Lisa Wardley image
Repose’s Lisa Wardley

Still standing strong in seating after 20 years

Reaching a two-decade anniversary is no small feat in the world of business (if we do say so ourselves), however, reaching a 20th anniversary as a British bespoke manufacturer during a period when domestic manufacturing has faced tough times is all the more impressive. THIIS took a trip to Repose’s Cradley Heath factory to speak with Managing Director Lisa Wardley and discover how the bespoke seating manufacturer has managed to stay true to its commitment to quality over the years, as well as what it has planned for the years to come.

THIIS: The specialist seating market saw a lot of activity in 2018, how is Repose fairing in it at the moment?

Lisa: “We’ve just had our best trading year ever which is a fantastic way to enter our anniversary year.

“We will need to hold onto that as I think this year will be a harder one in the market. I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel it but it may have something to do with Brexit and the uncertainty around it.”

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THIIS: Are you starting to see any impact from Brexit across your supply chain?

Lisa:The majority of our suppliers are based in the UK, with many sourcing their parts from Europe.

“They are trying to hold more stock, however, there is only so much stock they can hold financially before it starts affecting their business. As a manufacturer, we are in a similar boat.”

THIIS: Has there been a downturn in demand from customers?

Lisa: “In our sales office, there really does seem to be no end to requests for pricing and quotes from both existing and new accounts which is brilliant. There does seem to be a slow down in orders though and it almost seems as if buyers are holding off at the start of this year.

“I think Brexit uncertainty might have a part to play.”

THIIS: In our January issue, we spoke with Stuart Mobility who sang your praises as a supplier. How do you establish good relationships with retailers?

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Lisa: “Stuart Mobility and Justina are a great retailer to work with because they are very proactive.

“If a potential customer called and said they needed a chair, she would drive hours on a Friday afternoon to see them because she believes the customer requires a professional and quality solution as soon as possible.

“That kind of drive and dedication makes the company a great retailer to work with.  We are very fortunate to work with many such dealers.

“It’s all about communication, trust and loyalty between both suppliers and retailers. We truly consider our retailers as partners – if they grow, we grow.

“For example, if we get leads in an area, we’ll pass them on to those retailers within that area.

“In some instances, we have designed new seating solutions with retailers in response to an opportunity they have spotted in the marketplace.

“We also try to offer dealers additional support through our retailer support program that we have been running over the years.”

THIIS: Has your retailer support program been well received by your dealer network?

Lisa: “We’ve have had some uptake but not as much as we would like.”

THIIS: Why do you think that is?

Lisa: “We are not quite sure. Every month we change the offer to try and match it to trends happening in the market so that it gives our retailers more value to offer to their customers but I think there still needs to be that added push.

“We completely changed the business and moved fully into this sector and it has been a rollercoaster of a ride, with ups and downs but always enjoyable.” Lisa Wardley

“We do have some dealers that take up the offers almost on a monthly basis however. They will see it in the magazine or online and without fail, certain retailers will send in orders using the discount code to get take advantage of half-price warranties or other additional features.”

THIIS: Do you think some dealers might be missing an opportunity to use these promotions to sell?

Lisa: “The dealers we see engaging with the promotions are often the ones that tend to sell more of our chairs because they are incorporating the savings and offers into their offers and promoting it to customers.

“We really would encourage more dealers to engage with the offers as they do provide that additional added value that can help secure sales.

“As a supplier, however, there is more we can do to really highlight these offers to our customers as well. We have had times where we have emailed a monthly offer and discount code to customers, only to see customers placing orders in that month that are applicable but not using the offer.

“On one occasion, the offer was for an additional 10 percent off and a free, up-to-date swatch book for their shop floor!

“We are really trying to think hard about what we can do to really try and engage and communicate with these dealers.”

THIIS: Alongside passing on leads, what else does Repose do as a supplier to support its retailers?

Lisa: “We try to do a lot of work behind the scenes, such as attending events, engaging with OTs, working on our branding and more.”

