More about... Loopwheels

Often when someone mentions ‘reinventing the wheel’, it is not meant literally. For engineer and inventor Sam Pearce however, this is exactly what he did. Since raising funds via crowdfunding in 2015, the company has enjoyed a wave of global success. We spoke with Co-Founder Gemma Pearce to discover more about the journey from small start-up to international exporter.

There are not many who can boast about innovating one of mankind’s first inventions, however, mechanical engineer and industrial designer Sam Pearce is able to make such a bold claim.

He first came up with the idea when he watched a woman push a buggy into a kerb outside an airport whilst waiting for a flight. He noticed as the pushchair hit the kerb, the child felt the impact of the bump. It was then that Sam went to work creating a wheel that could absorb shocks.

The result was the Loopwheel, a durable wheel with integral suspension that uses carbon composite springs instead of traditional spokes to absorb the vibration and shocks encountered on rough and uneven surfaces.

After 211 backers pledged over £21,000 through a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 for the company to produce wheelchair wheels, Loopwheels has gone on to build a comprehensive global network of distributors and in recent months, added three new international distributors to the ever-growing list.

Agreeing exclusive arrangements with new USA, Australia and Switzerland distributors, Loopwheels is looking to build on its overseas success. The company already works with exclusive distributors in Canada, Italy and the Netherlands and the eye-catching wheels can also be found in countries as far as Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand.

"It's a pleasure to work with companies who want to sell loopwheels internationally,” explains Gemma Pearce, Co-Founder of Loopwheels. "We receive enquiries from all over the world from people in wheelchairs who have heard about the technology and are looking for somewhere local to try out the wheels. It gives us great satisfaction to know that with each new partnership, we are bringing access to in-wheel suspension that little bit closer to more people across the globe.”

For many, exporting products can be, and often is, a daunting task, with even finding distributors and dealers in unknown markets posing a problem for companies. For Loopwheels, trade shows have proven invaluable.

The company met their Australian and American distributors at Rehacare, the industry’s international trade show in Germany, and met their Swiss distributor, Rollstar 86, at a show in Bologna in May 2016.

Having the right distributors and dealers is a good start, but navigating freight, offering support and understanding customs requirements are just some of the many aspects for companies to understand.

For Loopwheels, they identified the challenges involved with launching a product in Switzerland, a country with very distinct regions and at least three languages.

Gemma explained: "Marketing materials needed to be prepared in French, German and Italian, which inevitably takes a little time and planning. But Rollstar 86 are very familiar with these challenges and will be supplying loopwheels to mobility equipment providers throughout Switzerland, opening up the options for trialling and purchasing in all regions of the country.”

Another addition to Loopwheels’ network is the company’s first stockist in South America; Smart Wheelchairs in Brazil. Smart Wheelchairs showed off the loopwheel at the Reatech Expo in Sao Paulo at the beginning of June and hopes it will lead to developing closer ties with customers in the region.

Gemma had some more pearls of wisdom to share with would be exporters to the region. "A challenge here is the huge amount of red tape to navigate when importing European goods to South America. Our advice is to work with a company like Smart who are experienced at importing goods into the country, and have a good freight forwarder to navigate the customs requirements smoothly!”

Finding the right distributors and dealers in different markets around the world has been key for Loopwheels’ success and with their product being only one of two in-wheel suspension systems available on the market, it has helped the company generate international attention.

Gemma told us: "The UK has a good reputation for design, invention and engineering, so that plays well with an international audience. Innovation has definitely been a key driver of Loopwheels success abroad.”

Just as important as identifying the right international partners is the need to develop and maintain good relationships with them. Gemma provided some insight into what is needed to build a successful international relationship with dealers and distributors.

"The Loopwheels product itself is a particular selling point when working with stockists abroad, as they are attracted both by the solution it offers their customers and by the attractive look of the product. We provide high-res images and a video for their website and brochures, and other marketing materials they may need. Good prompt customer service and a quick turnaround of orders are very important to them too. Turnaround depends on the size of the order but we aim to dispatch most within two days. We make sure to use secure and trusted freight forwarding services as well, so customers have tracking information from dispatch to delivery.”

Another important factor for Loopwheels is the ability to remain flexible in regards to order volume. The company explained that it is able to fulfil small and large volume orders, explaining that many of their European stockists will place more frequent orders specifically destined for an end-user who may want a single pair of wheels with a bespoke colour combination and fitted with particular push rims. These orders are dispatched individually as they are received. However, the company also sends out bigger shipments of wheels to customers in more distant locations who will typically order in bigger volume to minimise freight costs, instead opting to fit their own push rims and tyres as they work through the stock.

"If ever there is a need for servicing or repair, it’s important to us and to our stockists that we are able to advise them quickly to offer a good solution for them and their customer,” added Gemma. "We have had good feedback from our stockists about our responsiveness and we definitely believe that good customer service is paramount, whoever you may be dealing with. Whether our customers speak good English or not, we find courtesy is a global language!”

Despite all the international success, Loopwheels has not taken its eye off the UK.

"We are still interested in working with more stockists in the UK,” said Gemma. "Important to us is that we work with people who understand their customers’ needs and can help advise them to choose equipment that suits those needs, so that they can match the right product to the right customer and ensure it fits correctly with their chair.

"The wheels really help any wheelchair user travel easier over uneven paving stones and potholes, appealing especially to people who have a bike attachment for their wheelchair and are looking to add suspension when using their electric assist motor. So dealers who sell handbike or motor attachments will find these combine perfectly with a pair of loopwheels.”

Having experienced such growth in a relatively short amount of time, it seems that the sky is the limit for the small, innovative business, with Gemma giving us some idea of what the future holds for the company.

"We remain at heart a company focussed on innovation in product design, and in the long term we will continue to develop our loopwheels technology for other applications as well as wheelchair wheels. But for now, our focus is on attracting the right partners who can help us reach more people with loopwheels for wheelchairs.

"We are a wheel manufacturer with a unique product that makes people’s lives easier and more comfortable. We have no plans to diversify into selling wheelchairs or becoming a high street retailer ourselves - other companies are much more expert at that than we are. But no one makes a suspension wheel as good as ours and our aim is to work with the best partners we can, bringing our product to the attention of customers around the world looking for a smoother ride in their daily lives.”

The website for the company is www.loopwheels.com