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Mobility dealers assume greater role in Handicare’s UK growth

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When Handicare launched its One Family concept last year to build partner relationships no one quite new how it would pan out. Attending the recent stairlift manufacturer’s annual dealer conference, it soon becomes clear that its trade division has indeed evolved significantly in 12 months and the supplier is far from done with its prized partners.

When Handicare’s trade network gathered a year ago at its annual dealer conference, the stairlift and mobility manufacturer unveiled a campaign designed to forge the businesses within its retail community together with itself and its direct sales arm, Companion.

The idea was to pool ideas and resources with a mind to acquiring more market share for all the firms in its ‘family’. One year on, AMP is sat with the supplier and its dealers at the De Vere Beaumont in Windsor and it is clear that significant change has taken place over the last 12 months.

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In short, Handicare’s ‘togetherness’ campaign, called One Family, appears to have been a success. Reflecting on the previous 12 months when it was implemented, Companion’s sales and marketing director, David Harrison, reveals that the firm took on more than 200 new dealers, indicating that it has managed to build trust among an initially sceptical community.

The new 1100 stairlift claims to be the best on the market.

While Companion grew by 42% in 2018, representing a £26m increase in revenue, Handicare’s trade division expanded by 26% (£16m) and now makes up around a quarter of the group‘s total UK sales.

For Harrison and his team, the growth figures prove that the manufacturer’s commercial training initiative is having a real impact on the businesses embracing it.

Some of the mobility retailers piloting the scheme have increased revenues by 100% and the average growth among dealers on the scheme was 89%, indicating that training on things like how to approach customers and secure sales is highly beneficial. The commercial training is an investment Handicare and Companion plan to make more use of in its trade division in the coming year.

While Companion was for some time seen as a direct competitor to Handicare’s dealer network, there is now a real effort to change the relationship and ensure that it is a win-win scenario. In this way, Harrison is now encouraging dealers to participate in a new initiative to make lead generation a two-way street.

From left to right: Sarah Ferguson, Jason Skelding, David Harrison, Staffan Ternström, Peter Slack, Francois Roblin, Patrick Dignan, Clare Brophy, Paul Stockdill.

This practice may not appear to make business sense on the surface. But Harrison assures dealers that referring leads onto Companion holds just as much benefit as receiving them. Laying out the commission policy, he notes that the average cut paid on stairlifts is £622, while for bathing equipment and homelifts it is £868 and £1,000, respectively.

Clearly, Handicare’s effort to well and truly boot the elephant out of the room is starting to pay off and it would seem that dealers are increasingly getting on-board with the idea that Companion does not have to be treated as a threat and can in fact be a – well – companion.

Number Crunch

Handicare’s continued investment in its trade division is a crucial part of its wider business strategy and addressing the floor of dealer partners, managing director Clare Brophy outlines the impact of its commitment to retailers.

She makes it clear that her ambition is to acquire more of the stairlift market and make itself the global leader in the equipment. Looking at Handicare’s growth levels in 2018, it would seem that Brophy is on the right track.

“Our total accessibility turnover last year was £189m, of which stairlifts were £148m,” she proclaims. “We grew 9% (£63m) in the UK. I am so proud of that. The market is growing at between 3% and 4% so for us to double that is absolutely fantastic. We’re taking that market share away from our competitors. 9% growth in a market that’s already mature is amazing. The turnover growth in Italy was 24%, which is great, but that was on £10m.

Dealers and Handicare’s R&D team discuss new developments.

“That’s fantastic but 9% on £62m says to me that in the UK we are really going for it and we are becoming stronger together. I think it’s important that we look at the last five years – when we started to make significant investment in our commercial activity [is when revenues started to climb].”

Believing that it has been a key factor in the group’s collective growth recently, the ‘stronger together’ mantra Brophy has woven into the company is something she is keen to continue into the remainder of 2019.

The key message during her address is that she – and her team – want to make 2019 a year of listening to trade partners and embracing their input. The main commitment that comes across in her rallying call is that Handicare’s senior management and business development squad will be listening to trade customers.

“You tell us what you want because we will absolutely listen. We want deeper dealer relationships, it’s a two-way partnership and we want to learn from you. Together we can take more of this market. I have an idea of what I’d like in the market but does that sit the same with you?

