As one of the most widely purchased goods in the sector, walking aids are a steady stream of income for most dealers. Despite their relatively small value, they are a key product that can support your business. AMP asks three suppliers to detail their best work and what they can do for mobility dealers.
On the panel
Georgie Powell, managing director, Flexyfoot
Geoff Morris, managing director, Uniscan Ltd
Charlotte Gillan, managing director, Classic Canes
How important are walking aids to a mobility dealer’s repertoire?
Georgie Powell: Walking sticks in particular have had their value diminished by a ready supply of cheap versions available from a wide variety of non-specialist retailers.
It is important for dealers to offer customers a wide range of options so they can buy what is best suited to their budget but more importantly, their needs. In our sector, a customer’s mobility needs should be paramount in recommending and selling any mobility aids, more than price and revenue.
Charlotte Gillan: With an ageing population and the baby boomer generation starting to swell the numbers of new stick users each year, there is a good supply of end-users.
We are also seeing larger numbers of young people needing sticks to help with mobility issues. We always advise mobility retailers that the sticks are almost the most important product group they have as they often provide the first contact with a new customer.
Geoff Morris: The market for walking aids is very healthy, particularly as the products tend to be relatively low cost, easily transportable and allow users a practical, safe solution to their mobility related needs. Walking aids are a key element within any retailer’s product portfolio.
It is widely accepted that often the first contact an individual may have with a mobility retailer is likely to be for a walking aid of some description. It follows that if the customer receives a positive experience in terms of customer service and product satisfaction during this first point of contact it is highly likely they will return should they require any additional equipment or advice.
What qualities and features should a good walking aid product have?
Charlotte Gillan: Safety, stability, durability and comfort are paramount, but never underestimate the importance of attractive sticks that make the users feel pleased to use them. Many people are dispirited by the thought of having to use a cane.
If they can have something elegant that complements their sense of style, they are much more likely to use their cane and also discover that an attractive stick can be a conversation starter and a source of compliments. Many users like to have different sticks for different outfits and can form large collections of them. If you only sell plain walking sticks, you limit yourself to selling just one per customer.
Georgie Powell: A good walking aid should be reliable. Endurance and strength testing provide reassurance to the user. It cannot be underestimated how vital walking aids are and the role they play in independence.
A device should provide confidence, it should be easy and comfortable to use, safe and, if possible, quiet! Importantly, it should act to enhance quality of life rather than detract.
Geoff Morris: A good walking frame should be strong, robust, manufactured from high quality materials and ideally made to the correct size for the person using it. An ill-fitting walker can potentially cause more problems to the user than it will solve. The weight of the walking aid can also be crucial and is often overlooked.
It is particularly important if the walking aid is to be carried on and off public transport or lifted in and out of the boot of a car. A choice of braking system, frame colour and frame width are important as is the manufacturer’s guarantee and the availability of spares, accessories and service back-up.
What makes your walking aid(s) unique and why is it a good choice for distributors?
Georgie Powell: Our range of walking aids are designed with two specific goals – for users to feel safe and to be comfortable. There are many aids available in the market but, more often than not, using poor quality materials and offering very little to the user apart from a variety of patterns or colour-ways.
Quality is at the heart of our products. We use a combination of high-quality materials along with innovative technology to ensure that our products deliver much more than an aesthetic hit. Our revolutionary ferrule is the heart of our business. Fitted to all our walking aids, it offers a superior experience for users that reduces the risk of slipping or falling, and it reduces pain that can be referred into other parts of the body.
Geoff Morris: Award-winning Uniscan Ltd is the originator of the ultra-lightweight, folding rollator four-leg walking frame with integral rest seat and has been manufacturing walking frames from its Essex-based factory since 1983. Each unique four-leg walker is individually manufactured to suit the user.
A choice of seat and handle height combinations is available plus different frame widths to suit most requirements, including heavy duty versions for larger framed users. A range of unique frame colours is available along with a choice of braking systems and a selection of accessories.
In addition to the four-leg range, Uniscan offers a totally unique three-leg walker solution featuring an integral rest seat. Available in a choice of frame colours these quality products with their unique construction and rest seat are a winner with customers.
Charlotte Gillan: As a walking stick specialist, Classic Canes stocks over 700 walking sticks so there is a huge range of choice from very traditional to very contemporary styles at a wide range of price points. Users have a wide range of requirements – physically and aesthetically – from their walking sticks, which is why we find ourselves stocking so many variations.
At Classic Canes we pay great attention to the details such as colour, pattern and handle shape. All patterned sticks are not the same: there is a great variation in quality out there so retailers come to us when they want to offer sticks of a high standard.
Based on the last 12 months, how do you feel the walking aid market and the products within it are developing?
Geoff Morris: The walking aid market has seen significant development during the past four decades. A raft of new designs and the introduction of new materials is inevitably having an impact on the development of walking aid solutions.
Technology will undoubtedly play its part but the basic design solution is governed by the human form and realistically that in itself will be the ultimate driver.
As the population ages the requirement for mobility solutions will become ever pressing. This need will drive innovation and ultimately shape the walking aid solutions of the future.
As a family owned and run specialist walking frame manufacturer, Uniscan is committed to continue the standards set by Tom Morris – originator and the inventor of the ultra-lightweight folding four-leg rollator walker – to sustain and maintain a continuous programme of development to help improve the quality of life for people with impaired mobility.
Charlotte Gillan: The main difference we have noticed in recent years is the proliferation of very cheap walking sticks on the market. Where a stick user would once have been happy to pay £20 or more for a walking stick, they can now buy something that does the job for £4.99 or less.
This is understandable if they are on a tight budget, but sadly they usually end up spending more overall on regular replacements of cheap sticks than they would if they bought a good quality one the first time. Retailers have to decide whether to sell low-margin, low-price sticks in quantity, or concentrate on developing a market for better sticks at better margins.
We remain committed to the quality end of the market, and it is pleasing to see that the tide of public opinion seems to be turning against throwaway consumer culture, both for environmental and economic reasons.
Georgie Powell: Although we have an ageing population it is prudent to remember those just entering that phase of life. We are seeing more savvy consumers with more demands. The industry as a whole needs to balance both ends of the market – what is desirable and what is affordable.
We aim to provide a high value product with proven benefits that is also affordable and accessible to the masses. We aim to help those who want to remain active, to be so for as long as possible. We do not want the need for a walking aid to be a barrier to getting on with life.