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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Putting People First in Mobility

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AD: How’s business and how are you looking to build on that as we head into 2020?

KS: It’s good and I have got a few ideas actually but obviously I can’t say too much on that until they come to fruition as there are competitors in the town. But business is good, obviously things do pick up in-season when the holidaymakers are here. That’s in addition to the regulars that come who live here for around 10-11 months actually in the caravans. So there are a few ideas, a few more awards to try and enter and carry on the good work.

We’ve also just got the ialso award which is basically for entrepreneurs who can say I also do this, I also do that. There has been a lady that has set that up, it is only the second year that it has run and they list 100 people for it.

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f:Entrepreuner, the ialso award, is a year long campaign and that is also part of International Women’s Day and in March we will hopefully be going back down to the House of Lords.

Obviously because I only got into it this year and we only found out in December, being allowed to announce it this month, we are still waiting to find out what else is happening in the year with that.

So with that, it is also a campaign that aims to inspire females and there’ll be events to go with that throughout the year. You’ve got mentoring within the group as well where you can go to people with ideas and they can come to you.

Since being involved, I have actually had a lady come to me from another mobility company, she’s just taken it over. She said to me, you seem to be doing really well, can you give me some advice and things like that so hopefully, I can help help her and others because it is still a very male orientated industry.

Just this morning, someone came in and they see you working in the shop but they still assume that you’re not the owner. You’re either the guy’s wife or a shopworker or something, they still don’t see a woman as someone who can be at the top of it.

AD: Do you see a lot of that within this industry?

KS: Loads. Don’t get me started on that one. We find there’s ladies that come in and ladies only want to talk to ladies about certain problems so it is so important to have women working in this industry.

I think there are quite a few manageresses, but they are just in there running the shop. But as actual owners of the businesses, it is very rare. It is either man and woman, or just man. There are very very few ladies working at senior level.

All the time, customers come in and if they want to ask a technical question about batteries for example, they will often look over me and speak to one of the lads that are in here. Sometimes they’ll actually look through you as a woman and talk to someone else.

I’ve also had reps, not so much from the industry that know me, but other people have come in and walked straight past me and will go straight to the guy in the shop.

AD: Hopefully the good work you’ve been doing as a female business owner can help drive change with that.

KS: Yes, exactly. That is actually what Baroness Karren Brady is about. She is saying that there should be more women on board level within businesses and like we’ve said, within this industry, because you’ve got the repair side of it, I think that could be a reason as to why it is the way it is.

I’ve spoken to people who have car businesses and that is often the same there too and they think you’re not actually capable of repairing them. Obviously I do have engineers here working for me but I can do stuff myself as well, for example I fit batteries myself anyway.

So again, the assumption is a woman can’t do that.

AD: So, how does People First Mobility operate?

KS: Obviously you’ve got myself who works in the shop and does the accounts and everything. There’s Keith who has been here nine years now and he also works in the shop, he does repairs, spares, he does the van and basically, he’s a general dogs body.

My son also works with me, he’s been with me for about four years and he does all the repair side of it. He does all of the repairs and service side of it, he’s 22 and he is getting on really well with that now.

I did have another gentleman who had been with me for 13 years but he’s now moved away to Scotland with his wife so I’ve now actually  got 2 part-time vacancies that are available at the moment for working here in store with me and the rest of the team.

AD: What’s the background of the company?

KS: It started in 2003 with me and my husband. Basically, he’d worked in a mobility shop and saw a lot of what they were doing wrong in those days. What happened was, my Mum sadly and suddenly passed away in 1999. I spoke to her on the Sunday and she said she was okay, I spoke to her on the Monday and she said she didn’t feel very well and on the Tuesday I got a phone call to say she had died.

She had been struggling a little bit with her breathing in the run up to that and she had phoned me up and told me she had been into the supermarket and used this fantastic machine to get about. She was so pleased with being able to get around the shop, it was that which inspired me in what I do now.

If a customer comes to see me and says that or says they actually got down to the sea front today and they’ve got that beam on their face, it is that what does it for me to say they’ve done this and that and that is what it’s all about.

Following that, we set the business up in 2003. We went limited in 2008 and did work up to having about 5 shops but basically, the recession hit, things got really bad. Basically, it turned into a controlling relationship, I didn’t have much say in the business, he used to go home at 1pm and consequently we closed the shops.

From that, I developed really severe depression and anxiety. I was really poorly and seeked counselling for that. We then split up in 2015 and I bought his shares in the business because I had a vision for where to take it.

He left in June of that year and then in September I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to go through all the treatment and was really poorly but I did Facetime the shop every single day and kept in touch with them and still did the wages and orders while the lads kept the shop open and managed to keep that going for me.

Again, that knocked me off my feet for a year or so but as I have recovered from that I have been trying to put things in place, going to more awards and doing everything I can do to be the best on the east coast but now, we are also looking to inspire others no matter what they are going through.

