A representative from Rehasense pays Matt and Georgina a visit at the Exmouth store during opening week website
A representative from Rehasense pays Matt and Georgina a visit at the Exmouth store during opening week

It’s a family affair

Since opening its first store a couple of years ago, family-owned Coastline Mobility has certainly been making waves in Devon. THIIS sat down with Managing Director Matt Gerry and Shop Manager Georgina Gerry to find out some of the secrets to its rapid success…

Matt and Georgina Gerry may be relatively new to the mobility industry but both say that they have always felt close to it growing up.  Their dad Steve spent over 30 years in the industry managing a large chain and later running his own successful mobility company.

After retiring a few years ago, Steve and his wife Jo agreed to help their children with a new business. Now as Managing Director of Devonshire-based Coastline Mobility, Matt manages the business’ three stores with the support of other members of the family.

Keeping it in the family

Everybody works in the shop, says Matt. “We’re all customer-facing people.” Georgina, Matt’s sister, is Shop Manager, as well as being in charge of the business’ advertising, marketing and social media presence.

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Based at Coastline Mobility’s Sidmouth store, Georgina handles all of the phone calls and emails that come in and works alongside her mum Jo, who takes care of the company’s accounts and helps with the ordering of small aids. Dad Steve is in charge of innovation.

“This is where his past experience has really helped,” says Matt. “He’s got a very good idea of where the mobility industry is going, so he brings that to the table in terms of group discussions. He also heads up the larger accounts and the ordering of large stock, like scooters and chairs.”

Matt is involved with the day-to-day running of the business, managing staff and generally being the figurehead of the company. “I’ve got a lot of experience with the products,” he highlights, “so any time a product comes in I vet them and [if they’re the right fit] give them the green light.”

Coastline Mobility A static car boot hoist display offers an interesting focal point at the Exmouth store website
A static car boot hoist display offers an interesting focal point at the Exmouth store

A walk to remember

Coastline Mobility’s story began in May 2019. “We were walking through Sidmouth and we noticed the mobility shop was shutting down,” says Matt.

“We saw the opportunity to open our own mobility shop because we knew that we could do it well as a family. We approached the landlord, took out a lease and then formed the company.”

Things moved along quickly after that. After the previous business moved out, the family moved in about a week later. For Matt, who has a background in business development and project management, the shop in Sidmouth was his first hands-on experience of mobility retail.

A second store opening in nearby Budleigh Salterton a few months later in August was a “natural progression”, says Matt.

“As a family, we have got quite strong roots in Budleigh. Our great uncle was a Catholic priest there for 50 years and, as a family, we have always been local.

“We were looking at a couple of places for shops but the premises presented itself and we couldn’t turn it down. It was the perfect position, the perfect costing – and just made for us.”

Flagship store opening

The third Coastline Mobility store opened in Exmouth in September 2020. Good things, they say, come in threes, but the process of opening this store wasn’t without its difficulties.

The shop needed a complete renovation – from flooring, wiring and plumbing to replacing the shop frontage – and was supposed to have opened in March. Everything was good to go, explains Matt, then Covid struck. As a result of the pandemic forcing businesses to shut down, everything was delayed.

“We wanted the store to be in keeping with the current design we have so it did need a lot of work to get it to that standard,” continues Matt.

As the flagship store, attention to detail was a must, as was getting that all-important ‘wow factor’.  A static boot hoist display was to be the store’s focal point and this needed to be planned into the renovation, he explains. “We wanted to put a car boot up against the wall to demonstrate boot hoists and how to get scooters into the back of a car.”

To get that car boot in, it needed to be put up before the shop’s exterior walls went up, Matt explains, but the final result was definitely worth it. “We have even wired it up so that the backlights light up as if the car is still whole.”

The Exmouth store offers a full range of mobility products, he states. “It’s a much bigger shop in terms of shop floor space and it allows us to hold certain products that we can’t hold in the other shops.

“We do the full range of scooters, starting from the folding scooters and boot scooters, all the way up to Class 3’s. We do chairs, both fireside and rise & recline, beds and sofas. We do a whole set of rollators, the carbon fibre ones and the fore-armed walkers, as well as wheelchairs and small aids.”

Each of the stores offers something a little bit different and has a different clientele, notes Matt. “We’ve decided to push our footwear into the Budleigh premises. We work closely with chiropodists in the area there so it’s natural to have that as our shoe shop essentially.”

The Sidmouth store is focused around holidaymakers, he says. “We get a lot of holidaymakers wanting to buy things while they’re here, so in terms of the products there’s a lot of rentals, second-hand stock and travel scooters.”

It is clearly a formula that works after the store recently won a Prestige Award for having the best mobility rental service in the South West.

Coastline Mobility The local mayor officially opens the Exmouth store website
The local mayor officially opens the Exmouth store

Moving on up

The industry newcomers say that they have experienced rapid growth since launching their first shop in 2019. There are a few reasons for this, explains Matt.

