Fortuna Mobility Staff outside Enfield Showroom
Fortuna says its fortunes now lay in increasing its outreach activity with its expert staff

The Fortuna formula to consultative retail

In theory, a consultative approach to mobility retail sounds like a relatively simple concept – find out about a customer and then introduce products based on their requirements. Speaking with Fortuna Mobility’s Director Seb Bavetta and Mobility Services Manager Elaine Ferguson, the pair reveal that the reality of operating a truly consultative retail model is far more complex than what meets the eye. The retail duo discusses the importance of having the right portfolio, investing in expertise and developing valuable long-term relationships.

Based in Enfield and boasting London’s largest showroom, Fortuna Mobility is a division of its parent company Fortuna Healthcare, a distributor of non-pharmaceutical OTCs to pharmacies founded by Seb and his two brothers in 1995.

Growing the business substantially over 15 years, it was not until 2010 when exploring new retail channels that Fortuna saw an opportunity to enter the mobility market.

“We had some products at the time we thought we could sell through mobility shops so in 2010, my brother Julian spent the day going around different mobility retailers, looking for a sales opportunity,” explained Seb.

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“After visiting a number of mobility shops, Julian came back and said he thought there was a real opportunity for us to do something in the market.”

Setting up its mobility showroom in a section of Fortuna Healthcare’s sizable premises in 2011, the inexperienced mobility retailer started off slowly until fortune struck when the company secured the services of Elaine, an industry professional bringing 20 years of experience to the fledgling company.

“We had some space in the building at that point so Julian bought some products in and set it up but we didn’t really know the market,” continued Seb.

“After about six months, we had been selling a trickle of items but we were fortunate enough to find Elaine, who came in and professionalised the mobility side of our operations.”

Spearheaded by the industry veteran, Fortuna Mobility has flourished over the years, outgrowing the one room it started life in and now operating out of a considerable section of the Fortuna building, with more staff and an eye-watering number of products.

“Advice and guidance are terms that get bandied about a lot in the industry but we see a lot of people here, often internet casualties, where people have been sold the wrong equipment” Elaine Ferguson

Having only partially been involved with the company alongside his own career, Seb decided the time had come for a career change 18 months ago and joined Elaine in Fortuna Mobility.

A shift in the mobility market

Having been at the helm of Fortuna Mobility for almost a decade, Elaine has seen a shift in the mobility market over the years, with increasingly more competition in the more ‘lifestyle’ end of the market.

“The market has certainly shifted over the years and I think that is the case in most industries – it is more competitive and there is more choice,” she commented.

“I think the mobility market has certainly moved more into the mainstream and for us, we see massive potential in specialising into more complex equipment.”

Keen to distance itself from competing in an increasingly price-driven market for mainstream mobility products, the company decided to drill down on its customer service offering, focusing on more bespoke specialist ranges in a bid to separate itself in the market.

“Rather than selling one product to a customer and never seeing them again, we wanted to offer a more holistic, long term service,” said Elaine.

“Instead, we wanted to work with customers over a longer period, providing solutions overtime to meet their developing needs.”

The strategy of building long-term relationships with customers is certainly not a new one, however, how to achieve such a thing is a different kettle of fish.

“We wanted to avoid simply box-shifting,” said Seb.

“Instead, we would bring different solutions based on what people need, rather than the most expensive solution or the one that affords us the best margin.

“Our model is to give people a choice and take them through the pros and cons of the options available to them. Essentially, we see this far more as a consultative process, rather than the traditional sales process.”

The consultative formula

Fortuna Showroom ADL Display in Enfield Showroom
With over 1,000 lines available in its showroom, the company stresses its wide range is vital to offering a consultative service

By no means the first mobility company to state it takes a consultative approach to mobility retail, Fortuna Mobility is aiming to take this model one step further, says Seb.

“We see Fortuna Mobility developing into an almost hybrid model, part retail and part health professional,” he said.

“There is a gap between healthcare professionals’ medical knowledge and knowledge of all the different equipment and solutions on the market. With so many new innovations out there – we feel that we can help bridge this gap.”

On paper, it sounds like a pretty simple task to match different products based on customer needs, however, speaking with the pair, it quickly becomes clear that to effectively and consistently deliver this is no small feat.

“Advice and guidance are terms that get bandied about a lot in the industry but we see a lot of people here, often internet casualties, where people have been sold the wrong equipment, which has been detrimental to their health and bank balance,” said Elaine.

“I believe the mobility industry really has a duty of care to customers and it needs to distinguish itself as professional, to really meet the needs of customers and raise the profile of retailers in the eyes of healthcare professionals.”

Driven by the desire to deliver a mobility retail model that aligns itself with the healthcare industry it operates in, Fortuna Mobility has cultivated a consultative retail formula, which can be distilled into three key components.

The three consultative components

Going beyond the generic marketing terms promoting advice and guidance often seen in the industry, Seb and Elaine detailed three equally essential components integral to delivering a consultative retail formula; product choice, employee expertise, and close collaboration.

