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THIIS TRADE MAGAZINE • ISSUE 268 • JANUARY 2021

Also inside... Life after lockdown ISSUE 268 JANUARY 2021

A clear case to merge

TRADE MAGAZINE

Partnership power

Setting the wheels in motion for 2021 How one mobility specialist is transforming the customer experience with its new retail space

Providing news and views in the trade since 1999


IT’S BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR STILTZ HOMELIFTS We appreciate it’s been a challenging time on the high street and in retail parks around the country and we’re here to help!

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WELCOME

From the editor Well, that is 2020 behind us. I would prefer to start 2021 off with a positive and upbeat tone but it is important to acknowledge the challenges that face the industry in the year ahead. Brexit, COVID-19 and the ensuing economic fallout from 2020 means that 2021 will require professionals to be just as, if not more, adaptable and resilient in the 12 months ahead as they were last year. It is not all gloom and doom, though. As important as looking ahead is, so too is taking the opportunity to reflect on the year that has been. A recap of some of the key stories we covered last year reveals just how well some in the industry coped during the difficult period. New retailers emerged aiming to make their mark on the industry, such as 360 Wheelchairs and Three Counties Mobility. Existing retailers, such as Island Mobility, Bayliss Mobility and Fortuna Mobility, introduced new innovations and product lines to open up new revenue streams. Others refused to the let the pandemic slow down their growth plans, increasing their store portfolios, such as Lifestyle and Mobility, Ableworld, Ross Care and Snowdrop Independent Living – to name just a few. Regardless of what actions were taken, every single retail business leader in the industry should feel immensely proud that they continued to deliver vital products and services under very difficult circumstances. The same should be said for the mobility suppliers in the industry. Manufacturers managed to contend

with supply chain issues, port disruption, Brexit uncertainty and regulatory changes while continuing to support trade partners: no small feat. 2020 also saw unprecedented levels of cooperation across the industry. Working together helped keep vulnerable customers looked after throughout and was key in getting the mobility industry added to the government’s essential retail list. So, as we head into another year of challenges and uncertainty, it will be important to bear in mind the achievements of the last 12 months while continuing to forge ahead. In February 2021, the British Healthcare Trade Show is scheduled to take place in Leeds and it feels needed now more than ever. The sector needs a chance to reconnect, meet face to face – surely, I cannot be the only one ‘Zoomed’ out – and establish those all-important relationships which make up such an important part of business. I sincerely hope and look forward to seeing each and every reader there. Also, I cannot encourage members of the trade enough to get in contact if you have a story to tell. It can be something as simple as taking on a new member of staff to sharing your grand plans for the future. Make it your New Year’s Resolution for 2021 - believe me, it’ll be a lot easier to sustain than giving up chocolate or wine!.

Calvin Barnett Editor

THIIS is produced by BHTA Engage, Office 404, Tower Bridge Business centre, 46-48 E Smithfield, Whitechapel, London E1W 1AW newsroom@thiis.co.uk TRADE MAGAZINE

BHTA Engage Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any way without the written permission of the publisher. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the publisher and although every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate, the publishers take no responsibility for errors or omissions.

Meet the THIIS team...

Editorial Director Calvin Barnett 07741 641702 calvin@thiis.co.uk

Editor Liane McIvor 07917 784929 liane@thiis.co.uk

Advertising Joe Fahy 07384 258 372 joe.fahy@bhtaengage.com

Sub-editor Sarah Sarsby sarah@thiis.co.uk

Stay up to date... @wwwthiiscouk facebook.com/THIIS.Magazine linkedin.com/company/ thiis-magazine

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CONTENTS

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Inside...

