Supplier Spotlight: FreeRider celebrates silver anniversary
A quarter-century commitment to quality
Over the past 25 years, FreeRider has seen several major global events unfurl and has remained standing tall to tell the tale. From the worldwide financial crash of 2007/08 to the outbreak of a global pandemic, the steadfast supplier has weathered the storms by committing itself to two key tenets: innovation and quality.
Having reached its impressive silver anniversary, FreeRider Founder Arthur Wang and UK Sales Director Paul Fisher discuss the need for reliability, the impact of coronavirus and the importance of its dealer network.
THIIS: What inspired you to launch FreeRider a quarter of a century ago?
Arthur: “I have a background in manufacturing but my motivation to found the company and produce mobility aids was to help my wife, Juyu, travel freely.
“Since contracting polio at a young age, she has had trouble moving around so I wanted to create a device that would give her the freedom to enjoy life the way she wanted to.
“From there, we wanted to provide that same freedom to others and the result was FreeRider!”
THIIS: How did you first introduce your mobility scooter to the UK?
Arthur: “When we came to the market 25 years ago, it was difficult. I remember we showed our first model to Sten Chesser of Keep Able in 1995 at Medtrade Atlanta and he was kind enough to give us a lot of guidance regarding different elements that we should consider changing – he had around 50 ideas!
“We listened and used that feedback to improve our model and then focused on selling our scooters to Europe, rather than the USA. We chose to start with Europe because the US had a lot of big players already and a more conservative market.
“Europe made more sense to us and the UK was the second-biggest market for mobility scooters in the world, as, as well as already being developed. It made more sense to focus on penetrating that market.”
“Perhaps the biggest change we are seeing now is the entrance of Chinese suppliers and a bigger fixation on prices.” Arthur Wang
THIIS: Was the UK market receptive to your products?
Arthur: “Certainly! We travelled across the UK, making contact with distributors and promoting our product and they got on board with us.”
THIIS: How has the mobility scooter market changed since then?
Arthur: “Over the years, there have been many changes, with new products and trends such as the introduction of the boot scooters, to the financial crash of 2007. As a small manufacturer, we have managed to continue by always focusing on the customer and the quality of our products.
“Perhaps the biggest change we are seeing now is the entrance of Chinese suppliers and a bigger fixation on prices. The industry is becoming increasingly price competitive and we are seeing the quality of products from these competitors lowering.
“FreeRider has built its brand on quality and it is something that we are committed to maintaining while remaining competitive on price.”
Paul: “Since China became a global force in manufacturing, Chinese manufacturers’ focus has always been to get market share which has been driven by cost, whereas FreeRider champions innovation and quality.”
THIIS: Are you finding the mobility scooter market is becoming more price-sensitive and customers are willing to forgo a certain level of quality for a lower price?
Paul: “In recent years, the mobility industry – like all industries – has unfortunately seen the clamour of purchasers looking for the cheapest price and, to provide that, quality often becomes a by-product.
“It is a difficult scenario but our marketplace is about meeting customers’ individual needs so we are reliant on our strong bond with our distributors. Quite rightly, reputable retailers are always looking for reliable, durable products.”
THIIS: How important has the commitment to quality been to FreeRider’s longevity in the market?
Arthur: “It has been fundamental to our continued success. It is our dedication to quality that has created our trusted brand which is enduring.”
Paul: “Our Mayfair and our Kensington models have been dealer favourites for years and the responses we receive are always the same, such as ‘they are bullet-proof and bomb-proof’.
“It is that level of reliability that our long-standing trade customers and their end-users have found is worth its weight in gold because people know the products we produce are built to last and stand the test of time.”
“We believe the benefits of reliability and durability far outweigh a marginally lower price tag in the long- run.” Paul Fisher
THIIS: Has it been difficult to reconcile the commitment to quality in an increasingly price-competitive industry?
Arthur: “It is a challenge that Paul and I are closely examining. Clearly, as a manufacturer, the factory is dependent on sales so it is always a balance.”
Paul: “One of the categories that we have looked at in great length is the ‘battle scooter’ segment. By that, we mean the lower cost, entry-level scooters with fewer accessories and features. Then, on the other side, there are premium scooters where discerning customers want to make decisions tailored to their wants and needs.
“As a manufacturer, we have to try and accommodate, as best we can, to both ends of the market.”
Arthur: “At the moment, we have been very successful with our battle products, which are our Mayfairs and Kensingtons, because they are tried and tested. These products have gone through many, many years of use and travelled thousands of miles which has allowed us to refine these models to a point where we can be very confident in our claims about their reliability and durability.”
THIIS: Which do you find is higher in the list of priorities for dealers: Price or quality?
Paul: “I think it comes down to understanding the value of a product. Is it about an initial saving on the purchase price or is it about the savings that can be reaped over the time that a customer has it?
“We believe the benefits of reliability and durability far outweigh a marginally lower price tag in the long-run.
“For many of the established bricks and mortar dealers, they want products that are not going to cause them and their customers a lot of trouble down the line. This ensures that their customers will come back and buy from them again.
