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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Adding strings to the Medequip bow

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As Medequip continues to expand its CES offering, the company and those driving it behind the scenes are looking at new ways Medequip can use its position in the market to help benefit the industry.

Adding new strings to its bow including an increased online presence and the integration of telecare are just some of the ways it is looking to do so.

AMP sat down with CEO James Ibbotson (JI) and Head of Retail and Marketing Matthew Ward (MW) to find out more.

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How has business been since you last spoke to AMP in September last year?

JI: We have added 4 new contracts to our portfolio. We have added the Rotherham Community Equipment & Wheelchair Service to our contracts from February 1 this year. We’ve added Tower Hamlets and City of London to our London Consortium Framework from April 1.

Additionally, we’ve incorporated the Shropshire Council CES in partnership with local provider Independent Living Partnership from October 1. This is a different model and uses community hubs to facilitate the service delivery locally.

In adding the new contracts, sales have grown but margin on tendered contracts remains very tight and our cost control has to be extremely well managed.

We have also acquired Country Carelines which is a technology enabled care service and has been rebranded as Medequip Connect.

This is as well as investing in the development of our retail business – Manage at Home, to create a fully responsive and easy to use website that complements our core community equipment business.

How has incorporating those new contracts been for the business?

JI: Yes, they have settled in really well. They are different type of contracts so first of all, Rotherham, which was integrated into the business earlier this year. That is not only a CES contract but a wheelchair service contract as well where we had a partner, which is Ross Care. That has gone really well and we are building on that platform to respond strongly to opportunities which are coming out in the next six months so we are quite excited about the potential there too.

Tower Hamlets and City of London have integrated into our existing London Consortium contracts so that is now 21 boroughs and they have merged into the existing boroughs served by Medequip within Greater London. Again, that ran smoothly, and there were no great challenges to manage there.

Then Shropshire, that was a new contract and a new set-up with a new depot which has been running now for just a few weeks, but so far, that has gone smoothly as well and it’s showing promising signs.

When integrating the new contracts across the country, do you have the resources to deliver readily available or is it an expansion process?

JI: We inherit and can use the experienced staff servicing the existing contract under TUPE arrangements, who can integrate into our teams.

We obviously make the synergies of savings and of ensuring that we have the right number of people to fulfil the contract.

Many people successfully take on board the Medequip culture and Medequip Way and stay with us, whilst others may not want to be a part of that. Our bespoke Medequip Way processes and TCES system are derived from best practice from across our 38 CES contracts and are scaleable to accommodate significant growth.

You say sales have grown, is that due to incorporating the new contracts?

JI: Yeah, I’d put it down to a couple of things. First and foremost, winning the new contracts naturally gives you a surge in revenue but then, year on year, organic growth within our existing contracts contributes to a year that this year will be bigger than last year in terms of its turnover.

And what will that be?

JI: We think about £170m, which would be up from around £160m last year. There are still two months to go but it is looking positive with that time left.

So, how has the acquisition of County Carelines gone and the re-branding of that in Medequip Connect gone?

JI: That’s right, so we have a CES contract in The Wirral of which, County Carelines was a business based in that neck of the woods and we acquired that. We then changed the branding to Medequip Connect. We’re proud of the fact that the staff TUPE’d across through that process are very high calibre and are successfully showing us the way in developing our telecare services. We have never looked back since we started doing that. We wish we had done it years ago.

So have the existing staff as you say, leading the way, become useful in that process?

JI: It is because Medequip, historically, has not had full insight into telecare. We have delivered telecare equipment on behalf of telecare providers for individual contracts and Boroughs but taking the responsibility of a call centre 24 hours a day and 365 days a year and then having the responder team to go out and respond where required all within Medequip’s direct control is unique.

There are a lot of synergies and similarities with Community Equipment and how we collect and deliver, but the acquired skills drive us further forward, faster.

You’ve mentioned in the recent past about looking to expand past just CES work, how is this progressing?

JI: We’ve made a positive start with that process. Historically Medequip has just been known as a CES provider and our first stage to diversifying and adding more strings to our bow was wheelchair services and partnering up with wheelchair service providers, like Ross Care.

We then also have falls prevention within the Wirral contract and we’ve now got telecare. We’re also pushing hard with our online retail content with Manage at Home and if we can continue to build on those platforms we’ll have a powerful expanded offering.

We’ve also got Handyman Services and other diversification plans in the pipeline.

Medequip was recently recognised in The Sunday Time Grant Thornton Top Track 250 league table for the third year in a row. How was this received?

JI: It’s one recognition of the consistent performance of Medequip as a successful mid-sized limited company and recognises our ongoing investment in the business and ability to win new business in a competitive market. Medequip is now unique in our sector in being a family owned company and the consistent backing the operational board receive allows us to grow the business in a structured manner.

We’re very proud to be in this position. We strive to drive the business forward to have a good culture and it is rewarding to be recognised for that.

Is it a reflection of the good position that Medequip is in?

JI: Medequip is the largest single outsourced provider of CES with over 40 contracts, There are of course a finite number of contract opportunities so, as we’ve said, we are also looking to diversify.

We have taken a modular approach to developing our IT system which we firmly believe is the best in class community equipment ordering and management system to add the facility to manage these additional services within the same platform.

We also take very seriously the need to invest in the social value that we can add locally for each of our contracts. We are a national company that is a local employer at each of our 21 depot locations, spending money with local suppliers and building local partnerships is important. We also provide apprenticeships and work with local colleagues to train them.