TRADE MAGAZINE

Features

Regulars

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06 12

Creating Clearwell Care Trade talk: Apex Medical Trade thoughts Life after lockdown: Part 2 Retailer Spotlight: Wheelfreedom

32 34 54

News, deals and people Retailers Choice: Manual wheelchairs Let’s get it clear The OT’s Perspective Retailers’ Buyers Guide

12

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48

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We’re thinking

for

Keep an eye out... Something BIG is happening

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NEWS, DEALS & PEOPLE

News, deals & people Roma Medical releases liabilities of £3m related to tax dispute Roma Medical has reported pre-tax profits of £2.49m for the year ended 30 November 2019 after the release of liabilities related to the long-running case with HM Revenue & Customers (HMRC). In the company’s strategic report, it detailed: “Subsequent to the end of the year, the Company successfully defended a long-standing indirect tax claim from H M Revenue & Customs (HMRC). As a result of the successful defence liabilities of £3,016,000 have been released.” Shown as an exceptional item on the company’s P&L for the year, Roma’s preexceptional operating loss increased in 2019 to £525k from 2018’s £119k – a result of declining margins and increased costs. The Welsh-based mobility supplier saw turnover fall by 1.6 per cent to £8.84m over the period. It continues a downward trend for Roma, which has seen sales consistently slide year on year since 2011. In its strategic report, the company noted: “Despite the difficult trading conditions the financial position remains strong with cash balances of £1.6m being held at 30 November 2019.”

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A round-up of the key trade stories for business leaders to digest

Stiltz Homelifts on the Fast Track Stiltz Homelifts has been officially recognised as one of the UK’s 100 top performing private companies after ranking 87th in the 24th annual Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100. Maintaining strong performance since its launch in 2010, the homelift specialist has enjoyed continued business growth of 41 per cent since 2017 whilst expanding its now-global team to over 200. Over the summer, the manufacturer invested in expanding, initiating a substantial recruitment drive in recent months and relocating to a new 36,000 square foot HQ in the West Midlands. Lachlan Faulkner, Stiltz CoFounder and Chief Commercial Officer, commented: “We are once

again delighted to be ranked in the Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100. Personally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank every member of our team for their continued commitment and passion in delivering quality, life enhancing homelifts across the world – especially so during 2020.”

Promotion to drive global growth for Jenx Jenx has strengthened its marketing team by promoting Rachel Davis to the role of Marketing Manager in a bid to grow the brand’s global presence. Rachel joined the Sheffield-based postural care specialist’s UK distribution division, Jiraffe, as a business development manager earlier this year, having previously worked as both an occupational therapist for three years and in the marketing team of a leading healthcare firm. In her new role, Rachel will be responsible for managing the marketing strategy and operational direction of both Jenx and Jiraffe in order to further develop both brands. “In my new position, I’ll be getting under the skin of the very best therapy practice and really dial it into product marketing processes,” commented Rachel. “We’ve seen some fantastic growth as a business. Over the past few months, Jiraffe has been so busy supporting children and families across the UK during lockdown, giving us a great platform from which to grow the Jenx brand regionally, nationally and globally.”


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NEWS, DEALS & PEOPLE

Medequip retains Wiltshire contract Medequip has secured the Community Equipment and Continence Services contract in Wiltshire for a further five years, following a competitive tender process. Continuing a 15-year partnership between Medequip and Wiltshire, the new contract is set to begin on 1 April 2021, with an option to extend for up to two more years. Medequip stated that it is planning significant innovations and enhancements to the service, including a redesign and extension of its operational site in Calne, Wiltshire. The renovated site will boast a new layout facilitating increased capacity, throughput and efficiency. In addition, Medequip confirmed it is working to give Wiltshire commissioners greater levels of visibility and control over day-to-

day operations by investing in a new end-to-end software solution. Michaela Harris, General Manager for Medequip’s South Western division, commented: “The cooperation between our two organisations has been particularly well demonstrated when faced with the challenges of COVID-19, where we have engaged on a weekly basis to maintain service and product availability, including appropriate product substitutions to facilitate important hospital discharges.”