“On the other hand, dealers that are solely internet-based and have fewer overheads are far more concerned about prices as that is how they derive an advantage over their competitors.
“It really comes down to what the dealer values and for those retailers dedicated to providing a great experience for their customers, we tend to find reliability and quality is higher up on their lists.”
THIIS: Does this influence how you choose the dealers you work with?
Arthur: “Certainly. At FreeRider, we look to form partnerships with our dealers and we like to do business with companies that share our values for doing what is best for the end-user above all else.
“Our biggest asset that we have as a company is our people. Those that work within the company and the distributors that we work with.”
Paul: “It is why we invest heavily in our sales staff, ensuring they are engaging with our dealers and spending time understanding their needs. That is how we add value to those relationships.
“We value all of our dealers because every retailer needs the support of the manufacturer that they are buying from.”
THIIS: In the UK, FreeRider continues to work exclusively with a dealer network rather than selling directly to end-users. Will this continue to be FreeRider’s route to market in the future?
Arthur: “In the UK, the relationship we have with our dealer network is special and very important. We cannot emphasise strongly enough that as a manufacturer, our route to market in the UK will exclusively be through our trade partners.”
THIIS: Alongside your operations in the UK, what opportunities are you exploring in Europe?
Arthur: “We are currently looking to expand our operations in Europe and expand our distributor network. As a manufacturer, we can produce products to suit individual customer needs. We often manufacture products in certain marketplaces that are specifically for certain distributors.”
Paul: “In Germany, for example, we manufacturer specific products for certain distributors and these ranges are exclusive to that channel. So our ability to white label gives us another string to our bow and is another benefit of having our manufacturing capability.”
THIIS: Can you tell me more about your new scooter coming to the UK and why dealers should be excited?
Paul: “To mark our 25th Anniversary, we do have a new product in the pipeline which we are staying quiet about for now. Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on the delivery of it.”
Arthur: “We would never want to rush out a product without the accompanying dealer support so we will wait until the time is right to bring it to the market. I can promise, however, that it will be worth the wait.”
THIIS: The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on retailers and suppliers alike; what impact did the outbreak and lockdown have on FreeRider?
Paul: “We were fortunate because we keep a large stock of scooters and parts in our UK warehouse facility, with containers coming from our factory regularly. This system has served us well during the lockdown and we faced no interruption to our supply chain.”
THIIS: What is the current situation at FreeRider now the peak of the pandemic has passed?
Paul: “We are fully operational and taken all the necessary steps to keep our staff safe.
“We have staff both working from our head office taking calls and answering emails every day and other members of staff working from home to pick up at busier times.
“Throughout the lockdown, we kept the warehouse open to offer technical support and despatch orders while accounts and management are currently working from home and are available to support the staff in the office.
“At this time, it has been easy to set up safe working practices, ensuring health and safety as a priority. We have very limited numbers of visitors to the office but we have taken a rigorous approach to our risk management nevertheless.
“All the necessary PPE has been made available and hand sanitising stations have been established, along with maintaining appropriate social distancing between the staff in the building. Also, we have stepped up our daily cleaning practices.”
THIIS: Now that retailers are reopening and the market is showing signs of life again, what would you like to tell the mobility trade?
Paul: “The main thing we would like to convey is that we are here! Call us or email us. We are completely focused on supporting our dealers and all of our usual products and spares are available. If they get their order to us before 1 pm, we will, in most cases, get the order to them the next day.
“With the uptake in-home shopping, delivery companies have sometimes found it a challenge to meet the usual high standards of timed deliveries but we are seeing improvements.
“Our reps also stand ready to help dealers to do whatever they can to support them through this uncertain and difficult period.
“We have also made efforts to make our ever-popular Mayfair scooter available in a Lite version to suit smaller budgets which will be important if people are watching what they spend but still want the steadfast quality and reliability that we offer.
“In recognition of our 25th anniversary, we also have some special offers to share with our partners and encourage all of our current, past and new customers to give us a call so we can share with them the benefits of dealing with FreeRider for the next 25 years and beyond.”https://thiis.co.uk/supplier-spotlight-freerider-celebrates-silver-anniversary/https://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Arthur-Wang-FreeRider-Founder.jpghttps://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Arthur-Wang-FreeRider-Founder-150x150.jpgNewsroomSupplier NewsSupplier SpotlightTrade FocusTrade News25 years,Anniversary,Arthur Wang,coronavirus,COVID-19,Freerider,Kensington,Mayfair,Mayfair Lite. manufacturer,Medtrade Atlanta,mobility dealers,mobility retailers,mobility scooter,Paul FisherA quarter-century commitment to quality Over the past 25 years, FreeRider has seen several major global events unfurl and has remained standing tall to tell the tale. From the worldwide financial crash of 2007/08 to the outbreak of a global pandemic, the steadfast supplier has weathered the storms by committing...Calvin BarnettCalvin Barnettcalvin@thiis.co.ukAdministratorTHIIS Magazine