How far do your customers trust you to sell them the right product at the right price? How important is that trust to your business? For Exeter Disability Centre, trust is the bedrock of the business. In-house OT, Marion May, and managing director, David Denning, explain how a combination of clinical expertise and unwavering principles have secured longevity for the firm.
A concern shared by mobility equipment dealers around the country is that of end-users being sold unsuitable products they have not been clinically assessed for.
Many professionals fear that incorrectly prescribed equipment can place end-users and pedestrians at risk and in AMP’s experience, business owners are often more than happy to share their horror stories.
In the face of competition from online resellers, while some business owners may feel compelled to prioritise shifting stock, others believe that real success comes through selling customers the right product and turning away sales that are not right.
There are plenty of businesses around the country that follow the ethos of putting customer safety before sales. Marion May, occupational therapist (OT) at Exeter Disability Centre (EDC), claims that for the equipment retail outfit, profits come after customers’ clinical needs.
She says that customers will often come into EDC’s showroom having seen something online and wanting to buy it. But as many dealers know, what the customer initially wants after their internet research is often very different to the most suitable product for their needs.
It can be difficult disappointing them in the first instance, but rewarding in the long-term when they get the product that meets their needs. EDC’s team will always listen to the customer’s reasoning before offering information about the various products so the end-user can make an informed decision.
It has always been our number one priority to find the right product for a customer. That’s why we are so successful. I suppose it’s a question of trust. Customers come to us because they know they can trust us to sell them the right product”
“Even something as simple as a mobility scooter for popping to the shops needs to be appropriate for the environment it is used in and suitable for purpose,” Marion says. “It is in situations like this when experience of a wide range of equipment types and a professional insight into their clinical applications are essential to the end-user and purchaser.”
EDC was established in Devon’s main city by managing director, David Denning, nearly 20 years ago. It has become a trusted provider of equipment throughout the South West and puts its longevity down to a system based on trust between customer and vendor.
Core to its model is a heavy focus on clinical assessment, which, as a former NHS occupational therapist, Marion reminds us is “one of the single most important aspects of supplying disability equipment, as suggested in NHS England’s guidelines”. Naturally then, skilled and experienced staff are a key part of EDC’s operation.
In fact, Marion argues that the importance of clinical assessments and advice at point-of-sale is actually increasing as more people rehabilitate in their own homes and have the option of using personal budgets for wheelchairs and equipment. EDC has had a registered in-house OT for the last three years and forms part of the company’s strategy to lead sales with assessments.
More recently, in a move to promote a reliable clinical-based service within a retail setting, Denning and the team at EDC extended their scope to offer specialist clinical assessment for babies, children, young adults with mobility or postural requirements.
EDC is now in the enviable position of boasting a clinical seating team specialising in paediatrics. Its team consists of Marion, a clinical specialist OT, HCPC registered with over 20 years of experience in neurology, special seating and wheelchair provision and a rehabilitation engineer, Peter Lane (RCT), also with 20 years’ experience who previously worked at a team for NHS wheelchair services.
Marion and Peter say that dealing with children’s equipment requires specialist knowledge from the assessors regarding not only the type of equipment and what it does or can be used for, but also the medical implications and developmental influence of the equipment.
“Research has shown that a child who has special needs has a body which can be influenced by its postural control and mobility equipment. This allows the family and any multidisciplinary healthcare team working with the child to create a situation where the child’s body can be empowered to mature and develop to its greatest independent, functional potential, if given the right equipment at the right time.”
Marion adds that by achieving optimal positioning with suitable equipment, a child’s cognitive development can be encouraged. She says that research also shows postural and skeletal deformities can be managed or even delayed by a program of 24 hour postural management with appropriate equipment prescription.
“This is of benefit not just to the child but to the whole family and wider social groups, allowing the child to participate in play, family activities, education and social situations, giving them the lifestyle they require for inclusion in society. Obtaining the greatest level of functional independence for the child relies on a thorough holistic assessment, with a high level of clinical competency and professional input from registered therapists and rehabilitation engineer.
It’s a trust thing. They know when they call us we will have a complete understanding of their requirements”
“That is why at EDC we get so many referrals from OTs, case managers and therapists. It’s a trust thing. They know when they call us we will have a complete understanding of their requirements. Quite often an OT will send us the contact details of a person with a brief explanation of their needs, then leave it to us safe in the knowledge we will take care of things properly.”
It goes without saying that making yourself the go-to equipment dealer for OTs in the local area is a sound business strategy. But for EDC, while referrals are a bonus, the real victory comes in knowing the end-user has the best chance of staying mobile or rehabilitating. It is important that the whole team shares the same idea of what victory is. Even before her time with EDC, Marion says the emphasis on staff training has always been on finding the right product for the customer.
“We are aware that training is incredibly important and constant changes in the marketplace and innovations in technology mean that the training continually needs updating or refreshing. That’s why we hold such a large range of products – to give users choice.
“As professionals, we have a clinical duty to keep up to date with new research and products as soon as they hit the market. This proactive dedication to staying ahead of the game has meant that over the years David Denning has been asked to act as a consultant on potential new products for wheelchair manufacturers.”
An active interest in advancing knowledge extends beyond EDC’s clinical team, however. It applies the same principles to its service department and has a team of engineers that is constantly refreshing and updating its skills. The idea behind this multi-pronged training is to ensure customers are offered “the whole package”, she adds.
David continues: “From assessment to adaption or modification through to sales and aftercare, we can strip, modify, adapt or alter almost any product available. Many of our customers are entirely dependent on the equipment we supply. If a customer has a flat tyre on a Saturday afternoon while shopping, they are covered because we have a 24-hour emergency call-out service.”
Achieving ‘the full package’ is certainly something many distributors aspire to. Being able to provide clinical assessments alongside solid aftersales and engineering expertise are key ingredients in some of the most successful models in mobility. It often leads to more long-term customers, pick of the top suppliers and OT referrals. It is unsurprising then that EDC has found this formula has paid off over the two decades it has been operating.
David reflects: “It has always been our number one priority to find the right product for a customer. That’s why we are so successful. I suppose it’s a question of trust. Customers come to us because they know they can trust us to sell them the right product, and to be available if there are any problems later on.”
What’s behind an effective product assessment?
Marion May, registered OT at Exeter Disability Centre (EDC), suggests that a well thought-out and deliberate approach to a product assessment helps marry the customer with the most suitable product.
At EDC, staff ask customers questions enabling them to complete a referral form which is used to allocate the client to the appropriate clinical or engineering team member.
May says: “We discuss their requirements and can offer home visits, the option of coming into the shop, or a private assessment in our new assessment room. The assessment will cover personal requirements, medical background, if appropriate, and what they are looking for, taking into account their routines, hobbies, and interests.
“If necessary we would obtain permission to liaise with any carers, health professionals, case managers, OT’s or relatives who can offer any insights into the individual’s requirements.”