Scooterpac’s new dealer portal goes live Aiming to support its dealers to provide effective solutions, Scooterpac has invested in improving processes and communication channels with its new Dealer Portal. The platform allows retailers to quickly access a series of troubleshooting videos, information about the supplier’s products, as well as online and offline marketing assets and collateral. Kevin Francis, Chief Engineer at Scooterpac, said: “With the introduction of technical video conferencing service earlier this year, our aim has always been to launch a platform which goes the extra mile. “Our series of troubleshooting videos have already successfully helped our customers by

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Kevin Francis

reducing technical support wait times. Our Dealer Portal is the most efficient way of getting the required information – fast.” Scooterpac says new materials are added monthly to the Dealer Portal. Tom Bousfield, Marketing Manager at Modern Mobility, commented: “Our team love the simplicity of the system, especially engineers when working on site. The comprehensive set of marketing materials has enabled us to simplify our approach and become more effective at promoting their products. With Scooterpac leading the way, we look forward to this continued level of digital investment.”

National Federation of Shopmobility swaps hands Driving Mobility will now be operating the National Federation of Shopmobility (NFSUK) after taking over the non-profit organisation from the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA). The NFSUK, which is made up of schemes providing mobility scooters and wheelchairs on a short-term hire and loan basis, has been managed by the BHTA since 2014. Driving Mobility – a charity supported by the Department for Transport which boasts 70 locations predominately offering ‘fitness-to-drive-assessments – says it plans to develop the NFSUK while also using it as a platform to raise awareness of the charity’s wider services. Edward Trewhella, the CEO of Driving Mobility, comments: “We believe that managing the successful Shopmobility scheme will complement our current strengths and future aims. Through our unique sector knowledge and contacts, it will open up provision of loan mobility equipment to more disabled people so that levels of safety and independence can increase – critical during these challenging times. “The BHTA has completed an excellent job in facilitating NFSUK development, however Driving Mobility are proud to be embarking on this vital role and look forward to delivering a strong platform for future growth.” Shopmobility will continue to follow the BHTA Code of Practice approved by The Chartered Trading Standards Institute.


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NEWS, DEALS & PEOPLE

£35 million boost for NRS Healthcare NRS Healthcare has reported an increase in turnover in its annual financial report for the year ended 31st March 2020, with margins boosted by Complete Care Networks (CCN) and online sales. The Leicestershireheadquartered ICES provider confirmed in its report that turnover grew from £184.9 million to £219.7 million in the year, a jump of £34.8 million. According to NRS Healthcare’s report, the growth is a reflection of the maturity of its underlying ICES contract base, coupled with strong growth in the Product Sales division, particularly via its online services. It follows the acquisition and assimilation of CCN and its established online retail platform Complete Care Shop, which it purchased in August 2018. The organisation’s operating profit amounted to £11.4 million, an increase of 6.2 per cent against the previous year. The profit before taxation for the period was £9.1 million, a decrease of 2.4 per cent against the previous year.

Jerry Benson, CEO of NRS Healthcare

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Former Invacare CEO passes away On 30 November 2020, Malachi ‘Mal’ Mixon III, the driving force of Invacare’s rise from regional wheelchair manufacturer to global healthcare player, sadly passed away at the age of 80. A former marine and Harvard graduate, Mixon purchased Invacare in 1979 at the age of 39. Over the following decades, he transformed the small Ohio-based wheelchair maker into a publicly traded, multinational healthcare equipment distributor. After suffering a stroke in 2010,

Mixon stepped down as CEO to become Chairman of Invacare’s board of directors until his retirement in December 2014. Matthew Monaghan, Invacare’s Chairman, President and CEO, commented: “He was a tireless advocate of the industry and supporter of providers everywhere. He was an especially strong ally of all those who rely on our products to ‘make life’s experiences possible’. “Although Mal retired as CEO in 2010 and as Chairman of our Board of Directors in 2015, we recognise his tremendous impact and decades of dedication to making Invacare the success it is today. Our prayers are with his wife and family.”

