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Unfortunately, greeting the industry after Christmas and New Year was the third national lockdown. Unlike the pre-Christmas lockdown, lockdown three shares a lot of the hallmarks of spring’s lockdown.

Unlike the first lockdown, however, mobility retailers in England have been classed as ‘essential’ this time and are allowed to keep showrooms open.

With many would-be customers shielding during what is the industry’s traditionally quieter period, has been classed as ‘essential’ helped or hindered the mobility retail sector?

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All thoughts were submitted to THIIS in January 2020…

Mike Williams, Managing Director of Ableworld

Ableworld's Founder & Managing Director and Founder Mike Williams“It certainly hasn’t hindered the situation; at long last, we have all been recognised for the good the vast majority of us try to do in the community. Our industry has helped to support the NHS and care homes and other vital services, ensuring the public can have the products they desperately need and get the vulnerable back into their homes.

“Plus, it stopped some local bureaucrats questioning why we were open.

“None of us likes the current situation but we are in a caring industry and the products we sell assist the community. However, the pandemic has certainly hit sales and customer flow so the support of the furlough system has certainly been of great help.

“I realise the recognition of “essential” has stopped some getting grants for closing their business but we can’t have it both ways. Most people’s marketing claims they are in the care sector and how caring their businesses are. A small minority of those now want to close their stores, leaving the customers ‘high and dry’, then claiming Government support – coming from all of us.

“I am clearly on the side of the classification that has helped our industry being recognised.”

Billy Finnie, Operations Manager of Mobility Scotland

Billy Finnie Mobility Scotland“Scotland was somewhat different to England with this judgement – retailers were not considered essential and expected to fall into line with the general lockdown rules; you can imagine the incredulity of many of the retailers. However, many conscientious and committed businesses continued to be there to deliver safe, secure assistance to their customers in times of need.

“This lack of awareness and foresight on the Scottish Government’s part didn’t help and led to retailers running the risk of being booked for COVID breaches as we attended emergency repairs and breakdowns.

“Over the month of January, we had nine call-outs, all of which came from vulnerable users relating to critical equipment. In every instance, we needed to deliver a response and the customer absolutely needed our help. The government will need to get this right and allow us to prepare a support programme we can confidently and importantly legally deliver.

“On top of the breakdown issues, there were also a number of stairlift enquiries which we took on board and installed, despite the rules, as these lifts helped facilitate quick hospital discharges. This type of work reinforces the need for mobility retailers in lockdown to be able to operate as close to normal as possible, being there to add value and support the fight against COVID.”

Matt Mohr, Managing Director of Kent Mobility

Matt Mohr Kent Mobility“Being classed as essential has certainly been of benefit to not only ourselves but the clinicians and customers who rely on us to provide equipment. Being able to generate income at this time is most welcome from a commercial perspective – that is, of course, if customers are willing to see you.

“It’s one thing being able to open the doors but it’s another thing if no one is walking through them. Unlike the first lockdown, we have found that many customers are willing to see us still – yes, there have been cancellations but the diaries are still active.

“There are certain products that are difficult for customers to delay in purchasing because of the role they play in their daily lives and it is those products we see least impacted by the lockdown.

“Some products can wait from the customer’s perspective and, as such, that side of the business has slowed down.

“We all want to expose ourselves to the least amount of risk in relation to COVID so it only makes sense. With flexi furlough, businesses are able to adjust their operational ability and costs according to the workload so that has been a huge help.”

Alastair Gibbs, Managing Director of TPG DisableAids

Alastair Gibbs TPG DisableAids MD“The ‘essential’ classification for our industry is, without doubt, a double-edged sword.

“On the positive side, it does mean we can continue to offer a service to our customers and play a part in keeping them safely out of institutional care settings where the risk of COVID infection is far higher. It does allow sales of stairlifts and hoists and beds so some level of turnover can be maintained.

“However, operating costs are generally higher. We clearly have to provide significant amounts of PPE over and above the normal and at our expense. We are generally operating less efficiently due to the protection levels, clean downtime and protection measures that need to be in place.

“If a business was forced to close, it can furlough its staff and get financial compensation on a monthly basis. That compensation is, of course, not available to businesses that continue to trade. With the incidence of the infection becoming increasingly common, we are also having to make difficult decisions on attending customers with equipment that needs attention.”

Richard Holland-Oakes, Managing Director of Recare

Richard Recare“The first few weeks of 2021 have been quiet compared to the end of 2020. This could be due to multiple reasons, including COVID-19; the third national lockdown; weather; the time of year; and Brexit, which alone sees significant delays and disruption to all shipping channels into and out of the UK.

“Recare has been busy but business still comparably slow due to reluctance of clients wanting to see us. Very few clients are looking to purchase standard, less-abled products. Specialist equipment, however, is still maintaining significant interest.

“Being an essential service does help and as an owner, it is a lot clearer what we should and shouldn’t be doing as a company.

“We have received queries asking why we have not been vaccinated yet if we are classed as essential. This I have actively lobbied for locally with our MP and CEO of the local NHS but still no movement as of yet. Will it help? Possibly not, as I’m sure most of our high dependency clients learn to work around the restrictions and still function. This is aided due to our diligent use of full PPE and their carers and healthcare professionals managing sensibly within these confinements.”

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We respect your privacy BarnettAnalysis & InsightsNewsroomRetailer NewsTrade NewsTrade ThoughtsAbleworld,Alastair Gibbs,Billy Finnie,essential,essential retail,lockdown,Matt Mohr. Kent Mobility,Mike Williams,mobility scotland,pre-Christmas lockdown,Recare,Richard Holland-Oakes,TPG DisableAidsUnfortunately, greeting the industry after Christmas and New Year was the third national lockdown. Unlike the pre-Christmas lockdown, lockdown three shares a lot of the hallmarks of spring’s lockdown. Unlike the first lockdown, however, mobility retailers in England have been classed as ‘essential’ this time and are allowed to keep...News, views & products for mobility, access and independent living professionals