AD: I’ve seen the topic of online sales pop up more and more recently. What’s your opinion on that?

KS: I’ve got a good one for you actually. Basically, I order from Performance Health and there’s a male urinal product which I buy in for £1.85 and retail it at £6.25. A lady came in the other day and said I want three, I said okay, that’s like £18. She said, no you’re ripping me off, and this is a regular customer. She said she could get them online for a lot cheaper. I said okay but they will be really poor quality, they will be really thin, they won’t be as good quality as this.

So she went away, she brought me one and and said here you go, this is what I’ve just bought online, I’ve just paid £4.95 for three. It was a Performance Health urinal, it even had their sticker on with the code – absolutely identical.

She paid that for three and if you work that out per one, it is £1.65 and I pay £1.87 I think so it’s 22p cheaper than what I buy. So, she went home and got the website she got it from and told me it was from Complete Care Shop and they’re apparently now a part of NRS.

So, I rang Performance Health, and the best they can do is it still more expensive than that. I said that’s okay, but I can still buy them cheaper online like a customer potentially would, and that is the hard thing.

How can a customer go out and buy a product 22p cheaper than what I can, and even if I sold it at what I buy it for, she could still get it cheaper.

AD: Does that put you in a difficult position with regular and loyal customers?

KS: Yes, something like that is awful, because she is a very very good customer of mine. she actually said look, I apologise, I bought these for £5 and you wanted £18 and that makes it sound like we are ripping people off and we are not.

That’s where the problem lies when you’ve got the exactly the same product and people think you’ve bought two container loads worth and that still isn’t fair on us. I can’t buy 10,000 male urinals.

AD: You mentioned the seasonal trade, is that a big part of your business?

KS: Yes, we do though have a lot of locals who are regulars and they are here all year round. We do have what we call a local but they do have to go away for 4 weeks of the year because they can live in the caravan for 48 weeks out of the year.

Because Skegness is very small, in the winter, you’ve got a very small footfall but in the summer, they obviously all come back to the caravans because they haven’t got a home and they live in the static home for 44-48 weeks of the year and the others they just go abroad so they are still classed as a local, but December and January they have to go away so that is what makes it quiet at this time of year.

AD: What else is important at People First, is offering training a priority?

KS: Yes, the other thing that we consider a lot is the mobility training. We’ve done a couple of sessions where we go somewhere local, use their car park and we can set a track up and I have the local police come.

That’s because I think, and I’ve said this before, there does need to be some kind of control out there on some of the scooters. I’ve got a guy who has bought one from the internet and he can’t see very well, he’s not fit for a scooter but he has bought it off the internet so there’s nothing we can do about that and that’s also a problem with the online side of things.

There’s another lady who is like 22 stone and she came in here and I said look, this scooter wouldn’t be suitable for you and she tells me I have no right to tell her that, I can have what I want and I said I’m sorry, what if it breaks when you’re on it. Then, obviously she goes somewhere else and gets one.

AD: It must be tough to draw the line when it comes to making business-friendly decisions and getting things right for the customer.

KS: Yes, it is, but it is important to go away knowing I have done the right thing. Like I said before about that satisfaction, that is what I like to think sets us apart. Yes, I need to pay my mortgage and peoples wages, but it really matters to me what that person feels like rather than pushing for a sale.

That approach has let me down a few times though because I have lost sales because I tell people it is not right for them if it isn’t rather than making the sale.

For example, there was a lady that came in the other day for a suction grab bar. She was a really elderly lady and I have suction grab bars in, but I did have to tell her that sometimes there is problems with them slipping. I told her I could sell it to her but these are the problems and she said no.

So she walked out without spending any money but she did say that because we had been so honest with her, she said she would come back.

AD: Does the importance of a long-term relationship outweigh the benefits of the short term sale then?

KS: Yes, you’ve got to, because they value that. We’ve got so many round here, they work from the garage, work from the garden and haven’t got a clue what they are doing, thinking they can make £50 here and £50 there.

We get the repairs in and we think why have you done that. That aspect of it does annoy me because, like I say, I would rather look after that customer because it does upset me if there is something wrong.

I’ve been told I’m too sensitive sometimes in that respect, because I do care about the customer a lot and I want them to be happy.

AD: A good quality to have when working this industry though, don’t you think?

KS: It is, but it does make it harder in business sometimes because sometimes you need a hard front to cope in business so it does make it more difficult but I think with online coming into play more and more, that is across all retail now.

But it is so important for people to be able to come in and have that assessment. Even with the 8mph limit, we see some people who didn’t know it was 8mph and didn’t know how to turn it down. The tyres were bald and so on. Something is going to change, it’ll have to. I’m not sure just exactly what yet but it will. 

Tags : people first mobilityretail
Alex Douglas

The author Alex Douglas

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