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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Ryan Hirst, 360 Wheelchairs

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Ryan Hirst, former head of sales and marketing at Sunrise Medical, has set up what he has described as a “mini-dealership.” Initially announcing the news back in March just before the coronavirus lockdown, the 360 Wheelchairs business has now managed to see benefits of approaching mobility retail in a slightly different way.

When launching the business in March, Hirst explained how the move to launch the brand was inspired by spending more time at home with his wife and young daughter. He also detailed that he would only be working with products he had worked with in the past and had a good knowledge of.

Not only does Hirst now get to spend more time at home with his family given less time spent on the road than at Sunrise, his wife Jackie is also helping out with the business. Formerly a Retail Manager for the largest Retailer in the UK, Jackie has over 15 years’ experience in customer service. As the operations director, Jackie ensures a very smooth running of the care cycle for all customers.

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In keeping the team small, Hirst manages just about 100% of the assessment as sales work. However, when needed, he can call on registered occupational therapist John Fitzpatrick to give a more clinical insight.

Drawing from a wealth of experience after 18 years in wheelchair provision, John is a registered OT and also has a MSC in Ergonomics. Hirst praises his ability as an OT which has been complemented by his exposure to working for the NHS, distributors and wheelchair manufacturers. On the 360 Wheelchairs website, it does explain that Fitzpatrick is wearing a Silver Fern shirt because the OT services run separately to 360 Wheelchairs.

On the staff dynamic and what Fitzpatrick brings to the business, Hirst says: “John offers independent OT assessments that are very clinically based. He was already operating with a lot of case managers and other dealers so je is there as a backup for additional services that we can offer.

“He can also offer a clinical perspective if it›s required. There›s some things that John and I will actively do together. I›ve got a case management event coming up in September and John is coming along with me to talk about some extra stuff that we can do. It›s just kind of a tie-up really.

He continues: “Obviously the main day-to-day stuff is all down to myself and on the other side of things you know John is also available. For example if I am doing any white labelling gigs you know by rights john can get involved in that as well. I am looking to expand my network of qualified professionals for me to outsource work to because as much as at the moment I›ve been working on generating my own business and selling stuff as 360, there›s lots of things coming up with different dealers and wheelchair services for prescribing chairs and for white labelling.

Referrals:

Specifically focused on the West Midlands and Wales from the outset, in finding out more from Hirst this week, AMP discovered that he is happy to travel further when working in collaboration with another dealer. It is this collaboration type work, known as the referral scheme, which Hirst hopes sets him aside from others and can help push the business on further.

The referral scheme takes effect when a lead is passed over and 360 Wheelchairs conducts a qualification call, assessment and handover, product supply and service and support.

360 Wheelchairs details how it can set referral partners up with a GDPR compliant referral questionnaire and flyers to give to clients. Hirst says it can even offer a short training session to staff to discuss the benefits of the correct product recommendation and the referral scheme itself.

On working exclusively with Sunrise products and how he implements the referral scheme, Hirst explained: “I›ve got no real desire to work with anybody else›s product. I›m much more interested in setting up referrals for when other people›s kit is going to solve the problem for the client.

“I›m not doing standing chairs, I’m not even doing Sunrise standing chairs but if I had somebody come to me that was looking at that sort of product, then I would look to recommend that to somebody like Recare or Lifestyle and Mobility on a referral basis.”

He continued: “I’ve got good relationships with those guys from previous experience in the industry and there are some really good ones that stand out like I’ve just mentioned. I am beginning to do bits of work with a few dealers now and some of those have also referred clients to us. For example, we have a sale going through at the moment which will see one of our partners earn a referral fee.”

White labelling:

The other service in which Hirst is keen to push and build on as part of his new business is offering a white label service. In a document offered to dealers from 360 Wheelchairs, it explained how white label services are common in most other industries but not in the mobility market.

In this instance, 360 will represent the dealer’s brand and values like an additional member of staff. Hirst says he understands how difficult it is to recruit staff with the right level of expertise, morals and work ethic and detailed how in the event that the retailer generates more enquiries than it is able to handle or is not able to facilitate these fast enough, 360 Wheelchairs can step in to provide a full assessment & handover support, leaving the retailer in control of the product supply, service and the client.

360 Wheelchairs works on a standard 70/30 split meaning that the retailer would have 70% of the product margin to maintain the wheelchair post assessment & handover. Hirst’s firm only needs the dealer to confirm the final sales value and from that it will generate an invoice to be paid by BACs or card.

Hirst elaborates: “The white label will be of value to a lot of dealers out there. The white label service I can offer to retailers allows me to provide the same expertise and experience that they would get from their manufacturer representative, or the guys that already work in the company prescribing wheelchairs.

“It really comes in when they are either understaffed because their staff are on furlough or they have requirements outside the usual area they operate. They could be going after new business and they need the extra manpower to help serve that, or maybe they›re going after a new charity or working for a wheelchair service they weren›t before.”

