Retailer Spotlight Revisited: Lifestyle and Mobility
For many bricks and mortar retailers in the mobility sector, working with products in the more specialist market can prove elusive, requiring the time, space and expertise to effectively assess and provide the right solutions to meet complex needs. The reward for those companies that can distinguish themselves as mobility specialists can be significant however, enabling retailers to operate in a market where the price is not the main consideration and knowledge is key. Working hard over the last few years to establish itself as a specialist provider of active wheelchairs and powerchairs, THIIS caught up with Lifestyle and Mobility to discover how this unique side of its business is developing.
Thriving by specialising
Increasingly, the mobility industry is seeing a polarisation between larger, national retailers operating dominating the more lifestyle-orientated end of the mobility market, compared to smaller, often independent retailers focusing on the specialist-end of the spectrum.
The divergence seems to be a natural progression for many in the industry, with larger retailers using their buying power to negotiate lower prices and sell in quantity, whilst smaller retailers concentrate their efforts meeting more complex needs, specialising in bespoke products that are less susceptible to price competition, particularly online.
One retailer that is successfully walking the tightrope between both lifestyle and specialist however is South East-based retailer Lifestyle and Mobility.
A growing success story, the family-run mobility company was founded by Ron Sverdloff in 2002 and has been growing steadily since coming onto the mobility scene.
Now managed by Managing Director Aaron Sverdloff and supported by a highly engaged and capable team, the company boasts modern retail branches in Basildon and Southend-on-Sea, as well as preparing to launch a new 7,500 sq ft. superstore on Harlow’s high street.
Alongside focusing on developing its bricks and mortar retail operations to offer a modern retail experience, the company has also significantly invested in its specialist capability, building its reputation as one of the leading active wheelchairs and powerchair specialists in the region.
Investment in assessment
Having increasingly developed its specialist offering over the years from its physical retail stores, the company decided in October 2016 to launch a new specialist unit away from its bricks and mortar operations.
“Traditionally, we focused on creating industry-leading retail stores that provided the widest range of mobility equipment possible and so the specialist side of our retail stores grew naturally,” explained Darren Macey, Business Development Manager for Lifestyle and Mobility.
“We found however that there were challenges in running this specialist activity from our retail stores.”
The biggest challenges were time and space. For the majority of retailers, time and space are often in short supply, however, these are the two factors that are crucial for providing the right specialist service.
“Although our retail stores are fully equipped and have full knowledge of prescriptive products, we identified the need to provide a more dedicated service without the retail hustle and bustle,” continued Darren.
“For example, in-store, we could be trying to leave for a specialist appointment but get stuck with someone that needed a new tube fitted or wanted to try on slippers.
“As important as all that business is, we knew if we wanted to give customers the correct support and attention that they required, we had to set up a specialist centre.”
Establishing its dedicated specialist team in Potters Bar, the new unit focused predominantly for the assessment and supply of prescriptive powerchairs and active manual chairs.
The products can range anywhere from fairly basic specifications to highly bespoke powerchairs requiring specialist head, chin, and environmental controls, enabling users to get the most out of their devices in their environments.
Working to supply solutions to meet complex needs requires the company to perform full assessments, spending the time to learn about users’ needs, wants and environments.
Rather than attempting to carry such in-depth assessments in its bricks and mortar premises, the retailer’s specialist team operates out of its modern offices in Potters Bar.
“Clients are welcome at the depot,” said Darren, “however, most assessments are carried out in the comfort of the client’s home or at clinical centres.”
Proving quick and easy access to several major motorways and roads, the specialist centre enables Lifestyle and Mobility’s specialist team to fully cover London, Hertfordshire and all surrounding areas.
Supporting the ‘Mobility Journey’
According to the successful mobility retailer, this remote specialist set up delivers a better experience for all customers, as well as better commercial efficiencies for Lifestyle and Mobility.
“Our specialist centre is developing very well and is complementing growth within our retail arm. Both are relatively independent of each other but strong within their own rights,” said Darren.
“Both arms of the business are essential to each other, as the retail stores provide a fantastic shop window and brand awareness for our specialist offering, as well as the level of service we provide.”
With a carefully curated product offering of unique, high-end equipment on display in its showrooms, alongside more lifestyle-orientated products, Darren highlights the advantages of the specialist centre in the long-term, enabling the company to continue to serve customers as their needs evolve.
“The link between our retail and specialist business is important as a lot of clients have what I like to call a ‘Mobility Journey,’” he elaborated.
“They might start off just needing a walking stick and then a scooter, before possibly a powerchair or specialist seating.
“If this is the case, then this is where we may refer them to our speciality centre, so they continue their mobility journey with us, receiving the same consistent level of expertise and service throughout their journey.”
