Trade talk: Q&A with Billy Finnie, Operations Manager of Mobility Scotland
At the start of the year, Mobility Scotland announced its decision to introduce a unique new seating range of products to its offering. The move came as part of the Kirkintilloch-headquartered company’s continued pursuit and refinement of its retail value proposition, centring around what it describes as ‘devoted customer service.’
Just as the company prepared to roll out the range, the unimaginable happened: A global pandemic.
Tackling the challenges that the coronavirus threw at it while striving to remain true to its business identity, Billy Finnie, Operations Manager at Mobility Scotland, discusses the early days of the pandemic and what the future now holds for the Glaswegian retailer.
THIIS: How did you become involved in the mobility industry?
Billy: “Our directors have broad commercial business experience working for a major healthcare provider and I gained my honours within the direct sales and customer service sectors. That experience, coupled with a fierce desire to set up on our own, was the catalyst for where we are now.
“In 2005, we began to research the industry and evaluate the Scottish marketplace. We saw an opportunity to deploy our skillsets, our professional experience and devise a business model anchored down to our value proposition. This proposition focuses on adding value to the whole customer purchase experience, from the initial contact, sale and handover, all the way through the lifecycle of the product.”
THIIS: Do you find drilling down on this value proposition has been key to Mobility Scotland’s success?
Billy: “It has worked very well and ensures an ongoing relationship with the customer. This leads to high levels of repeat sales – somewhere around 70 per cent which we believe is unprecedented.
“Every week, we plan out ways we can enhance the customer experience while spending very little in execution. This, in turn, increases harvest rates across our existing customer base and generates significant levels of new business from within.
“Our value proposition has 20 key elements which every team member must achieve on every sale. When they do, we have a customer for life, as well as the lion’s share of their mobility equipment spend.
“It’s a strategy we have honed over the past 10 years and never has it been more refined, vibrant and powerful.”
THIIS: Along with this retail proposition, what else has helped Mobility Scotland to thrive for the last decade and a half?
Billy: “We are not beholden to a corporate board but still work to exacting key business metrics and have very accurate key performance indicators. This means we can act quickly and decisively when it comes to choosing our product range and adapting our market strategy.
“This nimbleness and flexibility, along with our ability to look after customers’ needs, are significant elements to our success.”
“Collaboration and communication with suppliers were non-existent back then and the relationships were flimsy, fragmented and very difficult to manage.” Billy Finnie
THIIS: With several mobility players in and around Glasgow, what does it take to stand out in that competitive retail marketplace?
Billy: “We know that every company within the Scottish marketplace has its own USP and we totally respect that. Our competitor research across Scotland is always thorough and we have nothing but admiration and respect for them.
“Collectively, they helped raise both the competitive stakes and the profile of the mobility industry across Scotland. The landscape has changed for the better over the last 10 years, with a much more professional image being created and businesses being driven by conscientious and capable professionals who have great best-practice policies and a customer-centric approach.
“To succeed in Scotland, you need to accurately and completely execute your customer experience with sheer excellence the first-time while never losing sight of the key elements within your value proposition.”
THIIS: Having mentioned product ranges, Mobility Scotland introduced the VELA range into your offering back in February. What prompted the decision to distribute it?
Billy: “VELA’s reputation within the UK and European marketplaces are unrivalled. Their people and products are the envy of their competitors so this was one of the main reasons we chose to partner VELA.
“Their ability to create self-reliance for an individual, either within the home or office environment, means we can scope out unbelievable solutions for existing and new customers.
“We now have outstanding options which will enable mobilisation, increase physical reach and offer the ability to do everyday tasks easily and safely, which we absolutely love. We love delivering simple but world-class solutions that inspire our customers and empower our people to keep delivering value.”
THIIS: How important is introducing unique product lines to Mobility Scotland’s overall retail strategy?
Billy: “It’s a great question. When Mobility Scotland initially opened in 2006, our service and product offering covered the whole gamut of equipment and it was massive!
“I think we thought we needed every product we could get our hands on from every manufacturer and distributor. Collaboration and communication with suppliers were non-existent back then and the relationships were flimsy, fragmented and very difficult to manage.
“So, over the past few years, we have strategically consolidated our supply chain and rationalised our product range to a point where we have circa 10 prime manufacturers supplying 100 per cent of our products. I feel this gives us the very best, most reliable and most innovative products available in the UK.”
“Not adding more showrooms does not signal a lack of ambition; quite the contrary!” Billy Finnie
THIIS: How has working closer with fewer suppliers helped Mobility Scotland to grow?
Billy: “A great example is the relationship we have built with Handicare.
“We started working with the Companion and Handicare brand two years ago. Now, from a standing start, we have a dedicated stairlift division within Mobility Scotland and consider ourselves very privileged to be part of the ‘One Family’ operation that Clare Brophy and her outstanding team have developed.
“Not only have we grown a new division but through Handicare’s desire and passion to help us develop, we have benefited from their support, shared best practices and benefited from many commercial and technical masterclasses.”
THIIS: Does this come back to your focus on maximising value, not just in regards to customer interactions but supplier interactions as well?
Billy: “It is key to our decision-making when we are choosing new products and relationships. It is not just taking on the products anymore but more about the idea of the whole mutually-beneficial, value-adding package.
“When smaller, ambitious operations like ours connect with the VELA’s and Handicare’s of this world to become true brand ambassadors, it can lead to stunning results.