He adds: “Essentially, the white label service is me going and fulfilling that assessment and hand over as their company and their brand. That means that even down to the shirt I wear, they can have their logo on it. For example, I›ve already got a Lifestyle and Mobility shirt for the work I do with them.”

Down to business:

Discussing how business had progressed since the launch in March, Hirst had a positive outlook with regards to the numbers and despite the coronavirus pandemic which could have seriously stunted any hopes, 360 Wheelchairs remains on track with predictions for the year.

The business is “hitting its business plan” according to the company’s managing director and despite COVID-19 meaning it didn’t do a lot for a few months of the year, reducing overheads was key to some level of success through that period.

It is clearly still a growing brand and with regards to expansion specifically, Hirst questioned what was meant by expansion in the traditional business sense of the word – moving away from what the business has been built on so-far is not something he would be too keen on.

Hirst is keen to stress that the small, family-focused business is what he moved away from a big firm like Sunrise Medical for. Enjoying his time there and learning a lot about the industry while meeting friends along the way, he believes this is the way forward and could be for the foreseeable future.

The bespoke offering laid out by the company in handling the product from assessment to aftercare is what Hirst really wants to focus on. Acknowledging the process is what most dealers offer, Hirst wants to really hone in on that personal feeling from first enquiry, to a thorough assessment with detailed feedback, to product delivery, followed by aftersale service and support.

Following the conversation Hirst had with AMP, what stuck out most was the detailed feedback following an assessment and the process between that assessment and product delivery. A detailed assessment report template seen by AMP shows how the client sees the analysis from the report in great depth, even down to the Q&A between assessor and client.

Hirst explained how the client must approve everything on the form prior to a order being processed, thus allowing for a “true five-star service.” He went on to discuss how if the end-user does not feel a full five star service has been provided, they can flag this up and put right any issue. 360 Wheelchairs says it feels this is the best way to ensure the client’s needs are completely met from start to finish.

Discussing the document and the process he goes through with clients, Hirst elaborates: “I think what I actually do in the assessment is very similar to what everybody does. Most people would ask those questions without thinking about it so that›s probably not that special whatsoever in fairness, but not everybody would include that in the document.

“I think it is that which gives me a particularly high hit rate for assessment to sale. Lead to assessment isn›t particularly high, that’s probably at about a 30% closure rate. However, assessment to sale is like 90% conversion.

“You asked me the question about having stepped on other people’s toes and to be honest, I›ve only really found out at the point that somebody›s received my assessment document that I may have done, but obviously not intentionally. They might turn around and tell me how they didn›t get an assessment form like ours from anybody else and that›s really where I say I haven›t purposely done so.”

Hirst goes on: “I haven’t asked people about what other dealers are saying because I don›t want to do that and I don›t want to know that you my friend from another dealer has also been to see the same client because I don›t want to compete with them in that way. I just want to offer the best service I can and if somebody chooses to go for me then that›s great, but I›m certainly not reducing my prices or anything like that to try and compete with people.”

As part of the company’s offering, Hirst and 360 Wheelchairs set out a pathway of the service it offers in seven steps.

A national dealer?

Covering a specific region is something most bricks and mortar retailers rely upon to be the best in their area. Then, with that success, comes the chance to expand into other areas and grow the brand’s reach, customer base and therefore profits and turnover.

From the sense of 360 Wheelchairs, Ryan Hirst hopes that he can offer a national service while focusing his brand on the West Midlands area in which he is based, thus sticking to his plan to operate primarily in that area made clear in the business launch.

Going into more detail on this, Hirst outlines: “Officially, I would never really want to go more than two and a half hours for a wheelchair that I’m selling myself as 360 Wheelchairs. I have gone further on the odd occasion where it’s either been worth it because it’s of a high chair value or it’s involved in future business.

“For example, there’s one charity that I’m working with that’s a number of chairs per year which is outside the two and a half mile radius but it makes sense because of the other the other chairs that come later in the year.”

He continues: “Additionally, for other people’s work, if I’m white labelling for somebody else or I’m selling a product on behalf of somebody else’s company and I’m not going to support it afterwards, I’m quite happy to cover on a national scale in that instance because it is just my time that I have to take into consideration for getting there and back for the assessment and handover but once that’s done, it’s done.

“So from a 360 side of things, two and a half hours but from a white label side of things the whole country is there. Because of that, through an advertisement point of view, I advertise myself as a national dealer because if I get a lead that’s outside two and a half hours, I can pass it on to somebody else.”

It is this forward, flexible thinking that has stood 360 Wheelchairs in good stead so far and is an attitude which could inspire newer entries into the market of this sort as the coronavirus crisis beings to reshape our and other industries to be fit for the future.

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Alex Douglas

The author Alex Douglas

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