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Q&A: Brigg Mobility clears hurdles to get business off to strong start

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As with so many companies in the mobility space, Brigg Mobility was built on a lack of provision in its local area. We speak to commercial director, David Wilson, to learn how the business has muscled into an area of North Lincolnshire and what the challenges are for a retail business starting up in the mobility space.

Brigg Mobility is one of the newest players on the mobility retail stage. How did it come about?

It’s a strange one really. We opened the business in September after only really discussing it around eight weeks prior. It was a bit of an impulsive thing and we opened the business on the back of my brother’s DIY business. Brigg has an ageing population and a lot of people come there to retire. It’s a lovely place but there’s never been anything that’s catered for the mobility market.

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There was a massive gap and we opened up the business on the back of that gap. There are mobility shops a 30 minute car ride away but if you’re housebound how can you access that? So we developed our model and since September it’s been fantastic. We opened at the end of the mobility season but I’ve been really shocked by how the business has gone.

Is the mobility sector new pastures for you and your brother?

Completely. We are novices but we’ve both been retailers in different sectors. We’ve both got our day jobs – I’ve got my engineering recruitment business and my brother has got his DIY firm – and we joined forces to create this. We have brought in a service team to do the repairs and warranty work.

Our service manager has had 15 years’ experience doing just that and he’s got a lot of market knowledge. We’ve forged some really strong relationships with suppliers including Drive DeVilbiss and Electric Mobility. We’ve had to learn on the job but we’ve always both had noses for opportunities.

Do you think your respective backgrounds will lend well to this new role?

Absolutely. And we’ve both got elderly relatives who are no longer mobile. It’s a very rewarding industry, although not a particularly fashionable one. When you tell people you own a mobility business they frown and say, ‘well, you’re only 40’. People opening mobility businesses now seem to me to be more mature individuals but sometimes you need a variety of age groups in a business for it to thrive.

The business opened on relatively short notice. Was it a challenge to get a unit, suppliers and stock sorted in that time?

We had the unit already – it’s a 3,500 square foot unit. We refurbed it because it was more of a glorified stockroom and dumping ground. We got it to a modern standard with all the usual fixtures. I threw together a temporary system for basic stock-keeping and we went out to start buying pre-owned products.

At the start no suppliers would touch us because we didn’t exist. We put a couple of thousand pounds into the business each and bought stuff and every time we sold we put it back into the stock. We’ve not actually physically taken anything out of the business since we opened in September. It’s all been put back into developing the brand.

Has it been a slow process gaining trust with suppliers?

Not really. I’m quite tenacious in dealing with suppliers. I’m quite direct and tell people what it is we want and if they can deliver then great. Relationships have to be win-win and it’s a case of being really honest with suppliers. We approach everyone on that basis. We had no credit rating initially so you could only pay with the money in the bank.

That way there’s no risk from the supplier’s point of view. The only potential risk for them is brand integrity – they don’t want to be associated with a business that’s not growing or hasn’t got the right morals. But that’s not a problem with us.

What would your message be to suppliers who may be sceptical about working with a new retailer?

I suppose the biggest thing really is to go and see them and just have a conversation. There are obviously no books or finances to review yet but looking at the business model, we’ve done a 12 month to five year plan so from a growth point of view we’re in this for the long term. We’re making sure we grow in an organic way. If a supplier was looking to engage with us, our message to them would be: we don’t want to work with every supplier, we’d rather work with fewer suppliers but in volume rather than spreading ourselves too thinly.

That way they can benefit from us and we can get the margins of buying in bulk from these suppliers and forging long-term relationships. You’ve got to grow organically, you can’t just keep pumping money into it. And our business has grown organically. You’ve got to really write off the first 12-18 months if you want to grow the business successfully. We’ve both got a decent marketing background and we do some whacky and weird things and it’s not your typical marketing strategy. But sometimes you’ve got to go off on a tangent. We’ve got relationships with various charities and we’ve briefly touched on Motability but that fits into Q5/Q6 of the business.

Although you are the only dealer in your immediate area, it does not seem like you are taking that for granted and sitting back…

The moment you get complacent you’re done. Eden Mobility’s flagship is 10 miles away in Scunthorpe. You’ve got some really established firms in Grimsby, another 15 miles down the road. You can’t ever get into business and be complacent because the minute you do that you take your foot off growing.

What has your level of growth been since you started in September?

We really wrote off between October and December just in terms of our lean time to put ourselves out there and get known. We didn’t realise we were going to get the volume of business coming in the way of sales and servicing. We’ve done very little marketing locally and you’ve got to be very careful in how you do your marketing. You’ve got to look at the age of the demographics in your catchment area. Most of our clients don’t touch social media so you’ve got to think about how you market yourself.

What do you think the reason is for the volume of new customers?

I think it’s a combination of drawing them from other nearby retailers and also a new pool of untouched customers. We do a lot – we buy and sell, we do collection services and we go out to do workshops. The plan for 2019 is that on a bi-monthly basis we’re going to be hitting villages in a 10 mile catchment and taking products to a community hall where people can sample equipment and build up their knowledge.

We’ll be able to do servicing there and it will be about slowly working our way around the community. Years ago there used to be libraries that travelled around villages and it’ll be that sort of concept. It hopefully brings the community together and hopefully builds a good relationship with them.

Those kind of initiatives will be essential when you are going up against the likes of Eden.

Yes. Fair play to them, they’ve done very well and they’ve obviously built a very successful model. You’ve got to give respect where it’s due. But we’re a bit different in that we’re a family-owned independent and all we’re looking to do is ensure that one part of the market that isn’t filled is catered for.

What have been the biggest obstacles to getting off the ground?

Manpower has been the hardest thing. You can forecast as much as you want but you can never account for instant success. It’s often just myself and a part-time member of staff while there might be three people at the till and others waiting to book in a service. That means you need to serve them as quickly as possible. That’s been a challenge to juggle and ensure customer service levels remain high. We had no idea it would be like that. It’s been good but that’s been our biggest learning curve.

If we could do it again differently we’d probably have marketed earlier and tested it earlier so we could have had the right levels of staffing in place. We opened and had 10 services booked in on day two and suddenly needed a load of spares. We had to learn very quickly but now we’re ready to bring on a new apprentice and grow the team further in 2019. Image credit: Nick Shoot

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Joe Peskett

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