“Another key strategy for introducing certain products is to use them as leverage into new channels, whether that be healthcare professionals or domestic. This augurs naturally well for the potential sales growth of other core products as our network keeps expanding.”
THIIS: Why is it important to bring this level of diversification to your offering?
Billy: “Our overall business mix is circa 60:40 split between retail sales and government/charity/local authority.
“We don’t have all our eggs in any one basket which puts the business at less risk when market or global forces conspire against us, i.e. COVID-19!
“While margins tend to a touch thinner within the B2B world, collectively, when we add our retail sales, it returns a very healthy gross profit which balances the business.”
THIIS: You started distributing the VELA range just before the coronavirus outbreak – what impact did lockdown have on introducing the new range to the market?
Billy: “We planned to start rolling out across our healthcare channel first so COVID had a massively negative impact on our plans. It effectively stopped us in our tracks and put us nine months behind where we should’ve been. However, we have since regrouped and are really encouraged with the early response.
“One of the plus points about not being able to present face-to-face is being able to take advantage of the opportunities platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facetime offer us.
“Not only have we already demonstrated the VELA product via Facetime but stairlifts and seating assessments have been successfully delivered as well. This will be one of the new ways of doing business in these new normal times.”
THIIS: Did you see an uptake in business as lockdown eased throughout the summer?
Billy: “We did. August and early September saw positive sales trends within the industry, with people venturing back out onto the high streets and retail parks.
“Lockdown has had a massive impact on mindsets and attitudes and prompted people to re-evaluate the status quo and it’s being steered very much from a wellbeing and health angle. There is more willingness and motivation to purchase products which enable greater independence, freedom, safety, comfort and support.
“To vindicate this, we and many of our counterparts have seen significant sales recently across motion furniture and assistive technology products, as well as certain ADL products – read my Retailers’ Choice piece, it says it all!
“The early optimism is being dampened by supply chain issues and increased lead-times being reported across the big manufacturers though.”
THIIS: What impact did the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown have on Mobility Scotland?
Billy: “It had a big impact on the business and the team. Of course, it still does today. Never did any of us think it would go so deep and so quickly change the dynamic of family and business life… changes that may well last forever.
“Our retail division effectively ground to a halt when Boris announced the UK-wide lockdown on the 23rd March. That night, we began to fully realise the significance of this disease: Its unpredictability, its impact on our business and the danger it posed to life in general.
“Our retail division, like many others, was absolutely hammered by the lockdown and will need to recover by exploring innovative ways of growing new channels.”
THIIS: How did you manage to overcome those early challenges in lockdown?
Billy: “At the start of lockdown, we set about prioritising a technical support service for our vulnerable customers. We took great encouragement from the BHTA bulletins which were succinct and precise and of sound information. Their clarification of much of the government guidance was invaluable.
“It allowed us to mobilise certain parts of the business to offer a back-up and support function for emergency repairs and breakdowns which was very reassuring and comforting for our customers.
“Throughout lockdown, a very measured approach was taken to ensure no customers were without any of their mobility products for any length of time. We also collaborated with local support groups to offer our services free to anyone they identified as being vulnerable and at risk.”
THIIS: With the realisation that a new normal may be upon us for some time, what are the growth plans for Mobility Scotland for the coming 12 months?
Billy: “Firstly, there is definitely no intention to launch more stores, however, we will work towards rebooting our retail division. We will grow from within our existing structure by developing new channels with new products and new routes to market.
“So, absolutely more of the same that got us to where we are today.
“As for the new normal. Well, it will have its challenges but on the whole, it will be exciting for Mobility Scotland. We have made some significant decisions which will see us streamline and rationalise even more of our products.
“Just about all of our ADL proposition is moving from the showroom to online; footwear is moving to a mail order/signposting system; and our investment in our new appointment system is working well, allowing us to spend quality time with customers.
“The biggest challenge we see over the next six to 12 months will be adapting to the uncertainties of COVID-19, including the local lockdowns and regional restrictions.
“I am very confident in our ability to adapt though, as we have already made changes to shift patterns, operating hours and product areas.
“Significant growth will come from our stairlift division which is managed as a separate entity. There are also some top personnel who recently moved out of the corporate stairlift world who are supporting and guiding us in our quest for increased market share. To highjack a strapline from Microsoft’s mission statement when they launched their desktop PC, our bold vision is: ‘We want to put a Handicare stairlift on every staircase in every home, in every town in Scotland which needs one’.
“The future is very bright. Not adding more showrooms does not signal a lack of ambition; quite the contrary! Mobility Scotland is big enough to matter but small enough to care and deliver exactly the right levels of customer care and service. As our share of our customers’ mobility wallet grows, so too does our business.”https://thiis.co.uk/trade-talk-qa-with-billy-finnie-operations-manager-of-mobility-scotland/https://i2.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Mobility-Scotland-Showroom-pic-1.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1https://i2.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Mobility-Scotland-Showroom-pic-1.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Analysis & InsightsNewsroomRetailer NewsTrade NewsTrade TalkAt the start of the year, Mobility Scotland announced its decision to introduce a unique new seating range of products to its offering. The move came as part of the Kirkintilloch-headquartered company’s continued pursuit and refinement of its retail value proposition, centring around what it describes as ‘devoted customer...Calvin BarnettCalvin Barnettcalvin@thiis.co.ukAdministratorTHIIS Magazine