THIIS: Why is reaching OTs so important for you as a bespoke, specialist seating manufacturer?

Lisa: Building our brand awareness amongst healthcare professionals is extremely important because it helps us to pass on specialist seating enquiries that come into the office straight onto those professionals with the skills to offer the right solution.

“Getting the information out to the healthcare professionals about our products is needed so they understand that we can offer a solution for their clients. That way, they will use our name and brand to request products through whatever dealer network they use in their community.

“For the last four years, we have been working with Kate Sheehan, a well-known OT in the health market.  She has worked with us on the design of our chairs, the quality of our healthcare literature, and training, as well as writing health care articles for key publications and their impact on sourcing quality seating solutions.”

THIIS: Are you going to focus more efforts to reach healthcare professionals going forward?

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Lisa: “We are definitely going to strengthen the brand amongst this audience more this year and people may see us doing more ‘lunch and learn’ type days with OTs in certain pockets of areas so can try and get them specifying Repose.

“We’ll also work to establish more input and engagement from our retailers in those areas as well, connecting the two parties so they are able to get a foot in the door.

“As a supplier, we think it is important to bring everybody together to ensure end-users receive the best solutions possible.”

THIIS: How will these events run?

Lisa: “They will largely be small, exclusive events at OT practices and specialist health chair providers across the country.”

THIIS: What new products do you have in the pipeline?

Lisa: “We have two new models which are aimed more towards the healthcare market, as well as two new models we launched at the end of last year that we are really going to be pushing this year.

“We have the bariatric independent tilt that we took to the OT Show in November 2018. The response from healthcare professionals for that was massive so we have just finished the imagery and literature for that product so we can bring it to the market.”

THIIS: Is there a growing demand for bariatric products in the healthcare market?

Lisa: “Yes, especially with the multi-positions that the seating can get a bariatric person in to.

“We’ve seen that there hasn’t really been an independent tilt in space recliner chair in the market for bariatrics. We have an action that can elevate the legs independently, tilt the person independently, recline the user’s independently, as well as stand them to their feet.

“That’s the moment I realised that I was an MD of a brand that could get a recognised celebrity to work with it, which felt great.” Lisa Wardley

“Bariatric people have a lot of weight in the midriff area, so that tilt function will actually allow them to transfer their weight more and help with pressure.

“It is called the Arden and is available now.”

THIIS: What other new products Repose will be offering customers in 2019?

Lisa: “We have the Haven which is more targeted at the healthcare marketplace. It includes a complete air system with air bags in the back, the seat, and the footrest area.

“It will come available in three sizes, with two different types of mechanism movements, and it has constant contact with the VP down the centre section for pressure care.

“We will also be introducing the Protac range of Sensory Stimulation Products which we will be selling through our UK dealer network.

“The range of products includes sensory seating, as well as other products, all of which are already well established amongst healthcare professionals across Europe.  It’s the first time we will be selling products that we haven’t manufactured ourselves, but we are confident that it will be successful and look forward to building on an already established European brand.”

THIIS: How does the Protac sensory seating work?

Lisa: “It is extremely unique and something that really must be tried out to truly appreciate how it works. Essentially, the chair aims to give a calming effect to users that may need additional sensory input.

“It is for people with a range of conditions including autism, ADHD, dementia, Parkinson’s, MS – really anyone that can benefit from improved sensory integration.”

THIIS: Is this a product that Repose will market across the UK?

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Lisa: “Yes, we are going to be the one of the UK’s main dealers for this going forward, selling it for both the retail and care markets.”

THIIS: What potential benefit could it offer retailers?

Lisa:For our dealers, it opens up new markets for them that they may not have considered before, such as charities, hospitals, and, in particular, schools. The product is aimed at adults and children across a range of health conditions, so it could be an interesting new opportunity for retailers.

“We have already put a Protac chair in our local hospice and they have just taken on a number of other Protac products for their residents to try out and use for day visits.

