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Kent Mobility’s new MD stands ready to fill the shoes of founder John Payne

Passing of the torch

After more than half a century in the mobility industry, well-known industry veteran John Payne, founder of Kent Mobility, has retired and stepped away from the company he created in 1990. Taking over the reins in March, new Managing Director Matt Mohr has had the unenviable task of getting his feet under the table while coping with the outbreak of a global pandemic that has shaken the world of mobility and retail to its very core.

Having started in the industry repairing and adapting the now-iconic Ministry of Health three-wheeled powder blue Invacars in the 70s, John Payne built a reputation over his 50 years in the industry as never being short on an opinion – with unbridled knowledge and expertise to back them up.

John launched Kent Mobility in 1990 and developed it into one of the leading independent retailers of everyday mobility equipment and bespoke solutions for complex needs in the South West.

So when John decided the time had come to retire in early 2020, it meant big shoes to fill for whoever stepped into his role; fortunately, the company had an experienced and steadfast industry professional up to the task.

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The right man for the job

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Matt Mohr, new MD of Kent Mobility

No stranger to the industry himself, Matt Mohr became the new managing director of Kent Mobility in March, bringing his considerable wealth of experience to the retailer.

Joining the mobility industry two decades ago, Matt’s career has seen him spend time on both the retail and manufacturing side with some leading names in the market, including Invacare, Consolor, Wealden Rehab and Kirton.

Over the years, he has built an impressive degree of knowledge in specialist seating, as well as in moving and handling and bathing solutions, providing him with the product insights needed to lead the Kent-based retailer’s broad product and service offering.

Liked what he saw

It was during his time at Invacare that Matt got to know John and Kent Mobility, so when the Kent Mobility founder decided the time had come to step back, he felt confident he was leaving the company in a safe pair of hands.

Making the move from a major multinational manufacturer to a local, independent retailer, Matt explained what drew him to the company.

“Kent Mobility has many positive attributes which differentiate it,” he told THIIS.

“I think it’s fair to say that most of our customers have a good experience with us and, as a consequence, we have a good reputation.

“A recent example: I was paying for fuel in a local garage for one of our signed vans and the man behind the kiosk, who I had never met, saw the van and thanked us on how well we looked after his dad several years prior – it surprised me a little at the time.”

With 30 years of providing quality customer service in the local area, the company has gained a formidable standing in the community. Importantly, the independent retailer has reinvested and continued developing over the decades as well, both in its team and its facilities.

In 2018, the company welcomed Emma Dobson among its ranks as its resident occupational therapist and also invested in redesigning and modernising its showroom. The investment continued in 2019 when the organisation cut the ribbon on its stylish new assessment centre and offices.

“The team here is excellent,” Matt continued.

“They have decades of experience which we can draw upon from the engineers and installation team to those in admin and our assessors.

“We also have very good facilities with our head office located just outside Tonbridge with a large, modern showroom and postural assessment room, along with a warehouse with a large stock of spare parts and fully equipped service centre. We also have a retail outlet in Tonbridge town centre catering for the more active customers.”

It was those strong foundations laid over the decades that would help Kent Mobility withstand one of the biggest challenges to have faced the modern business world: coronavirus.

A baptism of fire

Tackling the usual challenges of transitioning into a new role as the leader of a well-established company, Matt had to contend with the unprecedented problems caused by the pandemic outbreak and subsequent lockdown.

“The first major choice at the beginning of lockdown was deciding what level of service we maintain,” he explained.

Taking decisive action, the company quickly established what it would need to do to ensure its customers could be looked after whilst also ensuring the company could survive.

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Investing in its team and facilities such as its new assessment centre and showroom has built the strong foundations needed to weather the coronavirus storm

“Furlough only allowed for an all or nothing approach for each employee, however, we only closed completely for two days throughout lockdown at the very start,” he recounted.

“Initially, we operated on a skeleton staff to try and retain some level of operational ability as lockdown progressed. Now we are seeing it come to an end so we have brought staff back gradually.”

