Trade talk: Q&A with Alastair Ronaldson, Marketing & Sales Manager of Ross Care
Just prior to the first coronavirus lockdown in spring, wheelchair services and mobility equipment provider Ross Care expanded its retail presence with the acquisition of Sheffield’s Wicker Mobility.
Having been in the sector for more than a quarter of a century, Wicker Mobility was well-known in the industry. The company originally grew from a small space in its sister company, Associated Chemists, to become one of the largest mobility showrooms in the region.
Turning heads in the industry, the acquisition by Ross Care took its growing tally of retail stores across the North East, North West and Yorkshire & the Humber to five.
With the company busy dealing with the fallout of lockdown over much of spring and summer, THIIS caught up with Marketing & Sales Manager Alastair Ronaldson in October to learn more about Ross Care’s plans for the long-established Sheffield store, as well as its wider retail ambitions.
THIIS: What prompted the decision to acquire Wicker Mobility?
Alastair: “The opportunity arose as the previous owners, who run a prominent pharmacy in Sheffield, were looking to make some changes to their wider business. However, the location and style of the operation could not have better suited Ross Care.
“The retail arm of Ross Care has been on a journey of development and repositioning over the last four years, and whilst any project is always evolving, more than ever we have a real sense of clarity on our specific style of service.
“Having established our fourth store located in Manchester, we were ready to expand the principles we’ve developed elsewhere.”
THIIS: What convinced Ross Care that Wicker Mobility would be a good acquisition?
Alastair: “Wicker Mobility is located in the centre of Sheffield and has been in operation for nearly 30 years. As a resident myself, I have been aware of their excellent reputation for some time.
“They have a large, well-stocked showroom, but more than that, comprise of a highly skilled and experienced team. They offer a full range of equipment and services, but in particular, have a reputation as a specialist supplier of wheelchairs. Their customer reach extends to much of the North of England and Midlands, which fits extremely coherently with Ross Care’s existing footprint working with NHS Wheelchair Services.
“Additionally, the site links well geographically with two of our other exiting retail sites in Leeds & Manchester.”
THIIS: Why has Ross Care decided to keep the Wicker name rather than rebrand the store under its own moniker?
Alastair: “Wicker Mobility had a substantial base of loyal customers and we needed to provide them with the assurance that the existing team and location remain very much intact and available to support them as they always have done. Equally, with their prominent location on Sheffield’s inner ring road, it’s a well-recognised name within the city.
“We have instead altered the name slightly to ‘Wicker Independent Living’ or when expressed fully ‘Wicker Independent Living by Ross Care’. This builds directly from the concept that we developed in Manchester at ‘Ross Care Independent Living’ as this location will follow suit in providing free access to Independent Living Centre facilities.”
THIIS: When did you complete the acquisition of Wicker Mobility?
Alastair: “The acquisition took place at the beginning of February this year. This transpired to be interesting timing ahead of the national lockdown.”
THIIS: Having acquired the store just prior to the coronavirus outbreak, how did the lockdown disrupt operations?
Alastair: “Due to the more specialised nature of their service, the business has proved to be particularly robust in recovery, which is very encouraging and a credit to the local team.
“The location supports several care homes and special schools in the area with service and maintenance of equipment, so it has been good to see how they have pulled together to continue to provide this service.”
“There are no planned acquisitions currently, however, we remain open to opportunities for growth and development.” Alastair Ronaldson
THIIS: How did the lockdown impact the process of taking over the store and transitioning it into the Ross Care family?
Alastair: “The lockdown has caused a delay to development plans, however, responding to this scenario has had a positive impact on accelerating relationship building and getting to know the team as we problem solved together.
“Whilst the impact of the virus extends, we are putting a greater focus on building upon their strengths as opposed to broadening services.”
THIIS: What changes will Wicker Mobility customers see following the acquisition?
Alastair: “The benefits of the acquisition will be felt in both directions as we share the strengths of both businesses.
“Specific examples include our existing Ross Care retail sites gaining from access to the specific nature of Wicker’s wheelchair expertise. In turn, they can benefit from our clinical personnel enabling the customer base to be broadened.
“At the point when coronavirus becomes less of a factor, we will develop the centre to work more closely with local statuary services to provide a hub for information & guidance. Like in Manchester, we anticipate that they will host events for professionals, as well as more informal gatherings for visitors to support each other.
“Another will be to invest further in their existing strengths, providing new avenues for growth in wheelchair sales and ensuring their customers have access to an excellent range of demonstration equipment. It is also incredibly important to us to provide the opportunity for the existing team to develop their skills and roles.”
“Due to the more specialised nature of their service, the business has proved to be particularly robust in recovery, which is very encouraging and a credit to the local team.” Alastair Ronaldson
THIIS: As a major provider of wheelchair services in Sheffield, how will the acquisition help Ross Care deliver this service?
Alastair: “Having Wicker onboard will indeed strengthen Ross Care’s service offer to our regional contracts.
“The Wicker team provide another insight into the decision-making processes taken by some wheelchair users, including why they may or may not opt to purchase their own equipment. In this way, Ross Care has an increasingly three-dimensional viewpoint as a provider of NHS Clinical Services, Approved Repairer Services and specialised wheelchair sales.
“This, in turn, enables us to develop our services from an informed position and support the widest possible choice for wheelchair users. Without a doubt, this will further strengthen our delivery of Personal Wheelchair Budgets, broadening the range of advice and guidance available to those wishing to explore wider options.”
THIIS: Are there more acquisitions on the way?
Alastair: “There are no planned acquisitions currently, however, we remain open to opportunities for growth and development. It is important to us to offer a comprehensive service and to continually adapt in order to best serve the needs of our customers across the business.”https://thiis.co.uk/trade-talk-qa-with-alastair-ronaldson-marketing-sales-manager-of-ross-care/https://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Alastair-Ronaldson-Ross-Care-1.jpghttps://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Alastair-Ronaldson-Ross-Care-1-150x150.jpgAnalysis & InsightsMergers & AcquisitionsNewsroomRetailer NewsTrade NewsTrade Talkacquisition,Alastair Ronaldson,mobility retailer,mobility shop,mobility store,Ross Care,Sheffield,Trade talk,Wicker Independent Living,Wicker MobilityJust prior to the first coronavirus lockdown in spring, wheelchair services and mobility equipment provider Ross Care expanded its retail presence with the acquisition of Sheffield's Wicker Mobility. Having been in the sector for more than a quarter of a century, Wicker Mobility was well-known in the industry. The company...Calvin BarnettCalvin Barnettcalvin@thiis.co.ukAdministratorTHIIS Magazine