The Unlimited Company reaches its limit

Raman Sankaran

In August, THIIS spoke with Simplyhealth’s Chief Commercial Officer Raman Sankaran as he explained the organisation’s plans to refocus its retail proposition, The Unlimited Company. Four months on, the company has announced it is closing 10 of its retail stores. THIIS caught up with Raman to find what brought on the decision.

A recap of the last 18 months

Having operated in the healthcare industry for over a century, Simplyhealth specialises in offering individuals and companies across the UK health cash plans, dental payment plans, pet health plans and care solutions.

In March 2016, the organisation rebranded its existing retail proposition into The Unlimited Company, focusing on bringing a unique, modern approach to mobility retail.

Over the 16-month period that followed, The Unlimited Company opened a total of seven stores across the UK, garnering praise for its stylish, contemporary store designs.

Former Managing Director Matthew Main led the rollout of The Unlimited Company proposition, however, following a review of the marketplace and learnings from activity to date in July 2017, the organisation decided a further refinement of that proposition was required.

A focus on modern, contemporary retail space

The shift in focus

Matthew stepped down as MD, with Raman Sankaran taking on a more hands-on role in the organisation’s retail operations in July 2017.

Speaking with Raman in August, he told THIIS that after a review of the current mobility retail market conditions, the organisation decided to pause opening more stores and instead invest further in the professional advice aspect of their proposition. This included recruiting occupational therapists to deliver expert service and professional assessments to customers.

“In the marketplace, we saw the entrance of more national brands like Argos, Amazon and Lloyds Pharmacy. Where we saw the potential gap in the market for us to add the most value was with our guidance and advice,” said Raman.

“The idea was to use this professional resource and capability in the field to do home-assessments and further enable the right specification of products and solutions for customers. Equally, we wanted to use the OT expertise to open conversations with medical professionals as well, who would often see and support people with these kinds of needs.”

What changed?

Despite these changes, Simplyhealth announced on the 17th of October that the company would be closing the current Unlimited Company proposition, along with its remaining Independent Living and Collins Care stores.

Romana Abdin, Chief Executive of Simplyhealth, in a statement commented: “Unfortunately, it has become clear that physical shops are not a viable way forward for Simplyhealth and from a business viewpoint, we have to ensure we look at better ways of providing people with the support they need.”

Raman went into more detail regarding Simplyhealth’s sudden exit from the retail market.

“It was a really difficult decision. We put in place a detailed plan to test the revised proposition from July onwards and then we reviewed our position again over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, we found that the proposition just was not giving the right mix to meet the changing requirements of customers into the future,” he clarified.

The impact of general national and online retailers

One of the main shifts in the market that led Simplyheath to question The Unlimited Company’s future sustainability was the wider availability of mobility products being provided by large general retailers and online providers.

Raman shared his thoughts regarding whether there was a place for retailers such as Argos, LloydsPharmacy and Amazon in the industry.

“When it comes to the larger retailers, there is a space for them in the marketplace, especially for customers who know what they want and what they are looking for,” said Raman.

“For those consumers looking for an effective route to get what they need, both in terms of cost and delivery, the large general and online retailers have invested a lot of money in making sure they have the best infrastructure to be able to supply that and do that very well.

“There is also a place in the market for the smaller, dedicated mobility stores that operate on a more local level. However, I also believe that there is a growing unmet need for professional guidance and advice, as well as information and education on what is available to ensure that you, your loved ones or patients have the best solutions. We didn’t have our proposition quite right for the current market but we will continue to explore how we can add value in this area.”

The company shifted focus to offering professional advice

In the immediate aftermath

The closure of the retail business affected a total of 85 employees across 10 retail outlets, with stores closing in Andover, Bristol, Bicester, Blackburn, Burnham, Droitwich, Leeds, Morton Park, Norwich and Radstock.

Raman stressed that ensuring all the people affected were correctly supported was the highest priority in the short-term for Simplyhealth.

“It is certainly not a case of ‘let’s shut the doors and walk away,’ as that is not the way we operate. What is really important is ensuring that we are supporting our people and our customers in the right ways,” he said.

“We are absolutely committed to fulfilling all current customers orders, as well as supporting and servicing our existing customer base for the next few months.”

Raman continued: “From a people perspective, we have an in-depth integrated plan in terms of support, consulting with them and if necessary helping them make any transition into what they are going to be doing next or hopefully for further roles in Simplyhealth.”

A future return to the marketplace?

Despite shutting down its current retail proposition, Simplyhealth still firmly believes there is a growing need for a heavily guidance and advice-led proposition in the market.

“We have helped thousands of customers and have a wealth of learnings to take forward. For example, during the final four-month period of The Unlimited Company, where we further enhanced the service element, we received a lot of good feedback from medical professionals and customers,” he told us.

“So, whilst we are moving away from the current Unlimited Company proposition, we are keen to explore future propositions in health and care. We know there is definitely still that need from customers who require specific solutions but just aren’t aware of what is out there.”

This could mean that rather than a ‘farewell’, it may well be ‘until we meet again’ for Simplyhealth, as they continue to watch the market and develop new propositions.

“We know the general demographics of the population; we are all living longer and needing more support as we go through life, so customer need will certainly always be there,” continued Raman.

“The real challenge is getting the mix of service and advice right but from the new year onwards, we will take all the learnings from our years of experience in the market and explore new propositions.”

To find out more, visit the website HERE


Simplyhealth launches Care For Life

A week previous to the announcement, Simplyhealth launched a new online guidance and advice tool as an employee benefit for businesses.

“It is a navigation type tool, rather than a supply of physical products, to help people find the best way through their health and care journey. It highlights how we’re aiming to meet changing healthcare needs by being innovative and collaborative,” said Raman.

An online service providing practical advice on ageing and caring for ageing loved ones, Care for Life advises on all the different, sometimes complex, issues that carers and those being cared for face. The service provides access to experts, guidance on legal, financial, care at home and care home topics, as well as signposting where to find a trusted trader.

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