Active Days Mobility store front
Active Days Mobility was established four years ago, initially as a service-based business. Following local customer demand, its first showroom was opened in Bexhill, East Sussex in April this year. THIIS chats to Mark Stewart, Director of Active Days Mobility, about his plans…

Active Days Mobility was founded after its director, Mark Stewart, was made redundant in 2017.  Keen to remain in a sector in which he had built many years of specialist knowledge, Mark decided to set up a business of his own, with the main aim of trying to carry on with working on pressure care products, hoists, profiling beds and related equipment.

“I soon realised that there was a demand for a good mobility business as there seemed to be a gap in the market,” says Mark.

Mark Stewart, director of Active Days Mobility
Mark Stewart, director of Active Days Mobility

It helped that this was an area very familiar to Mark, who previously worked at Drive DeVilbiss and started his career in 2012 at Park House Healthcare.

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As an engineer installing and repairing pressure relieving systems at NHS hospitals, Mark worked his way up to the role of manager, a position that he held for several years.

Says Mark: “During this time, I learned about patient handling equipment and managed contracts to the NHS servicing and repairing hoists and other patient handling equipment as well as pressure care products.

“I managed a team of 13 and always made sure I understood what I was asking others to do. I strongly believe that we lead by example and a manager should be able to answer any technical queries so I learned as much as possible.”

Business start-up

When establishing his service-based business, Mark set about learning as much as he could. “People told me what they needed and I quickly learned the trade,” he recalls.

He attended training with Kymco Healthcare and Electric Mobility on mobility aids but previous training with Drive and Prism Medical gave him a good starting point and as a quick learner, he taught myself the rest.

Mark’s main motivation for starting the business was to help people, he says. “I know mobility aids can make such a difference to a person’s quality of life.

“I wanted to provide an affordable service to anyone that needed it. I started with no money. It was just my tools, a car and of course technical knowledge!

“I started as a sole trader but realised that so many of the suppliers wanted limited company information when opening an account so I registered the business.”

Moving into retail

Mark’s day-to-day work will sometimes involve going out to visit customers who cannot get to the store and carrying out repairs.

He currently has an apprentice called Brandon who is 21 and is learning the role of engineer. “I am one for doing things the correct way and this is being instilled in Brandon,” he laughs.

Mark also has a bookkeeper, Derek, who looks after the financial side of the business.

He also works from his new retail unit in Bexhill, which opened in April 2021.

Mark recalls: “I had a large workshop before but always wanted a retail unit with a showroom at the front and an on-site workshop at the back that people can visit.

“My main aim is to offer value for money new and refurbished mobility aids. I do not like to see people struggle because they cannot afford to buy a mobility aid so we offer a wide range of products to suit every budget. I’m often given unwanted items that are refurbished and passed on at cost value to a new owner.”

The shop in Bexhill was a welcome addition to the local retail scene.

Continues Mark: “I was told by so many customers there was a need for one.

“With a large population of older people it seemed the ideal location as there was no other business offering what we do.

“I wanted to offer a good range from various manufacturers and this did not exist until we came along.

“I could have remained as a service-based business but wanted to move more into the retail market and this has been achieved by opening the shop.”

The right premises

Mark says that he found the retail premises by pure chance, as he wasn’t planning to even start looking at what was out there until 2022.

A conversation with his bookkeeper led him to looking online, when he found the empty shop. It was February 2021 but it wasn’t easy attending viewings or meetings, he says, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark had know all along that that it would be difficult to find suitable premises that was within budget but this premises seemed to tick all the boxes.

He wanted a retail space that would accommodate both a showroom and a workshop. This unit gave Mark just enough room for both, with a large basement that he could use for the storage of spare parts.

One of the initial challenges that Mark encountered when establishing his retail business was securing accounts with the manufacturers, he says.

“Sourcing parts to keep the customer’s mobility aid going is paramount,” he says. Having now proved himself, he has secured accounts with most of the leading manufacturers, including Kymco, Rascal, Invacare, Flexyfoot, Karma, MK Battery, Motion Healthcare and more.

“There are just a few more that I would like to work with in the future,” he says.

The shop opened on 12th April 2021, when businesses started to open again, and Mark says that the response has been better than could ever have been imagined.

“Footfall is great, with the shop very busy most of the time,” he comments. “The location is within the main shopping area of Bexhill so there is a lot of passing trade and they are pleased to have our business there.”

Trading during a pandemic

Mark admits that the COVID-19 pandemic, which kicked off in March 2020, was a bit of a shock.

“The first few weeks after it started, business almost stopped and it was a worrying time, as it was for many others, but business picked up again after a few weeks.

“I took the decision to remain open for our customers as they need their mobility aid working to be able to get out and about.

“We carried on working by using sensible precautions like social distancing, cleaning everything down that we had worked on and taking card payments where possible.”

Mark says that the business abides by all the recommended guidelines with regards to safeguarding against COVID-19. He adds: “With my background supplying the NHS, I have a good knowledge of infection control and have a City & Guilds qualification in decontamination of medical devices.”

Shipping delays

Like many in the industry, Mark has been affected by the lack of stock available due to manufacturers being unable to get products into the country.

“It is an issue across the industry sourcing products manufactured in China due to the shipping delays.

“I have had to look around our suppliers and find what we can for our customers.

“It has been a struggle as our best-selling products are all out of stock until August or September.

“I’m always looking to find new suppliers so I can have a good range and plentiful stock and access to parts to carry out repairs.”

This being said, he plans on sticking to his values and not stocking products that he doesn’t believe in just to get a sale.

“I try to provide products that are value for money and that will give the end user reliability and longevity. All of the products in stock are from manufacturers I trust, and most importantly, I know are best for the customer.

“If I believe in the products, the customer will sense that and it gives them the confidence to buy.”

Supply issues are one of the biggest challenges facing the mobility industry, says Mark. “So many are dropshipping mobility scooters etc., holding no stock and they have no overheads so sell very cheap.”

And the internet shopping boom is another one. Mark says that it is difficult to compete with some prices online, however, he believes that the consumer is realising now that purchasing online is not always the best option.

“Consumers are realising that the aftercare and specialist knowledge they get from a bricks and mortar store are worth paying a bit more for.”

Looking ahead

Finding the right products and what to stock that fits his customers’ needs is the main challenge for the next 12 months, admits Mark.

He is also looking to recruit another engineer to be out on the road looking after customers’ needs.

Mark continues: “Being a fairly niche industry, there are not many people qualified to do the job or have the experience.

“I will see how the winter period goes and all being well, we will look to employ someone in spring 2022.

“It is a struggle getting everything done as I do not like to keep the customers waiting too long as we know how much they rely on their mobility aids.”

Mark says that he would also like to find bigger premises or at least get a workshop that is independent from the showroom so that he can have more space to display his products.

He intends to stick to mobility aids and expand the range of daily living aids that he stocks. Consumable personal care items is an area he is looking at, in particular, along with footwear.

“My main purpose is to provide the customers with the best products backed up with great aftercare so I am taking it slowly and growing the range based on what we are asked for.”

Essentially, slow and steady is what wins the race for Mark. “I do not want to expand too quickly and lose that customer-based focus; it’s important to build a good relationship with the customers so they keep coming back and tell others about their experience of us.”

www.activedaysmobility.co.uk

Scooters at Active Days Mobility

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