The search for specialist skills
Whilst space and time are important factors needed for its specialist business, Darren notes that above and beyond all else, having the necessary specialist knowledge is essential.
Unlike finding the right offices to set up shop, however, finding the right expertise is a far more complex challenge and in such a niche area, it can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Fortunately for Lifestyle and Mobility, the company had an ace up its sleeve which allowed it to move ahead with its specialist plans.
“When we decided to launch the new unit, we knew it had to be led by Simon Greenway, who has over 22 years’ of experience in the industry,” he stressed.
“Since opening in 2016, we have seen continuous and significant growth and this is mainly down to Simon Greenway’s focus and energy to make it a success, backed up with our strong brand and reputation.”
Spearheaded by Simon, who has assembled a team with more than 50 years of combined sector knowledge, expertise and experience, Lifestyle and Mobility’s specialist business has continued to develop rapidly in the last three years.
“Our plans for 2020 is to upscale the business to larger premises, increase staff levels again and review the business model in 12 months.” Darren Macey
All the more impressive is the organic nature of the specialist centre’s growth, which evolved from the existing relationships Lifestyle and Mobility had built up over time.
“Before the opening of our specialist centre, we already had good relationships with various charities and care homes, as well as a large number of private clients,” said Darren.
“With regards to marketing spend, we have spent very little as well. Growth and expansion have come from word-of-mouth and strengthening previous relationships with our new added focus.”
The increasing success and demand for the specialist centre has led to the challenge – albeit a good challenge – of finding the expert staff needed to grow whilst still ensuring high levels of service are maintained.
“From day one, we were taken back by the demand for our services,” emphasised Darren.
“Over the past three years, our ongoing challenge has been to manage this growth, as finding the right people to join the team can be tricky.”
Recruiting the right people in a relatively restrictive pool of viable candidates has led to the retailer adopting a different recruitment process to that of its bricks and mortar stores.
“Typically, within our retail stores, we often look to train and mould new employees in line with our company ethos and standards,” emphasised Darren.
“However, with our specialist centre, we are fully focused on providing the highest levels of product knowledge and experience so we can achieve the best solutions for our customers. This drives the need for recruitment from within the industry.”
In addition to finding staff with the relevant knowledge, the retailer says it works hard to make sure its specialist team maintains and develops this high level of product knowledge.
“While we have recruited highly experienced staff from within the industry to continue the expansion of the centre, we still prioritise continuous development,” pointed out Darren.
“Ongoing training provided by our suppliers is a regular feature in our diaries to be sure we are at the forefront of the latest specialist products. This knowledge is then passed on at the point of our assessments, so we give our clients the most up to date information.”
Expansion in the pipeline
With Lifestyle and Mobility preparing to launch its largest-ever store in Harlow imminently, the retailer also has big plans for its specialist centre, building on its recent appointment of industry veteran John Whitaker to its specialist team.
“We have a serious eye on further expansion,” outlined Darren.
“Our plans for 2020 is to upscale the business to larger premises, increase staff levels again and review the business model in 12 months.”
Suggesting next year will prove to eventful for the retailer, the company says the expansion will continue to be built on the strong foundations that have seen Lifestyle and Mobility continue to distinguish it in the industry, with a particular emphasis on strong relationships with the industry’s suppliers.
“Ongoing development of our centre will continue to be built on the strong relationships that we have with our suppliers,” finished Darren.
“We rely on them to constantly innovate products and to create the very best solutions for our clients. I don’t like to look at our key partners – Permobil, Invacare, Sunrise Medical, and Quantum – as just suppliers as we are in this together.
“Our business relationships with them are just as important as those with our customers.”https://thiis.co.uk/retailer-spotlight-revisited-lifestyle-and-mobility/https://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/lifestyle-and-mobility-specialist-Simon-Greenway.jpghttps://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/lifestyle-and-mobility-specialist-Simon-Greenway-150x150.jpgNewsroomRetailer NewsRetailer SpotlightTrade FocusTrade NewsAaron Sverdloff,active wheelchairs,Assessment,complex needs,Darren Macey,Harlow,Invacare,lifestyle,lifestyle and mobility,mobility provider,mobility retailer,Permobil,Potters Bar,powerchairs,Quantum,retail environment,Simon Greenway,specialist,specialist centre,SunriseFor many bricks and mortar retailers in the mobility sector, working with products in the more specialist market can prove elusive, requiring the time, space and expertise to effectively assess and provide the right solutions to meet complex needs. The reward for those companies that can distinguish themselves as...Calvin BarnettCalvin Barnettcalvin@thiis.co.ukAdministratorTHIIS Magazine