Furlough scheme extended, again Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has extended the furlough scheme again and will now run until the end of April 2021. The additional month will continue to see firms able to claim 80 per cent (up to £2,500) for hours not worked. In a move to ensure firms can access the support they need through continuing economic

disruption, Sunak also stated that he would be extending the government-guaranteed COVID-19 business loan schemes until the end of March. The changes are set to come ahead of the Budget on 3 March when Sunak has said he will set out the next phase of the plan to tackle the virus and protect jobs.

City Mobility helps get people moving City Mobility is participating in a scheme to keep older people and those with disabilities on the move by giving a helping hand to users of wheelchairs, powerchairs and mobility scooters. The Inverness-based mobility retailer is offering £50 worth of work towards the repair or service of a manual wheelchair, puncture repairs or tyre replacements on mobility scooters and powerchairs. It is one of 300 businesses – and the only mobility retailer – involved in the Scotland Cycle Repair Scheme, which is part of the Scottish Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Carol Elliot, Managing Director of City Mobility, said she is delighted to be able to help people get their mobility equipment back in use through the programme and has already seen a good response. It is thought around 30,000 people will benefit from the scheme, which is funded by Transport Scotland and administered by Cycling UK.


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Manual wheelchairs 12 / www.thiis.co.uk

Wondering which manual wheelchairs are grabbing mobility companies’ attention? Each month, retailers in the mobility industry highlight one product that has stood out for them and why‌


Retailer’s Choice: Excel G Logic Wheelchair from Van Os Medical “Happy New Year! We wish you all a happy and healthy 2021. “Our first pick of the month for the year is the Excel G Logic Wheelchairs from Van Os Medical. “It’s a modern, lightweight wheelchair which has proved popular with customers of all ages. With a sleek design, aluminium hubs and lightweight rims, this crashtested wheelchair gives customers additional peace of mind if they need to travel. The ergonomic seat is designed to ensure support as well as comfort for our customers. “This range of wheelchairs offers our customers a great choice

of colour combinations to match their personality. With three frame colours, four upholstery options and available in various sizes, this wheelchair has plenty of options.” www.ableworld.co.uk

Ceri Dixon Marketing Manager of Ableworld

Retailer’s Choice: Ultra Lightweight Aluminium Wheelchair from Drive DeVilbiss “This stylishly designed wheelchair features twotone upholstery, desk-style armrests for easy access to work surfaces and a handy rear-storage pocket. “This wheelchair is very light and the self-propelled version has removable wheels. It is so easy to push, easy to lift, easy to fold, reasonably priced and comfortable to sit on. Footrests easily adjust to five positions. A brilliant all-round lightweight wheelchair. “Available in 17-inch and 20-inch seat widths.” www.peoplefirstmobility.co.uk Karen Sheppard Managing Director of People First Mobility

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RETAILERS’ CHOICE

Retailer’s Choice: One Rehab Sonic Wheelchair “One Rehab has recently introduced to the market a very competitively priced mid-range, lightweight, aluminium wheelchair which is stylish, ergonomic, user friendly and robust. “The Sonic comes in both transit and self-propel options and is full to the brim with brilliant little features which should offer a great go-to product which easily sits in the top end of mid-range wheelchairs. “Our experience of this product has been positive over last year and forms a staple within our midrange wheelchair options. Another important factor is the interactions with the customer services team at One Rehab, who manage their inventory well and ensure continuous supplies of product and components if required. “The Sonic offers 18 inch and 20-inch seat widths with a user weight of 20st, fantastic ergonomic angle-adjustable armrests which give great comfort, support, and good posture. These can also be lowered for sitting at a table. Couple all this with an integrated, highly supportive seating system with breathable cushion and attendant brakes, the Sonic represents great value for both the dealer and customer and is well worth adding to your stock for a great mid-market, well-priced solution.” www.mobilityscotlandltd.co.uk

Billy Finnie Operations Manager of Mobility Scotland

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Matt Mohr Managing Director of Kent Mobility

