A seven-figure turnover in seven years

When Paul Briggs received a call from Topro in 2011 asking if he wanted to take on the distribution of the high-quality Norwegian range of mobility aids, he knew the challenge such an opportunity involved. Selling well-designed, stylish and expensive Scandinavian products into a UK marketplace still reeling from the worst financial crisis of this century was no mean feat, yet, seven years on, the company is achieving a seven-figure turnover and has built up a list of loyal customers. THIIS spoke with the determined managing director to find out how the company managed to thrive whilst so many other businesses were struggling to survive.

How did the opportunity to build Topro’s UK business first arise?

Paul Briggs, Managing Director of Topro

I was approached by Topro whilst working for another mobility supplier and decided to take the opportunity presented to me. It was the chance to join the company in its infancy and take it forward.

What convinced you to join Topro?

The range of products and the opportunity to sell these products not only to mobility retailers but going into the NHS and demonstrating the products to members of the public.

How has the company grown over time?

We have grown considerably over my time with the company whilst working within tight budgetary constraints. Initially it was just myself working in the UK but that has now grown to four and we are looking at adding additional members of the team in the coming months and years.

How did the company manage to find success in those early years, particularly in such a price-sensitive market?

Recognising the challenges involved, I knew it would be essential to sell the brand, ourselves and in particular, the service we could offer. For me, going the extra mile with customer service was and still is something that is essential to success.

We are all passionate about the brand and service we offer our customers and be it an order for £10 or £10,000 we will still offer the same level of service.

Is it this customer service element that you feel makes Topro different to other suppliers in the market?

It is a major factor. As a smaller company, we really do have to go the extra mile because even though our products are good and have a lot of unique selling points, they have been copied many times. We have to make sure we do something more for our dealers to ensure they want to continue working with us and selling our products.

The fact that the entire team is pushing towards that goal and willing to go further for the retailers we work with time and time again is what sets us apart and helps drive the company forward.

“Not everyone is price obsessed and dealers and healthcare professionals are looking for products and services which sets them apart from everyone else.” Paul Briggs

With a small team, is it difficult to maintain that high level of customer service?

If anything, I would say it is easier. We are all accountable and will all be able to talk to our customers regarding any issues or products they are enquiring about. We learn about any issues or trends via our customer service and this is an extremely productive way of understanding which products our customers wish to see.  If there are any issues then our customer services is the first port of call.

Essentially, because we are such a small and close-knit team, we are all passionate about what we do and making sure we go above and beyond to maintain our relationships with dealers.

Offering good customer service is down to each member of the team, if we are asked to do something then it will be done. All our phone numbers are available to our customers and we are all contactable to ensure customer satisfaction.

Being a small team, it is sometimes a challenge but we all understand the bigger picture at Topro and know how important it is to not hide behind a job title and we all job share and work together to ensure customer queries are answered satisfactorily.

Do you think it is this personal touch that has helped Topro build its trade network?

We really try hard to help our trade network where we can, be it with loan stock, user demonstrations, representation at trade events and more. It is important that dealers aren’t just dealing with Topro, but dealing with Paul, Katie, Roy or Stephen.

Building and developing these personal relationships are what good, sustainable business is built on and we don’t want to be a large, faceless corporation, otherwise dealers could go and buy from anyone else.

You are exhibiting at this year’s OT Show and you also exhibited at Naidex, why do you focus a lot of your attention on healthcare professionals?

We want to be seen as the rollator experts and it is the reason why we invest in doing shows like these, even though we do not sell directly to end-users or healthcare professionals.

The OT Show gives us a wonderful opportunity to showcase our products to the healthcare sector. We know it is good exposure for the brand and a great chance to meet the people that are using or recommending our products, giving us an opportunity to advise and educate.

Being visible at these shows and engaging with healthcare professionals means we now have occupational therapists contact us and ask us for our advice.

Importantly, when our products may not be the right for their patient or for a customer, we point them in the direction of others that can help.

For me, it is about making sure that those who need our products are looked after, even if that means it isn’t by us. It has also led to healthcare professionals really trusting and valuing our advice.

Being willing to advise someone to take on a competitor’s product may shock many in business who wouldn’t dream of such a thing.

I imagine it would, but for us, we want to help people and I hope that is why all of us are in this industry. If a company operates with the goal of doing right by people, success naturally follows.

How effective is this approach of engaging with healthcare professionals and end-users for driving customers to your trade network?

It seems to be effective. We send targeted marketing emails to occupational therapists and physiotherapists and because we do not sell directly to the public, all the user-demonstrations we do are then passed on to local retailers.

Our role is very much helping to facilitate our dealers to successfully sell our products.

“I know it sounds cliché but people really do buy from people.” Paul Briggs

Do you think this is why your network appreciates working with Topro?

I would like to think so. We try hard to look after our retailer network as much as we can.

Personally delivering products on tight deadlines or attending demonstrations in some pretty far flung places for our dealers is part of the service we try to offer our dealers and think this sets us apart from others.

Your products sit on the more expensive-end of the price spectrum, have you seen a trend in your customers prioritising quality over price?

We firmly believe in you get what you pay for. Not only must our products be of the highest quality but our service must be as well.

Not everyone is price obsessed and dealers and healthcare professionals are looking for products and services which sets them apart from everyone else.

Value for money is important to everyone but so is diversity and unique selling points both of which we can offer our customers.  For example, a rollator with single sided brakes, ergonomic grips and additional resistance brakes is just one example of the type of products we can offer.

As well as product quality, there has been a steep and rapid growth in customer expectations as well.

The entire buying process, from purchase through to delivery, has seen a quickening over the last few years and now consumers expect their products almost instantaneously – I’m guilty of it of myself when ordering something online at home.

For all companies and especially for companies in our industry, keeping up with these growing expectations is extremely important.

Are you still looking for more dealers in the UK and what type of dealers are you looking to hear from?

We are always on the lookout for more dealers nationwide. If they represent the brand and buy into what we do, then that is the retailer we are looking for.

How important is it for retailers to be trained in the products they sell?

The key to the industry is customer service above all else and this means both the service retailers provide to their customers and the service we provide our dealers.

That is why it is essential that we do the product training with our retailers, so they understand the product they are selling and are able to confidently sell it to their customers.

“We don’t want to be a large, faceless corporation, otherwise dealers could go and buy from anyone else.” Paul Briggs

For retailers to offer the best customer service, they need to know the products they are selling in detail, which is why we try to make sure we offer as much training as possible to retailers that work with us.

With the rise of internet shopping, is that need for customer service still so significant?

I think for traditional mobility shops, they have to offer something different to the internet because they will naturally not be able to always compete on price. What they do have is the ability to offer exceptional customer service and aftercare service, which is what creates customer loyalty.

I know it sounds cliché but people really do buy from people.

Retailers I think have a job to do of educating the sons and daughters – the ones that buy products on the web on behalf of their parents – about the longer-term implications of who they are purchasing from.

The initial price online may look attractive but if something goes wrong with the product and it has been purchased 100-miles away, are they going to be able to come out and help that family member quickly or at all?

Providing great customer service and, importantly, educating people about why that customer service essential will be crucial for traditional mobility retailers.

What does the future hold for Topro?

We have recently added to our team and have a number of plans for expansion going forward.  We have just started work in 2018 with Kate Sheehan at the OT Service, as well as Andrew Gubbins at CAS Marketing. Both have taken us into different markets and we are intrigued to see where these professionals will lead the company moving forward.

We have some really exciting new innovative products to launch in 2019 which we believe will propel the company further forward.

www.topro.co.uk

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