“Because if it’s not what you want then we do not want be the organisation we were previously that just gave you something and asked you to sell it. We don’t want to waste our time, energy and money on creating something that you don’t want. We want to be your automatic choice for independent living products.”

Injecting Innovation

The listening project Brophy and her team are keen on following filters into other areas of the company. One of the core places Handicare will seek the opinions and input of dealers is its product development.

Most manufacturers run product feedback schemes but Handicare is pledging to make it the foundation of its future developments. Francois Roblin, group EVP for product development, wants dealers to believe that when it comes to stairlifts, they can have what they want.

He explains that Handicare has now set up an engineering team solely devoted to innovating new products. The trio of engineers will use ideas from customers and dealers to help fuel new developments, meaning trade partners will have a much greater say in the equipment they have to work with on a daily basis.

Partners are shown how quickly and easily the 1100 can be installed.

A recent launch from the group was Handicare Assist, which is the direct result of partner feedback. The app gives remote information on things like a stairlift’s battery and details can be displayed in a list and even on a geographical map.

In response to customer feedback, Handicare is now also acting to fix quality issues with certain products. Peter Slack, EVP for operations, states that quality is now a “strategic priority”. To Slack, quality means a combination of consistency, reliability, ease-of-installation and use and quick troubleshooting. Proclaiming that 2019 is a “year of action” for his team, Slack says that the high quality space is relatively untouched in the industry and Handicare wants to claim it.

He comments: “We broke the footplate design and we’re really sorry about that. But we worked hard to sort a solution and we released it in February and we haven’t had a single break since. People now compare stairlifts to white goods and cars so quality has to be a priority for Handicare.”

Quality Over Quantity

Sticking to the theme of quality, Jason Skelding, business development manager, says that a key focus for Handicare has been how it can help its partners to grow with the logic that dealer expansion will naturally help the supplier to increase sales. Asking whether Handicare’s investment in its partners has paid off, Skelding says the numbers speak for themselves.

CEO and president Staffan Ternström visited from Sweden.

Five years ago, the group had 66 select dealers and eight elite partners. Now, it has 55 select dealers and 26 elite, showing that the number of dealers has not changed drastically but the businesses working with Handicare have grown substantially. What’s more, a new level – prestige partners – has just been established, offering five coveted places.

Skelding explains: “In the last five years Handicare has learnt it’s not just about stairlifts, it’s about understanding businesses and offering deals and solutions for all areas. We are a family and we need to believe that. If there are challenges we need to be able to rely on this family to get it solved. What we’re trying to do is be that market leader in 2020 – there’s no reason why we can’t. That will be achieved.”

Skelding’s ambition is shared by CEO and president, Staffan Ternström, who is making a point of listening to UK dealers – the group he believes are at the cutting-edge of mobility equipment distribution.

Ternström is a strong believer that everyone in the Handicare group, including dealer partners, has a collective responsibility to apply best practices so the whole community can win more business. The boss’s strategy for 2019 will heavily involve Handicare’s trade division and will aim to combine quality service with quality products.

He concludes: “Hopefully we can have a cadence of new product launches moving forward, sometimes it may be upgrades, but my expectation is to drive that year after year. I want to make sure that we build further on partnership development, how we can deepen those relationships and do things better together. And I want to steal some of the ideas we do in the UK and bring them into other countries. We’ve started to do that already. Short-term, personally, I want to learn more from dealers.”

While Ternström has only been at the helm for 10 months, he appears to share the same aspirations and values as the rest of Handicare’s ranks. The fact that he seems just as dedicated to its trade division as the group’s BDMs and R&D bosses will certainly be welcome news to dealer partners and may even sway some businesses toying with the idea of signing themselves up to Handicare.

Whether or not Handicare’s ambitions for becoming the market-leading stairlift manufacturer in the next few years will be achieved remain to be seen. However, considering its current level of growth and the fact that it has successfully implemented all that it set out to last year with better-than-expected results, it is safe to say the group is certainly on track.

Tags : clare brophycompanionStaffan Ternström
Joe Peskett

The author Joe Peskett

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