Retailer’s Choice: The Ethos from Ki Mobility “The Ethos from Ki Mobility sets itself apart from most other rigid frame wheelchairs with its Isolation Technology - this is where the seat frame and base frame are two separate parts connected together by a dampening system. “The dampening system is designed to reduce the vibration felt by the user from the wheels and the castors. This creates a smoother, more comfortable ride for users but will also assist those users that are sensitive to vibration. “There are good adjustment options built into the chair, with adjustable depth, front and rear seat heights and centre of gravity adjustment. “Despite the adjustments and two frames, the transport weight of the chair comes in at 5.26kg keeping the weight of the chair very much in keeping with other lightweight rigid frame chairs. The high-grade hydro formed aluminium keeps the chair lightweight and strong. “There are plenty of colours and options to choose from to personalise the chair, including Black Max Hub wheels as standard. You can also use Ki’s Axiom backrests and cushions for additional support, which, along with the chair, are competitively priced.” www.kentmobility.org.uk


RETAILERS’ CHOICE

Alastair Gibbs Managing Director of TPG DisableAids

Retailer’s Choice: Invacare Action 3NG mid-wheel chair “There have been a few manual chairs that have caught both our teams’ and, importantly, our customers’ eyes over the last 12 months. For example, the new Invacare Action 3NG mid-wheel chair has brought the comfort and reliability you come to expect from an Invacare product with the movability and turning circle rarely seen in a manual chair. “The smart design and more active rear-wheel position gets increased stability and support from two additional castors located at the rear of the chair. Add this to the ergonomic design, which enhances manoeuvrability and gives a great position for easy access to the hand rims whilst keeping your arms in a natural position to achieve a more energy efficient propel, means you get a chair that has been designed for long-term use with comfort at its core. “The clever design of the rear castors allows the user to achieve a 25-degree tilt offering quick and easy pressure relief; importantly, this can be achieved effortlessly by both a caregiver and the user in the chair. “Lightweight, folding and with increased comfort, the highly versatile chair has been a great addition to the range.” www.tpg-disableaids.co.uk

Retailer’s Choice: Veloce from Motion Composites “Veloce is an impressive folding carbon-fibre manual wheelchair by Motion Composites for those seeking a stylish, active lifestyle. “The carbon fibre market has become increasingly competitive in recent years but the Veloce’s agility, lightness, stability, comfort and responsiveness, make it an unrivalled chair. “It boasts a compact folding system, competitive performance, transportability and adjustability to adapt to the user’s lifestyle. An almost fullyadjustable chair, the front and rear seat-to-floor heights, the seat angle and centre of gravity can all be adjusted simply by clients and professionals alike. “Veloce is a smart and robust carbon fibre manual wheelchair with the rare feature of proudly enabling the fitting of power add-ons and handbikes onto the carbon fibre framework. It has an entirely symmetrical moulded cross brace and pivot axels work together. “The unique folding system maximises the frame’s stability and reactivity, offering energy preservation daily. In a highly competitive area of the sector, it is difficult for a manual wheelchair to stand apart from the others but the Veloce has the powerful features that impact the consumer and help put it in a league of its own.” www.recare.co.uk

Annie Holland-Oakes Marketing Manager of Recare

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RETAILERS’ CHOICE

Retailer’s Choice: XS Aluminium Self Propelling Wheelchair from Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare “For customers wanting more than a basic wheelchair, the XS Aluminium Self Propelling Wheelchair offers extra features – including desk arms for easy access to work surfaces. The arms can also be removed for side transfers. “It has a cushioned back and a removable seat cushion, should a user need or prefer to use their own pressure cushion. Plus, the seat and the back are tension adjustable, which can help to improve comfort. I’ve found this especially helpful for people with lower back pain or who need more support. “The XS has all the usual features with 24-inch, quick-release solid wheels and a half-folding back. Plus, it comes in two sizes: the blue model (18-inch seat width) and red (20-inch seat width).