Prescriptive predicaments

As a specialist in bespoke, prescriptive solutions for complex needs, the outbreak of the pandemic had a particularly troublesome effect on its operations.

“Lockdown had a big impact on our work with prescriptive wheelchairs. Of course, everyone was in lockdown, including the customer base,” said Matt.

“To compound matters, COVID-19 was and remains particularly dangerous for those with underlying health conditions, as well as the elderly. These are categories many of our customers fall into.”

With shielding and lockdown orders in place throughout April and May, along with the growing fear of the virus among the disabled community, performing the face-to-face assessment required for bespoke chairs became almost impossible, noted the new MD.

Quote: “Lockdown had a big impact on our work with prescriptive wheelchairs. Of course, everyone was in lockdown, including the customer base.” Matt Mohr

“So much of our work requires us to be inside social distancing guidelines and there isn’t really a way around that for much of it,” he said.

“Where the situation allowed, we carried out some remote assessments via video call, but in my view, there is no satisfactory substitute for traditional assessments in many instances.”

The result was a severe slowdown on the prescriptive wheelchair business. Fortunately, the company had other strings to its bow that helped it tick over during the quiet months while it rapidly adapted to the ‘new normal’.

And even as lockdown measures eased, its core customer base remained wary.

“Even as we exit lockdown, as a consequence of our customer base being more vulnerable, they shield for longer than perhaps other members of the public, and understandably so,” added Matt.

Importantly, the company still had to support its wheelchair customers in need during the lockdown. With wheelchair chairs playing such a pivotal role in the lives of users, it had to find a way to continue offering vital services.

“In some cases, the requirement was urgent and a solution had to be found,” commented Matt.

“Of course, we made use of all the PPE available and carried out regular assessments when all parties are happy to do so.”

Becoming COVID-19 secure

With lockdown measures being continuously rolled back, the company has now introduced a comprehensive and stringent array of COVID-19 secure measures as retail returns.

“We have put in place a range of procedures and provided a range of PPE to protect ourselves and our customers,” detailed Matt.

“Perhaps the most significant change is that we are now steam cleaning every piece of equipment that comes into the building in an effort to prevent contamination of our premises and cross-contamination between customer’s products that may be in for service or repair.

“If a customer can see that you are putting in place the necessary procedures to protect everyone, this can only help their confidence in what’s happening at such an uncertain time.”

Looking into the future

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The steadfast leader acted quickly to navigate the retailer through the choppy waters of lockdown

As the mobility sector tries to find its feet in the ever-shifting post-lockdown world, attempting to plan for tomorrow, let alone years down the line, can feel like trying to guess how long is a piece of string.

For Matt, however, he predicts the market may not ever wholly return to the pre-pandemic days, suggesting some changes may be here to stay.

“It is difficult to say what the long-term impact will be on the industry as a whole,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the procedures companies have put in place during COVID-19 become permanent.

“We may see permanent changes in procedures in nursing homes, hospitals and other places of care that affect the way we assess and supply.

“In terms of equipment provision, however, the need and demand will always be there.”

And to meet this demand, Matt will continue enhancing the elements that have held Kent Mobility in such good stead for so many years.

Quote: “We may see permanent changes in procedures in nursing homes, hospitals and other places of care that affect the way we assess and supply.” Matt Mohr

“At the moment, it’s not easy looking too far ahead. However, Kent Mobility has solid foundations on which we can look to the future,” he maintained.

“In terms of products, we will continue to offer a range of high-quality products from across the market. I have been very impressed with our ability to modify and customise equipment and we will continue to do that where necessary.

“We will continue working in partnership with therapists, professionals and private customers with customer service and positive outcomes at the forefront of our thinking.”

Having already successfully steered the independent retailer through the peak of a once-in-a-century pandemic, the new managing director has certainly passed his trial by fire. Now, as the market continues to recover, Kent Mobility finds itself with a strong and capable leader prepared to take on the challenges to come.

“I think we are all looking forward to when we can get back some normality as quickly and safely as possible,” finished Matt, “but I would like to particularly thank the team here for their dedication and efforts, along with the support we have received from our suppliers.”

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