Product choice

Thanks to Fortuna’s giant, 22,000 sq ft on-site warehouse, the company boasts one of the most extensive product portfolios in the industry, stocking over 1,000 lines of products available for customers and healthcare professionals to view and try out at its showroom.

According to Fortuna’s mobility duo, the extensive range of mobility lines enables the company to introduce a plethora of solutions to customers to help meet a wide variety of needs.

“One of our taglines is we offer everything from slippers to stairlifts and everything in-between,” said Elaine.

“Once we have an idea of a customer and their needs, we are able to show a range of products and services that could help improve their lives and often, they find out about aids they did not know existed.”

To that end, the company is always on the lookout to introduce more products to its offering says Fortuna’s Mobility Services Manager.

“Finding new products is one of the most important areas of our business and we believe in supplying high quality innovation,” she emphasised.

“I think it is really important as a retailer and as an industry to embrace change and innovation when it can benefit customers.”

The company has recently started a new partnership with CareFlex confirmed Seb, alongside taking on new and unique entrants to the mobility market, including Trilift, Sit’n’Stand, Armon and HappyLegs.

“What we are looking for is higher value, slightly unusual and more specialised products that lend themselves to our consultative business model,” he said.

“It is not just ‘there’s the product, get it through the till and get the customer on their way,’ but rather it’s about spending the time to talk to customers, let them try out the products and receive added value through our expertise and service.”

Employee expertise

Being able to offer a substantial range of different solutions is only as effective as the team’s ability to discern what products will best meet a customer’s needs points out Elaine.

Fortuna Mobility Expert Staff
Staff expertise is a key component of its retail approach, with most completing the DLF’s Trusted Assessor training

Stressing that the second component of its consultative model is highly trained staff, the company ensures staff have enough knowledge on different conditions to be able to match products to a customer’s needs, with the majority of its team being qualified as Disabled Living Foundation Trusted Assessors.

“We need our staff to gain a lot of experience, both in terms of products and the conditions that our customers have, so we make sure our training program is very robust, with staff completing DLF training, working alongside and shadowing experienced members of staff for a long period, as well as undergoing continuous product training and awareness,” described Elaine.

“We train staff not to actually sell anything but to solve problems instead, finding out needs and introducing solutions. It all starts with getting to know the person, their lives, their condition and their environment, then we try to fit in products around that.”

Closely resembling the process carried out by occupational therapists who work with clients, it is no surprise both of Fortuna’s mobility leaders have experience and backgrounds in the healthcare industry.

“I am a healthcare professional myself and had been working in the NHS for 30 years as a doctor,” said Seb.

“So, this consultative approach to retail is something that naturally fits in with the way I have worked with patients before coming on board with Fortuna.”

Additionally, before joining Fortuna, Elaine had been in mobility for over 20 years as a specialist working with OTs in seating and other equipment, doing joint visits and a variety of activities in the more specialist end of the mobility market.

It has led to the mobility retailer focusing on staff building their knowledge on conditions, as well as products, in order to match the two together, and it is a theme that runs throughout its retail operations, both offline and online.

“We are very much moving away from seeing our target area as being Enfield and instead, focusing on the entirety of the South East of England” Seb Bavetta

The company has created pages on its newly launched website dedicated to specific medical conditions that are common amongst people that require mobility assistance, such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis – an initiative that feeds directly into Seb’s medical background.

“We have six conditions featured so far but eventually, we will have pages on 30 or 40 conditions, with the idea being that each condition’s page will include useful information highlighting organisations and charities that can provide support, useful healthcare advice, as well as signposting equipment that readers may not be aware of,” outlined the Fortuna Mobility director.

“There will be some people that know exactly what they need, however, there are a lot of people who may only have just found themselves in a position of needing equipment, such as someone who has had a stroke. They often will not know what solutions are available and what could help them.

“Again, it is all about framing our retail operations around the person and simply showcasing the solutions that are out there in a way that has no pressure.”

Beyond having good knowledge of products and conditions, however, Elaine says that staff need to have the necessary care and empathy to get customers to open up about their needs – a tricky task in situations where customers do not wish to admit to themselves, let alone a retail assistant, that they need help.

“We work with a lot of families who have great difficulty convincing their elderly family members who have mobility and health needs to seek or accept help,” she noted.

“We understand people are naturally wary when it comes to these products so we put a lot of effort into making the retail experience as relaxing and pleasurable as possible, with comfortable seating, biscuits, cups of tea, and importantly, time.

“It is really not uncommon for people to spend upwards of three hours with us and we have designed our retail model with that in mind, giving us the time necessary to find out what we can do to help customers.”

It is a theme that runs throughout the company, from decisions on which products to stock to how the company has created its website.

“We try to make sure there are products that are less intimidating that will first catch people’s eyes, such as the shoes and slippers, which people do not necessarily associate with mobility and independent living,” continued Elaine.

“This gives family members and us the chance to introduce them gradually to some of the more complex products in such a way as to feel a bit more normal and natural.”