“Its rear stepper tubes with integrated heightadjustable anti-tip wheels help with safety when climbing kerbs and add a lot of value to the product. Additionally, its crash tested, while the sturdy aluminium frame makes it durable and comfortable. “Another important feature of this product is that the rear wheels can be adjusted into different positions, depending on the requirements of the user. “This wheelchair has been a mainstay of our entry level wheelchair range.”

Retailer’s Choice: Quickie Nitrum from Sunrise Medical

Darren Macey Business Development Manager of Lifestyle and Mobility

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“As some of you recently read in last month’s issue, we chose the Quickie Nitrum as our Retailers’ Choice of the Year. So, it’s no surprise that we have chosen to have it as our wheelchair of the month. “What we have learnt is customers want more control when shopping. Quickie has not only produced a quality product but they have also developed a 3D Visualiser. Customers are now able to fully spec up their own chair with all the options which then produces a lifesize image on their devices.

Elaine Ferguson Mobility Services Manager of Fortuna Mobility www.fortunamobility.com

“The Quickie Nitrum is the lightest adjustable aluminium chair on the market within its class. We believe, pound for pound, this is the best value wheelchair on the market for its money - not everyone has £5k to spend on a manual wheelchair. “The Nitrum combines weight rigidity, custom fit and fine tuning to offer the most energy efficient chair Quickie has ever produced. The Nitrum is for users who value pushing efficiency and lightweight design. The company has also developed a unique twist lock bar, which helps with loading it in and out of the car. “Quickie is also the first to have developed Integrated LEDs mounted on both castor arms with three mode options for brightness: High, low and blink.” www.lifestyleandmobility.co.uk


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Combining forces to create Clearwell Care Founded 16 years ago, Clearwell Mobility has steadily grown from a single showroom in Brighton to become a leading regional player in the mobility retail sector. The company now boasts 12 stores across Sussex, Surrey and Kent. At the end of 2020, the retailer announced the launch of a new specialist division, Clearwell Care. The new offering was born out of a merger with Sussex Care Centres (SCC), one of the largest wheelchair suppliers to the NHS throughout Sussex and Surrey. Discussing the move, Duncan Gillett, Managing Director of Clearwell Mobility, explained why SCC was the right organisation to merge with. “SCC is a very well established and well-known specialist wheelchair supplier focused on NHS wheelchair services and more complicated private clients,” he said. “Their core offering includes complex power and active and passive wheelchairs, as well as seating solutions. Clearwell and SCC have known of each other for years and our businesses have been located less than five miles apart from each other in Burgess Hill, West Sussex.” Benefitting for the close geographical proximity, Duncan highlighted how both companies had strengths which would be able to enhance each other’s offering in the growing prescriptive market. “The SCC business was very much focused on clinics and assessments and did not have a retail presence, whereas Clearwell has always been focused on its retail and Motability offering,” he continued.

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“When the pandemic hit and business as usual was no longer possible, we started discussions to see if there would be benefits from combining the businesses. There were clear synergies in combining premises leading to tangible cost savings, as well as synergies in the supply chain and leveraging Clearwell’s delivery infrastructure.” In addition, the anticipated growth in Personal Wheelchair Budgets was a key driver behind the merger. Duncan emphasised that combining SSC reputation’s for assessments and prescribing with the convenience of Clearwell’s retail locations makes for a particularly strong proposition. “In order to fully leverage the merger, we have brought Clearwell’s existing therapist-led business streams and the SCC business together to launch Clearwell Care. The new division is intentionally separate to our retail offer and is entirely focused on therapist-led business,” detailed Duncan. “The focus will be on wheelchair services, charity provision, case managers and local authority DFG-funded adaptations. Clearwell

Clearwell Mobility, the South East’s largest Motabilityaccredited mobility dealer, has merged with Sussex Care Centres, combining Sussex Care Centres’ existing NHS Wheelchair Services businesses with the therapist- and charity-led business from within Clearwell Mobility.