“The response so far has been great so we are really excited about the potential of the sensory market.”

THIIS: With Protac being the first range you have distributed that is not manufactured by yourselves, how different have you found that side of the business?

Lisa: “It is very different for us. We are used to our processes that we have been working to over the years -taking an order, programming it in to be made etc – so there is a learning curve there.

“In February, we haven’t really shouted about the range to the market yet because we’ve only just finished building the webpages for it and learning all there is to know about the range ourselves.

“From March, however, we will be really moving ahead with this.”

THIIS: With a lot of new products being released, how important is it as a company to innovate in the seating market?

Lisa: “We don’t stand still. We are always looking at the market and listening to our distributor network to see what is needed and what people are looking for. If we can do it within safety guidelines, we will.

“We will do whatever we can do to meet the needs of our dealer network and their customers and that naturally means we are always innovating.”

THIIS: 20 years in business is a big achievement for any company, do you have any moment that particularly stands out for you?

Lisa: “We were originally set up on the 14th March, 1999, and there have been so many great moments during that time.

“For me, when Dr Hilary Jones came onboard to work with us for 12-months back in 2014, that was a big eye opener to me. All of a sudden, I had a business where a celebrity I used to watch on TV was now sat in our office and working with us to promote our products.

“That’s the moment I realised that I was an MD of a brand that could get a recognised celebrity to work with it, which felt great.

“Other than that, we are just so proud to be where we are today and if it wasn’t for the fact that in 2005 when I joined the company, we made that decision to actually concentrate on the healthcare and homecare marketplace through a distributor network, rather than supplying directly into the domestic market, things could have been very different.

“We completely changed the business and moved fully into this sector and it has been a rollercoaster of a ride, with ups and downs but always enjoyable.”

THIIS: Having been in the mobility and healthcare sector since 2005, what would you say has changed since you entered it?

Lisa:Fairly early on, when we first entered this sector, there was a period of time when Chinese imports were popular and box shifters were supplying chairs at very low prices and low quality.

“Over the years, we really have seen a shift away from this, where people really do not want cheap chairs. They want British-made products and they like the fact that it comes from a family business that has been going generations so we really use this to strengthen our brand.

“We are really trying to think hard about what we can do to really try and engage and communicate with these dealers.” Lisa Wardley

“I think quality has done a complete 180 and people really do want high-quality, British-made seating again and are willing to spend that little bit more for it.”

THIIS: Would you say that influx of cheaper, Chinese-made chairs was a challenging period for the company?

Lisa: “It was a very challenging time for the company and largely drove our decision to leave the domestic lifestyle market and focus on healthcare.

“We simply couldn’t compete against the DFSs and HSLs of the world and we already had a handful of customers who were in mobility, so we decided to be brave and throw all our efforts behind this market.”

THIIS: So, there are no plans to move back across into the direct domestic market or establish your own retail operation?

Lisa: “Never. There is no interest at all in opening our own shops up or setting up our retail proposition. We believe in supporting our established network of dealers and continue to see this as our major route to market.”

THIIS: With 20 successful years behind you, where would you like the company to be at its 40th anniversary?

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Lisa: “I would hope 20 years on from now, the Repose brand would be even more established and recognised compared to what it is at the moment, whilst still offering that same quality and support to our retailer network.”

THIIS: Having reached this impressive milestone, is there anything you would like to tell the trade?

Lisa: “I would like to say a huge thank you to our distributor network for all they have done over the last 20 years. We are also proud to say that some distributors have been with us since we started, such as Ronnie McDonald at Newlyn Healthcare.”

About Repose Furniture

Repose Furniture image

Beginning life in a small manufacturing unit in Cradley Heath, Birmingham, back in 1999, the company was started John Elcocks and his son David. Now led by his daughter Lisa, Repose has grown significantly, operating from a 23,500 sq. ft. facility – still in Cradley Heath – and selling its range of bespoke homecare and healthcare seating solutions through a network of over 200 retailers across the UK.

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