Close collaboration

Key to successfully delivering the other two components and offering a truly consultative retail model is a close collaboration, working and engaging with a range of different players in the industry, explains the mobility duo.

“We work with various segments of the market, including healthcare professionals, local authorities, care homes, domiciliary care agencies and charities including Age UK Enfield, as well as with our suppliers,” maintained Elaine.

“It allows us to remain informed about the needs of our customers and the community, as well as sharing valuable information to those organisations and individuals working with our customers in the community.

“Again, it is about taking a holistic approach to the way we work and it is these strong relationships with different parties that have allowed Fortuna Mobility to grow as it has.”

In addition to the retailer’s generous warehouse, Fortuna Mobility also has a five-room training suite which it uses to host sessions and events for healthcare professionals to learn more about mobility equipment.

“Healthcare professionals in and around London who work in the community and in adult social care are often extremely busy and struggle to attend an all-day event such as the OT Show. It means they miss out on the opportunity to see and get hands-on with products,” continued Elaine.

“I think that is why we have noticed that free local training where they can find out more about solutions and how they can be used to meet different needs is such an important thing for OTs. We often have OTs contact us enquiring about our free product training and the events we host are always very well attended. We are very happy to enhance product knowledge and awareness within our wider healthcare community.”

According to Elaine, the training sessions offer a range of benefits to the company, enabling it to establish a good reputation with healthcare professionals, raise awareness of its extensive products and services, as well as the opportunity to learn from the healthcare professionals attending the events.

“It is very much a win-win and because the OT community is so close-knit, we find they tell other healthcare professionals, which leads to more OTs finding out about us,” she added.

“It has also been a really effective way to build our customer base, with healthcare professionals often signposting people to us.”

With healthcare professionals often being cited as having a slight scepticism when working with retailers, Elaine stresses that the company has only been able to achieve building these valuable relationships through its consultative, advice-led retail approach.

“It has taken a long time for us to build trust with the adult social services and healthcare professionals we work with to prove that we are here to help and prove you can prioritise helping people whilst still being a successful business,” expressed Elaine.

“It takes time, effort and consistency and because we have put that work in, we have a lot of repeat customers from care homes, plus healthcare professionals and more.”

“What we are looking for are higher value, slightly unusual and more specialised products” Seb Bavetta

Helping to both develop and promote the company’s product portfolio and expertise to important healthcare professionals, the collaboration component helps bring its retail offering to its local community.

“We have that ability to cross boundaries by integrating numerous services, rather than just selling a hoist. We aim to offer the whole package of training, testing and servicing,” stated Seb.

“We see ourselves as joining the dots between all the different parties in the healthcare sector and we can’t stress how important it is as a mobility retailer to work with other partners within your community, both locally and further afield.”

Taking the formula further

Seb Bavetta and Elaine Ferguson Fortuna Mobility
Fortuna Mobility’s Seb Bavetta and Elaine Ferguson

After spending the past nine years cultivating and refining its model, Fortuna Mobility’s Seb and Elaine are now at the beginning of taking the Fortuna Mobility offering wider.

“We are very much moving away from seeing our target area as being Enfield and instead, focusing on the entirety of the South East of England by sending out experts to do demonstrations and joint assessments,” highlighted Seb.

“It is something we have already started doing across all of London and requires us to send out a Trusted Assessor who has the training and knowledge needed to spend the time speaking with people and coming up with solutions,” said Elaine.

“We make sure the same consultative model is applied and it is one of the main reasons we are BHTA-members, ensuring we uphold their Code of Practice.”

Having enjoyed significant growth in its Enfield premises, there is a natural question of whether more stores are on the way, however, for Seb, he does not envisage a Fortuna Mobility on every corner.

“In the long term, we may look to establish other outlets but I do not see a model of multiple small branches,” he reflected.

“When we do decide to branch out, it will be a limited number of larger stores, however, there is a still a huge amount of scope to grow within our current premises whilst developing our outreach model.”

One of the areas it is keen to continue growing within its Enfield base is its training sessions, working with manufacturers in the industry to help educate more healthcare professionals that may be unaware of the different solutions available on the market.

“Despite having worked in the NHS for 30 years as a doctor, I knew surprisingly little in regards to just how many different mobility solutions exist on the market. Like me, there are a lot of healthcare professionals who aren’t aware of what there is out there that we would like to reach,” said Seb.

“We would like to do more conferences in collaboration with manufacturers and we would really welcome any manufacturers interested in working with us to reach healthcare professionals in the London area to get in contact with us.

“We wouldn’t be looking to charge for these events, as for us it’s a great opportunity to educate healthcare professionals and our own staff, provide suppliers with a platform, as well as raise Fortuna Mobility’s own profile and awareness.”

Built on its consultative approach, Elaine and Seb are confident that Fortuna Mobility has the strong foundations needed to successfully expand its presence in the South East, with each carefully crafted component of a retail formula helping it stand out in an ever more competitive retail landscape.

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