As part of that effort, we have provided many local sponsorships and also work with the Alzheimer’s Society across all of our depots to raise funds for them through our corporate partnership with them. We’ve raised £50,000 over the last three years.

In addition to that too, starting in Suffolk, we are linking with local schools to deliver Medequip Explorers’ – hosting visits from local schools at our depots to educate students on what Medequip does and the part we play in providing social care services and recycling equipment in an environmentally friendly way.

You’ve managed to be included three years in a row now, what is your strategy to keep improving year on year and not rest on your laurels?

JI: Each and every year, at around this time of year, we reflect on the budgets and what we’ve achieved in the current year with where we need to be in the following year.

We have recognised that Medequip needs to diversify into other areas where we can give complimentary services to the CES contracts that we have. But, at the same time, we must always maintain the existing high levels of services that we give to our existing contracts. We’re winning new business but we must not forget about the existing business.

MW: It is the quality of the business as well. It is not just simply, right lets do a new section of the business here and there, we’re looking at the things we do week in week out and ensuring that the quality of the service that we are providing, particularly our CES which is the core part of the business, is done properly.

We are always looking at how we can develop our IT system further. We have a cutting edge IT system which delivers and is used by thousands upon thousands of prescribers across the contracts that we work on but we are also looking at how we can develop that further.

JI: From an IT perspective, the latest platform that we’ve installed and use has now been embraced by our customers which takes it to the next level and ensures that the system can be used in different IT applications.

Is implementing new technology like that difficult?

There are customers who have never worked with Medequip Manage at Home before who are surprised by how strong the system is and they embrace it. For those who are existing customers, we sometimes see them take time to embrace the change but they are now doing that.

Looking into the expansion of the London consortium, how does the work there differ to your operation across other parts of the country?

JI: The sheer scale and size of the consortium now with 21 Boroughs, with the ever increasing population density of London and the variance with the number of drops per day that we can in any other of our contracts, versus the number of limited drops we can do per day to the end users in London is dramatically different.

We are having to embrace the change and we’re looking at alternative electric vehicles with the emissions issues that London faces and just simple, not just delivering of equipment, but also of PPMs and LOLER testing in ensuring that we can be as efficient as possible.

It is dramatically different in London. We’ve got 21 Boroughs all sharing their specials catalogue. It is run out of four depots so the catalogues for each and every one of the 21 depots has to be stitched and worked together and the sheer demand of it, with the density of population, road network system, high-rise buildings compared to other areas of the country mean it’s vastly different.

In the last rolling twelve months we have circa 27,000 emergency deliveries in London alone.

MW: It is massively different. In other areas you can quantify how long something is going to take you by distance but in London you can’t. We’ve got rural contracts for example in North Yorkshire and you’re covering a lot of miles whereas in London, you’ll be spending your time navigating a gridlocked street.

MW: It is massively different. In other areas you can quantify how long something is going to take you by distance but in London you can’t. We’ve got rural contracts for example in North Yorkshire and you’re covering a lot of miles whereas in London, you’ll be spending your time navigating a gridlocked street.

How has Manage At Home and the investment into that helped the business as a whole?

MW: What we are seeing more and more is that as part of the criteria around a tender, we need to provide more added value to the contract as a whole. One of the areas in which we are able to do that is that we are one provider and a sign posting provider of the choice that people who want to purchase their own equipment, can go to.

What we do as part of our overall marketing effort, if you like, is as well as providing the core Community Equipment Service, we will advise people on other equipment that they can purchase over and above the core equipment that is provided by the local authority or by the NHS CCG.

That’s because there is a lot more out there than on those base catalogues, but there is not limitless funds to provide that equipment. So basically, what we do is, we are able to offer additional and upgraded choices of equipment for those people who want to choose to buy those pieces of equipment for themselves.

We do an awful lot of work on our retail side, so we signpost to ourselves but also do partnerships with local retailers as well so people can go to a bricks and mortar retailer if they wish. We also try to add to the impartiality of choice, which many of our commissioners ask us to do.

That’s really where it starts to add to the whole business. It mitigates some of the costs to the commissioner and adds choice for the consumer and you can do those things together. The base equipment that people need and should be provided under social care legislation, we fulfill through CES contracts but we try to enhance the offer of that through the choice of Manage at Home and the advice from our trusted assessors.

We try to integrate all of that by putting out a lot of literature to help get the message across.

JI: With that, behind the scenes we have invested in more personnel and also invested more in Google Ad words and all of the digital marketing expenditure to get your ranking and positioning right on a website for people to see Manage at Home and want to click on it and visit the site.

Looking to the future, what are the plans for the direction of the Medequip brand?

JI: We as Medequip are seeing in the last two or three months the pipeline of CES tenders coming out has increased so we are going to continue with our core business and push forward to tender for new CES contracts.

However, the future is all about developing the new strings to the bow which is telecare, wheelchair services, falls prevention, handyman services, of which now we’ve got the infrastructure and team to push on all fronts, which is what we will be doing for 2020 onwards.

Looking ahead  further, we want to replicate the work we have been doing. We want to continue to evaluate our position, continue to invest in our people and the business and drive revenue on as well. It is an exciting time for Medequip at the moment.

Tags : manage at homemedequip
Alex Douglas

The author Alex Douglas

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