-in-day-out. We think that local shop-based businesses should focus on customer care, for example, servicing, repairs, punctures, batteries and sale. This maintains the customer’s freedom and makes for a happy customer. These services can, normally, be available immediately whereas the internet companies will make an appointment within a few days or sometimes weeks. Local mobility shops should play to their strengths as most people that use these products rely on these items. To remain competitive and viable as the future of mobility unfolds, firms should be investigating and watching industry trends, looking at changing their business path and evolving with the times and technology. Companies should be preparing now to protect their business and deciding where to change. Not doing anything will see businesses lose market share, become unprofitable and close. Transforming operations, implementing new technology, refocusing talent, training and marketing appropriate products and services that your customers need will be key to survival. This will put local mobility shops in a great position to prosper.”

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Mike Williams, managing director, Ableworld

“Firstly, we’ve got to believe the doom mongers are all wrong and we don’t all fall over a cliff-edge on the 30 March – I’m certainly not planning for that to happen! Personally, Ableworld is looking forward to the continued growth of lighter and more colourful, fashionable products along with advances in sustainable packaging. Ableworld will continue increasing its range of own-label products and constantly work with suppliers to improve ranges and packaging. We hope suppliers will not be looking to automatically increase prices over improving their own purchasing and systems. We will certainly resist or re-source any increases that seem unreasonable in the current climate. We all know every year our customer base is going to increase and the NHS will struggle to supply equipment on its budget so the importance of having a comprehensive range and an ethical business is paramount so professionals can feel confident signposting customers to Ableworld. Competition will get stronger and I foresee some groups getting bigger and some failing or amalgamating together, as has happened in other trades and certainly the DIY trade, which I was previously in. The shame will be smaller companies resistant to or unable to change, who will fall by the wayside. We see a very positive 2019, once again continuing to improve our business model, ensuring our 18 years of increased profits, growth and bringing better value-for-money products to the end-user continues.”

Dave Smith, managing director, Beactive Mobility

“Very slowly items are coming in that are in retail packaging that is easier to display in a nice manner. Where retail is concerned, we are still achieving growth year-on-year. Some products from a couple of suppliers coming out now are either poorly [inspected prior to delivery] or not at all and have issues, resulting in either the product going back to the supplier or us having to fix it. We have seen a steady increase in customers buying from our stores, rather than the internet. Small aids saw a decline but are on the increase as are car boot scooters. It is a very competitive market for the suppliers, and as a multi-store, Motability-accredited retailer, we are being offered deals just to get scooters and powerchairs into our stores, either free-of-charge demo stock, on sale-of-return or on very long terms.”

Tim Ross, national sales manager, TGA Mobility

“End-users want even more value for money and their preferences are becoming more defined. The resources you need to invest to obtain a customer are high – so it is important to get service right first time to preserve product prices. We believe quality in everything you do always shines through. Scooter and powerchair owners are now seeking more aspirational products – a move away from certain uninspiring designs to contemporary eye-catching looks. By driving an aesthetically appealing product, users feel more positive and benefit from greater self-esteem. It is also vital to consider the needs of mobility dealers as we move into 2019 and beyond. Efficient service and product reliability will become even more essential as strengthening brand trust is a number one priority for sustainable growth. Motability dealers also have new KPIs to ensure they are looking after their customers appropriately.”

Karen Sheppard, director, People First Mobility

“In 2019 the trends of the mobility market will have to be relevant to the growing and changing market. There is going to be a need for heavier user weight equipment. In 2016/17 there were 617,000 admissions to NHS hospitals where obesity was a factor, an increase of 18% on 2015/16. Experts have predicted that by 2020 a third of the population will be obese and around 11m more in 2030. Scooters, wheelchairs and other equipment will have to increase in user weight capacity to cope with the changing needs of end-users. Also, customers are getting younger due to the advances in medical science therefore equipment needs to be aimed at the younger market and made more fashionable where possible. Rather than a ‘shopper’ or ‘granny scooter’, which are plain and old-looking, different, more vibrant colours will have to be more available. Pinks, oranges, flashy colours and added graphics rather than plain paint, suitable for the 20 to 35 age range along with sportier-looking equipment will have to be designed. A lady I met recently was only 27-years-old and her leg and hip had been amputated due to cancer but she said most products are aimed at older people. She wants things that are more of a fashion statement. She has a five year old son and doesn’t want to be seen as an old person or granny at the school gates. Suppliers will need to keep up with these changes. Finally, with the online market accessible to all, bricks-and-mortar shops will have to go the extra mile and offer the customer care and back-up service to give something different to what online stores can offer. Being able to give the face-to-face service to a customer is going to be returning and will be one of the important things in decision-making for purchases on larger items.”

Gino Farruggio, UK trade sales director, Stiltz Homelifts

“Manufacturers need to design mobility aids that are not only practical but aesthetically pleasing too which we wholeheartedly agree with and support. The mobility and healthcare market as a whole needs to think more about how it can improve the design of its products and make them more modern-looking. We agree that older people deserve better – better services, and better products and we are addressing that. It’s not acceptable that because so many of the mobility aids on offer are so unsightly, we hear that pensioners who are struggling to live independently at home are putting themselves at risk by delaying adapting their homes until they are at ‘crisis point’. The traditional homelift was boxy, took up a lot of room in the home and looked like it belonged in a hospital. We like to think we changed all of that when we launched our first Stiltz Homelift to the market in 2010. The industry has grown significantly since then but we have not rested on our laurels. We realised that, while our homelifts were proving popular, we needed to make them even more visually appealing. The feedback we have received from dealers has been fantastic and we have already had some customers opting to upgrade their original lift to a second generation one.”

Carl Drake, managing director, Rise Furniture and Mobility

“There is uncertainty in the high street, with household names closing stores or closing down completely almost on a weekly basis. It is disheartening to read in the trade press that the mobility industry is no exception. As a new business, we’ve got off to a great start and I think 2019 will be all about building on that firm foundation. Meanwhile, media is full of Brexit and driverless cars. With newspapers trying to convince the public into believing they want another referendum, it doesn’t help consumer confidence. But our customers voted to leave so are getting pretty tired of the same old rhetoric. The phenomenal global investment into autonomous cars is gathering pace with the UK leading the way. This is set to change how we use cars in the future. Many manufacturers aim to be fully autonomous by 2021. It’s going to be interesting seeing the impact this may have on the elderly and disabled. It could redefine transportation and mobility for those previously unable to drive themselves and who are dependent on others.”

Alan Sullivan, marketing manager, retail, Drive DeVilbiss

“Our bricks and mortar customers reported good levels of growth during 2018 and we hope that part of this success is a result of the great store initiatives we launched last year, which were all well received. To further build on this, this year we will continue to work closely with our retail partners on both customer service and new product development to increase mutual growth. Our focus for 2019 will be on customer experience. We are looking at all of our services across the business to identify ways we can help to better support our customers. This includes everything from our delivery capability through to expanding on, and developing supporting POS materials. Our continuous programme of new product development is also placing an emphasis on non-typical mobility supports such as arthritic supports, bedding, wellbeing and condition led products.”

Tags : ableworldbeactivebeactive mobilitydrivemobility equipmentstiltzTGA
Joe Peskett

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