Derbyshire Mobility shopfront
A family-run mobility business with 23 years’ experience selling and advising on mobility scooters, stairlifts, reclining furniture and powerchairs, Derbyshire Mobility has its eyes firmly set on the future. The retailer is expanding its stores, services and product offering, recruiting staff and looking at ways to improve the experience of customers entering its stores in Ripley and Matlock.  

Rob Cartledge took over the business from his dad six years ago. His father started the business from his home in 1998, when the business was then known as Derby Mobility Services. A shop unit in Ripley was purchased and his dad worked there for 15 years.

Rob was working as a marketing consultant prior to working at his dad’s shop. His job involved helping to reshape and rebrand businesses as well as updating websites, all skills which would equip him well for his future role.

Expanding on space

When Rob first started working in the sector, he noticed the need to provide an enjoyable experience for customers spending large amounts of money, similar to if they were buying car.

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“We want customers to come in and have a nice experience,” he says. “It’s important that they have the space to move around as they make a decision. Maybe they would like to have a coffee with us…”

When Rob took over the store as the new managing director, the Ripley store was still in the same condition it was in when his dad bought it, so one of his first decisions was to completely refurbish it.

The refurbishment of Derbyshire Mobility’s Ripley store took three months, with the walls all knocked down to make one big open space that could accommodate more products, such as scooters, wheelchairs, recliner chairs, and so on. The shop now accommodates around 15-20 scooters.

Rob was aiming for a clean and uncluttered look: “I just wanted white walls, wooden floors and our blue branding on show, without any marketing, such as point-of-sale posters, on the walls.”

“We’ve just always found that if you want to sell more, you need to get more products in for customers to choose from,” he explains.

“If people come in and they can only see two or three scooters they are likely to want to go somewhere else.”

Having a bigger showroom with more products available for customers to make comparisons would “hopefully” mean that they don’t want to go anywhere else, he comments.

Derbyshire Mobility showroomOpening in Matlock

The refurbishment of the second store, located in in the tourist town of Matlock, only took a couple of months with no major work needed apart from a few walls pulled down.

The store was ready in October 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from opening. Fortunately, the business itself remained opened as it was deemed ‘essential’, with Rob and his team carrying out appointments via its Ripley store.

Officially opening on April 12th this year, the Matlock store has been a “resounding success so far.”

Rob says that they he is planning to open two more stores, also in Derbyshire, in 2022 and he is currently researching possible units.

He explains that he is looking to move to the store to anther level. “We’re trying to find the right unit based on what the unit offers rather than its location.”

Car parking space, square footage and storage space are the most important areas.

Rob currently has different products displayed in the two stores, so that customers have a wider choice, but going forward, and as the number of stores increases, the plan is to ultimately offer a more consistent range throughout the stores.

He explains: “Expanding our range of stock benefits customers, including those who use the Motability Scheme. Getting people to come in, to see and try things is the most important thing in this industry.”

Rob Cartledge at Derbyshire MobilityJoining Motability

Derbyshire Mobility is pretty new to the Motability Scheme, having had the contract for just under a year.

“We got awarded Motability as lockdown hit,” says Rob, who explains that his store had to meet a number of requirements to become part of the scheme.

“Stores have got to offer a broad range of products and staff must have good product knowledge,” he says.

Staff at Derbyshire Mobility were booked in for training with Motability in April 2020, Rob explains, but the nationwide lockdown meant that they had to complete this at the end of 2020. Consequently, the team only began to start pushing the scheme this year.

“It’s gone well for us since we started and its already building momentum,” says Rob.

One of the things that [Motability] really liked, remarks Rob, was the fact that the business offers client assessments for bespoke wheelchair seating, which can be offered through a ‘complex wheelchair’ part of the scheme.

The right prescription

Certainly, the prescription side of the business has been working out well for the firm. It is an area that has always interested Rob and he even underwent training in it, although he began to find that the pressures of running a business made it difficult to devote as much time to it as it needed.

For this reason, Rob recently took on a new wheelchair and seating specialist, Craig Vernon (see boxout).

Craig had previously spent 12 years working at Clark and Partners, a mobility firm supplying the Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire areas. After some discussions with Craig, Rob knew that he was “the right fit for the business.” And so it has proven.

In fact, it was through Craig that Derbyshire Mobility recently came to be involved with sponsoring Hull & East Yorkshire Powerchair Football Club, supplying tyres to its first team and providing support for equipment repairs.

Says Rob: “Craig had prescribed wheelchairs to a couple of the lads on the team. So we’re hoping to meet them when COVID restrictions allow. With Craig coming from Yorkshire, and the company being based in South Yorkshire, it might just help us grow that particular area as well.”

The firm is also recruiting for a couple more roles, including an administrative assistant and another stairlift engineer.

Store bestsellers

Aside from becoming part of the Motability Scheme, the store has branched out successfully into other product lines, such as bespoke furniture and stairlifts.

The store offers stairlift brands such as Handicare, Access BDD, Brooks and Bruno, and as it employs its own stairlift engineers to help fit and maintain them for customers, it does not need to outsource.

The pandemic has “definitely” influenced the type of customer coming into his stores and the type of products being bought, Rob notes.
They are mainly families, he says, who come in and they are looking after elderly parents with mobility issues. They are also prepared to spend more money on the right products to get them mobile again.

“We have noticed that rather than coming in and buying one thing, customers are coming to buy a recliner chair and a scooter, or a chair and a bed.
“They want mum and dad to come out with them on days out as well, so they are encouraging them to buy walkers, wheelchairs or mobility scooters.”

The shop has invested quite heavily in expanding its wheelchair offering but Rob admits that when they have more space, they would like to expand its furniture offering as well, once space allows.

This being said, Derbyshire Mobility is essentially a scooter dealer, Rob explains.

Scooters that sell well, he says, tend to be aluminium-framed, lightweight, powered with lithium batteries and foldable. Pavement scooters, such as the Freerider Mayfair, have been particularly popular for the firm.

Digital challenges

While many mobility retailers are turning their focus towards ecommerce, having footfall coming into shops is the most important thing for Rob.

“We don’t want to sell online,” he says. “It’s not what we’re in it for. We want people in the stores. We’re really focusing on that now, rather than a race to the bottom with online sellers.

“We’d rather get a margin that we feel that our stores deserve. This means that we can pay our staff a good wage and keep re-investing in the business.”

Fortunately, the store has been quite lucky in that it has been successful in attracting people to its stores in both Ripley and Matlock.

But that’s not to say that the business disregards having an online presence. In fact, it is quite the opposite and the marketing budget goes straight onto the website, says Rob.

“We’re trying to change the feel of our website again as we want it to be more lifestyle-based.”

Rob is keen to do more active marketing as well, he says, but he has found running a digital database with an older clientele can be more of a challenge, as he is keen for this not to be interpreted as pressure selling.

Rob says that he feels optimistic about the future of mobility retail and believes that it is those who are keeping active in the market that are really benefiting right now.

“We know a lot of other companies who have remarked on how quiet it is, but it’s not. It feels like a good market to be in.

“There’s a lot of business out there and it’s ever-changing. There’s always new products coming out and every day you meet a new type of customer.”

Derbyshire Mobility

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