Trade thoughts: What immediate impact has the coronavirus had on the mobility retail sector?
March 2020 will likely be remembered by many in the mobility retail sector as one of the most turbulent, confusing and worrisome months of many industry professionals’ careers. March marked the spread of the coronavirus across the UK and the government’s actions to counter the rise in cases and deaths, culminating in strict lockdown measures.
Following the lockdown announcement by the prime minister Boris Johnson, there was uncertainty amongst many mobility retailers whether showrooms for mobility equipment could remain open and eligibility for the furlough scheme. For the mobility retail sector, the lockdown measures meant key target customer groups such as the elderly and disabled consumers steered clear of shops in a bid to reduce social interaction and with such stringent lockdown measure, demand for devices to aid mobility fell off of a cliff edge.
Throughout March, THIIS Magazine asked five mobility retail experts to share just what impact the coronavirus outbreak had had on their business and the sector as a whole.
All submissions were sent into THIIS in March 2020…
Mike Williams, Managing Director of Ableworld
“We had a poorer February, only showing a 5 per cent like-for-like increase for the month against the previous year, however, was it the weather or the worry about the virus?
“March started off in a slightly lower vein, just on par with last year with the strengths being toileting products, the internet and supporting/supplying authorities to allow people home from hospitals.
“We are always set up to do home demonstrations and will be alert to support customers this way, along with our stairlift business which is very strong and has double-figure per cent increases.
“However, whilst writing this, none of us knows what will happen on a daily basis, for instance, if we had a lockdown like Italy – hopefully, though we would still be allowed to remain open because of the service and support we give.
“So, importantly it is a matter of ensuring our finances are in place. If we did have a dramatic fall in sales, the government seem to have offered a lot but it is trying to unravel what support we can get and when and how we can get it. This sort of situation is very challenging and as always, the strong and well organised will survive and go forward.
“Unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember the three-day week which is the only other situation I can remember that was a huge challenge not only to the country but individual businesses.”
Alastair Gibbs, Managing Director of TPG DisableAids
“During this uncertain period in history, whilst we may not know what is around the corner in terms of business certainty, we do know that as a business our staff are by far the most important asset we have.
“We must do all we can to protect them and their families.
“Having taken professional advice, we note that there are many financial allowances and delayed payment options to enable us to continue to trade as normally as possible. Delaying PAYE, VAT and Corporation tax are just some.
“With regards to trading, it is entirely understandable that some clients will be nervous to allow entry to their home but rigorous distancing and disinfection practices will mean lots of useful business can still be conducted.
“On the other side of COVID-19, we must be in a position to be stronger and more agile to rebuild and gain market share quickly for the long-term security of our employees.”
Karen Sheppard, Managing Director of People First Mobility
“Naidex is now postponed which is where we would look at gaining new products for the showroom for the summer season.
“We have already noticed an impact on our retail sales and hire. The elderly and vulnerable are being asked to avoid public places. Coach companies are cancelling holidays to the coast impacting our hire side of the business.
“Customers do not want to touch the card machine with some wanting to only pay contactless.
“To help customers and staff, we are wiping the card machine down before and after every use with bacterial cleaner. We have supplied gloves at the entrance to the store for customers to wear if they wish to touch products or are wary of others having touched them and also supplied some hand sanitiser near the door for our customers.
“All hires are disinfected once returned at end of the hire. For any of our customers who do not wish to venture out we are offering free home delivery service. Also, if the situation escalates any further, we will consider opening on an appointment basis only.
“Future problems could be stock levels of supplies to sell if the suppliers have problems obtaining them from abroad.”
Tim Mills, Head of Business at Motion Healthcare
“I think the entire country is facing a difficult time at the moment dealing with this unprecedented epidemic and all of the new social boundaries surrounding it. Whilst business is important to us, it is times like this that it needs to take a back seat as we focus on our basic humanity and our responsibility to all do what we can to get through this together and come back stronger.
“At Motion, the most obvious effects are that our retail partners are seeing a massive reduction in footfall and sales due to the social boundaries in place and people’s mentalities towards buying right now – something that most of the country’s retailers are experiencing.
“As well as this, there is a real fear for the businesses that our partners have worked so hard to build which means that the profit from the few sales our partners are getting are not necessarily leading them to buy more stock from us, so in turn, our turnover is down as well.
“The key for us is letting our partners know we are here to support them through this and that we are in a strong position due to the amazing level of growth we have had this year. We will come back from this stronger.
“Our latest year of growth has allowed us to invest in our stock, as well as our internal systems and procedures, to make sure that when we come out the other side, we are robust enough to be there to support our partners. We will continue to help our customers with both stock and customer satisfaction driven support systems so we can grow together again.”
Mark Duffield, General Manager from Karma Mobility
“We are supporting our retailers as best we can in the circumstances, first and foremost by shipping any orders they may need and being available to help with any queries and problems that might arise.
“Several of our customers have understandably taken the decision to close temporarily while some feel that they need to support their customers during this time; we will be here for as long as we are permitted to be.
“We are constantly working with our suppliers trying to plan for the present and medium-term and I believe there will be a lot of pent up demand for the products in our industry when users are allowed out again.
“That will be a problem for another day; in the meantime, we are here when our customers need us and will try to support them through this difficult time. We hope everyone keeps well and it goes without saying that our thoughts are with anyone affected by the virus.”https://thiis.co.uk/trade-thoughts-what-immediate-impact-has-the-coronavirus-had-on-the-mobility-retail-sector/https://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/NHS-covid-lockdown.jpghttps://thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/NHS-covid-lockdown-150x150.jpgAnalysis & InsightsCoronavirus NewsCOVID-19 Trade NewsNewsroomTrade ThoughtsAbbleworld,Alastair Gibbs,coronavirus,COVID-19,Karen Sheppard,Karma Mobility,Mark Duffield,Mike Williams,Motion Healthcare,Naidex,pandemic,People First Mobility,retail,tim mills,TPG DisableAidsMarch 2020 will likely be remembered by many in the mobility retail sector as one of the most turbulent, confusing and worrisome months of many industry professionals' careers. March marked the spread of the coronavirus across the UK and the government's actions to counter the rise in cases and...Calvin BarnettCalvin Barnettcalvin@thiis.co.ukAdministratorTHIIS Magazine