What are the biggest challenges facing mobility retailers in 2017?

Internet sellers. Access to the market. Assessment and servicing. Chris Cox, Managing Director of Cinque Ports Mobility and John Payne, Managing Director of Kent Mobility, share some of their thoughts on what they see as being the biggest issues facing businesses and the industry over the next 12 months.

The role of the internet

A major concern both Chris and John quickly touched upon were the increasing numbers of internet sellers not offering customer assessments or after sale services, an issue that deeply troubles young director Chris Cox.

"If a customer looks long and hard enough at companies in our industry, it is my hope they will discover the bedrock upon which all their business decisions are made – a foundation which insists on bettering the lives of those who enter their stores or visit their websites,” Chris told us.

"My fear – a fear I, unfortunately, have confirmed almost every week – is that many entrepreneurs are approaching this industry to satisfy the customer demand to save money, often at the expense of the longevity of the product or its suitability for their clinical needs. I feel it is my responsibility as a young, innovative and entrepreneurial director to find ways of offering our customers the best opportunity possible to make an informed decision on their purchase, giving them the resources and space they require to make the most holistic decision possible.”

John Payne agreed, adding: "We sell medical devices, so there is a responsibility to maintain a level of assessment professionalism.”

Access to the market

Reflecting on how the ease of new companies to access the market has changed over the years, John explained how it could be a factor for the rise of sellers not concerned with service.

"Back when there were a lot fewer retailers in the industry, major manufacturers were far stricter with companies wishing to become their agents. The manufacturer would have a number of boxes that would need ticking; engineers on the road, a certain number of spares on the shelf and a requirement to stock their products,” said John.

"Now it feels that there are some manufacturers out there that if someone said, ‘I have a cheque here, can I buy a container load of product?’ the manufacturer would rip it out their hand as quick as they could. What happens to the products after that is of little concern. There seems to be a lot less interest in the level of service being provided and ultimately, no real interest in the end customer.

"Really to sell these products, you need to have a clinical background or years of experience in the trade and with disabilities, yet you can go to the Argos catalogue now and buy a class 3 scooter. Manufacturers have a lot of responsibility to actually worry about where and how their products are being sold and who to. To me, that seems to have gone out the window at the moment.”

Increasing pressure

John attributes this change to increasing competition putting manufacturers under pressure.

"There a lot of players in the market at the moment and some manufacturers may simply be struggling, pressuring them into getting sales and shifting boxes. I’ve had manufacturers come into my shop and say to me ‘how many are you going to sell John?’ This is wrong. I won’t be dictated to how many units of a product I have to sell because I don’t know the needs of the next customer coming through my door. If the product meets their needs, I would show it to them as an option for them to purchase. If it doesn’t, I won’t. It really is as simple as that.”

As a relatively newcomer to the industry, Chris also pointed out the feeling that some organisations try to apply pressure over retailers.

"There are some big organisations out there and it seems some try to use their power to exert control. For us, the joy of this industry is the element of effectively changing people’s lives. So, when an organisation or a body tries to exert pressure on us in a way that prioritises money over service, it can become deeply frustrating and upsetting,” said Chris.

The future

As the difficulty to compete in an already competitive marketplace continues to increase, John shared his prediction on the issue of end-users being sold unsuitable products.

"Honestly, in my opinion, it will get worse before it gets better,” revealed John. "Anyone can sell these products at the moment. Years ago, when the double-glazing bubble burst, we had a movement of people turning to selling scooters and selling themselves as an expert. This is a similar issue, except digitally.”

Chris echoed this concern: "It bothers me that customers may end up developing more problems and having a worse quality of life by being recommended the wrong products for the wrong reasons. In effect, doing the complete opposite of what a retailer in the industry should be trying to achieve.”

Adapt and diversify

Having more than three decades’ experience in the industry, John’s key advice to success is simple; diversification and being responsive.

"If you are a small to medium sized company, it is important to keep your eye on the ball, see which way it is going to bounce and go with it. Importantly, do not put all your eggs in one basket. I’ve known friends who have just sold scooters; they are out of business now because there are so many scooter people in the market that scooters have dropped in price and become less profitable. We now do everything, from slings to hoists to installations to swimming pool lifts. This has been essential over the years and will continue to be in the future,” he finished.

Do you have some thoughts of your own about the industry you’d like to share? Email calvin@thiis.co.uk to have your thoughts featured in future issues.

To find out more about Kent Mobility, visit www.kentmobility.co.uk and find out more about Cinque Ports Mobility, visit www.cinqueportsmobility.com