has existing relationships with numerous charities, including the Royal British Legion, MS Society, SSAFA and many others. We also work with local authority OTs supplying stairlifts and ramping products through DFGs. These business areas all require the same key traits of professionalism and highly skilled knowledge and advice.” The newly-formed Clearwell Care division is now searching for two new roles: A wheelchair clinical lead and an adaptations specialist. “The new roles have been created to bolster the existing team and enable a long ‘run in’ for the successful candidates,” said Duncan. “We aren’t limiting the search to a specific background – the cultural fit is as important as the type of experience gained by the candidate. The roles promise variety and huge job satisfaction from developing close, supportive relationships with therapists and other health professionals.” Discover more about the wheelchair clinical lead and adaptations specialist roles on page 58.


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TRADE TALK

Trade talk Q&A with Greg Whelan, Marketing & Product Manager at Apex Medical Ltd WHY HAS APEX DECIDED TO LAUNCH A ‘PARTNER PROGRAMME’ AROUND ITS ROTATIONAL CHAIR BED RANGE? “Nexus DMS had some great mobility products with fantastic functionality and quality, as well as really competitive pricing. As a smaller organisation, however, we didn’t really have the reach to promote these nationally. “Now that the merger with Apex is complete, we have the capacity, and also ambition, to really shout about these important products. The Partner Programme is a great vehicle for this.” WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE ‘APEX PARTNER PROGRAMME’ INITIATIVE? “I have actually been considering the concept of the Partner Programme for some time but now seems the right time to launch it with the backing and portfolio from Apex. It’s also some good news and a fresh opportunity for mobility stores that have been under such strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Although there is great promise in the vaccines that are starting to be made available, we have all learnt that remaining at home and seeking to be as independent as possible can be important in lowering the risk of infection. “The products that these important stores already provide help with these aims, where appropriate. We see that increasing

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the visibility of our rotational beds, which we are initially focussing on, is a helpful addition to many stores.” HOW DOES THE PARTNER PROGRAMME WORK? “It’s really simple, the partner has the choice of two options: referral or stockist. “The referral option is a straightforward and easy scheme where Apex would take over the sales process once a referral has been made and provide the referral partner with a referral fee if the customer chooses to make the purchase. “Alternatively, the partner could become a stockist. This sees the partner purchase their first product and then manage the customer and sales process, delivering the service and support directly to the customer and enjoying the value of the sale of the goods. “The benefit of the programme is that companies

In October 2020, Apex Medical Ltd (Apex) launched its new Partner Programme, aiming to enable more mobility retailers to access its rotational chair bed range. With the community-focused initiative, launched just ahead of the merger of Nexus DMS into Apex Medical Ltd, seeing mobility retailers already signing up, THIIS caught up with Greg Whelan, Marketing & Product Manager at Apex, to find out more about the scheme.

can join initially as a referral partner if that’s more appropriate for them. They then have the freedom to move across to becoming a stockist when it’s right for their business. “We are very aware of the fact that different organisations have different budgets so we do not want to exclude organisations who may have had a tough time during 2020 as a result of COVID-19 from being part of something that could be positive for them and their business in 2021.” HOW HAS THE SCHEME BEEN RECEIVED SINCE ITS LAUNCH? “We are delighted with the take-up rate so far. It’s early days yet but we have signed up, and in the stages of signing up, more than 50 new partners already, with many more that we are in discussions with as well.” WHY SHOULD MOBILITY RETAILERS CONSIDER BECOMING A PARTNER? “It’s important to have trusted relationships in life and in business.


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TRADE TALK Apex, as part of the global manufacturer Apex Medical Corp, can offer mobility retailers the chance to be considered part of our family. “This allows them access to a range of innovative products that they might otherwise not be aware of. We also offer great service and support and, ultimately, all members of the partner programme will be able to add quality products to their ranges and find new retail opportunities.”

to promote the products available in the programme. So, to that end, we supply, free of charge, the quality POS materials needed to promote the products, along with all of the necessary training and support that they need to professionally represent the products, themselves and the programme. “We feel that the Apex Partner Programme is a partnership so we have to invest in them in the same way as they are investing in us.”