“We think the second and third quarters will be an exceptional time for us” Georgina Gerry

First, there’s no doubt that the local demographic has worked well for the business, with many retirees drawn to East Devon’s seaside lifestyle. This, in turn, has brought a lot of wealth to the area.

Says Matt: “The national average for over-60s is much higher here than the rest of the country and there is a lot more disposable income here, which shows in the sales we’ve had over this past year.”

The fact that Coastline Mobility is a family-run business is another factor in its favour, adds Matt.  “It’s the honesty and trustworthiness you get with the family business. You can follow through on a lot of things that a lot of big businesses can’t.

“If there is an issue, such as a delay with a product, we’re open and honest about it. I think people appreciate that. We get a lot of repeat business from people who keep coming back because they believe in us.”

Having experienced feedback from their dad about what works well in the mobility business has also been crucial, points out Matt. “My dad’s previous role in the industry involved visiting every mobility shop in the country and grading them based on whether his company would want to work with them. He could see what was working and what wasn’t and I think that gives us a good advantage because that has been impressed upon us in taking on the business.”

Georgina agrees: “Growing up, it was deep-rooted in Matt and I that customers aren’t just customers. You need to care about them and give them the treatment that you would want if you were in their position.”

Coastline Mobility Sidmouth store website

Going the extra mile

Having that connection with people is key and the business has a good local name as a result.

Says Matt: “It is about building that trust factor with people. What matters is not so much the product but approaching people on their level and connecting with them. It’s about finding the right product for them and not the thing they thought they wanted necessarily.”

“We only stock products that we really believe in,” adds Georgina, who handles customer enquiries by phone or email. “Our ethos is that if we don’t stock the item and are really unable to source it, we won’t miss-sell an item; we will always endeavour to get the right item for the customer.”

One of the key ways Coastline Mobility builds that trust is by offering customers an emergency out-of-hours number in case anything goes wrong with their products.

“It’s the honesty and trustworthiness you get with the family business” Matt Gerry

Having a shop manager living within a mile of each shop means that if there is an out-of-hours call, a team member is always available close by to help out.

Georgina says: “Our biggest fear is if an elderly person is out on a mobility scooter at 6 o’clock in the evening and it breaks down. Many of them don’t have family close by and they would be stuck. With our emergency number, they can get in touch and we can get to them. We also have a good servicing department on-hand to fix any issues.”

Coastline Mobility Budleigh interior website

Retail challenges

As a brick and mortar business, Coastline Mobility has struggled with the reduction in footfall as a result of the Covid pandemic, says Matt. “In the current situation, our customers don’t want to wear PPE and they are worried about going out. That, in turn, prevents them from visiting a shop, so we have seen massive changes in terms of the areas we cover.

“The distance between Exmouth and Sidmouth is not far at all but the people that would come to our Exmouth shop wouldn’t come out to our Sidmouth shop, and vice versa, so the footfall aspect has been hindered a lot.”

The business has also seen a massive change in the type of customer who enters their shops. Georgina and Matt say that in the past year, they have seen a greater increase in the number of customers’ children who come in to enquire about products.

Georgina explains: “In these cases, it’s about explaining things to them in a way that they can then reiterate to their parents.”

The vaccine rollout, however, could soon change things around, and Georgina says that the family are feeling positive for this year.

“Due to our demographic, we expect a lot of our clientele to be vaccinated. A lot of our customers have been stuck inside for a long time so hopefully they will come out and be excited to shop with us. We do think the second and third quarters of this year will be an exceptional time for us.”

The possibility of Brexit disrupting trade is not a major concern, Matt says. “We’ve got enough space that we can store a huge amount of stock so if we don’t get anything in we can manage on the stock that we have while we’ve got orders coming in.

“We’re finding that even during lockdown, a lot of manufacturers have been staying open.

“We’ve got a lot of orders for furniture, like beds, that are still being delivered.

“In terms of costs, we try and set ourselves under internet prices anyway so we’re very competitive. Even if we had to have a price increase, I don’t see it being a huge concern for a lot of our customers.”

Georgina adds: “The whole family would also like to take this opportunity to especially thank all of our suppliers for their advice and continued support.”

Future ambitions

Covid-19 may have put the breaks on the business’ store expansion plans for now but Matt is optimistic for the future of the business, with plans to have six or seven stores in total.

“We did set out a road map for shops but with Covid, that has been prevented,” says Matt. “We opened up our Budleigh shop after six months and then we were supposed to have opened up our Exmouth shop after six months, which would have gone ahead, apart from Covid. When things get back on track, we plan to open another one up in a new area.”

The new shops will enable the business to diversify its product range further, by introducing more wheelchairs, bespoke items and medically-specific products.

And one thing’s for sure: Coastline Mobility’s stores will all stay in Devon, says Matt. “We can’t lose our key ingredient, which is the family-run aspect and staying local. You can impart that on staff as long as you’re there to maintain it.”

There’s only one problem with that, laughs Georgina. “We’re running out of family!”

www.coastlinemobility.com

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