WHAT NEW RETAIL OPPORTUNITIES CAN MOBILITY RETAILERS POTENTIALLY FIND BY ADDING THE ROTATIONAL CHAIR BED RANGE TO THEIR OFFERING? “Many people live long and full lives at home but, increasingly, we see that at certain stages in their lives, people transition across into care homes. This leaves the mobility retailer with a customer less likely to require their products as they are catered for by the care home. “The scheme provides retailers with access to a product that enables their customers to stay at home for longer. It enables the mobility retailer to retain them as a customer of their store. “COVID-19 has had quite an effect on this sector, as mentioned before, so as an industry, we need to continue to step forward and offer products that provide important options in these challenging times.”

HOW MANY RETAILERS DID YOU WELCOME TO THE SCHEME OVER 2020? “We had around 50 partners for 2020, which, considering this was only launched in mid to late October, means it has been a great success so far. We certainly do not want to wish away Christmas but the team are really excited about coming back in the new year and meeting more mobility retailers to join the programme.”

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT RETAILERS CONSIDER NEW REVENUE STREAMS IN 2021? “It’s imperative to keep innovation at the forefront of the industry, whether it’s in the acute sector or the community sector. Mobility retailers partnered with innovative suppliers, such as Apex, can be a part of that. By doing so, not only can they help those with mobility issues in the community but also promote healthier lives and secure their businesses in the communities that need them.” WHAT SUPPORT CAN MOBILITY RETAILERS EXPECT FROM APEX? “We understand that our new and prospective partners need the tools

WHAT KIND OF MOBILITY STORES ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AND IS THERE ANY SPECIFIC CRITERIA TO BECOME A STOCKIST? “We have signed up independent smaller stores, as well as those with a larger presence and multiple stores in the UK. All of them, however, have one thing in common: Seeing the opportunity to be part of a programme that will grow and bring benefits that they do not want to miss out on. “Those who offer excellent customer service are, of course, important to us as they become guardians of our brand reputation and championing our business ethos

“Now that the merger with Apex is complete, we have the capacity, and also ambition, to really shout about these important products.” GREG WHELAN

of integrity, professionalism and innovation.” WHAT DO YOU THINK 2021 HOLDS FOR APEX AND THE INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE? “It’s an exciting time for Apex as we emerge from both the merger with Nexus and also as we hopefully start to move beyond this pandemic. “As a company, we have innovation at our core. This is going to be important as we start to understand and match requirements posed by a return to normality that will, undoubtedly, be coloured by what has been learnt during 2020. “We expect it to be challenging, however, we are really excited by what the next months will bring.” www.apexmedicalcorp.com/uk

Nexus becomes Apex In June 2017, Apex Medical Corp. – the TWSE listed manufacturer of wound management and respiratory therapy products – acquired Nexus DMS Ltd. The purchase of the UK healthcare profiling bed specialist marked Apex Medical Corp.’s ambition to develop its offering in the community and acute markets. At the end of November 2020, Nexus DMS was merged into Apex Medical Ltd. According to Apex Medical Ltd, combining both businesses allows for more effective and streamlined systems, aiding efficiency and productivity.


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Trade Thoughts What have you learned about yourself as a business leader over 2020? What a year! Lockdowns, disruption, tiers, restrictions, COVID-secure measures and overwhelming uncertainty kept retail leaders in the industry constantly on their toes. After all the challenges and the triumphs of 2020, five retailers reflect on what they learned about themselves as businesspeople over the year.

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Mike Williams

Billy Finnie

Managing Director of Ableworld

Operations Manager of Mobility Scotland

An interesting one. I don’t believe it’s just about running a business, it’s about life in general. In running Ableworld, you realise, even stronger than before, how important your colleagues and business contacts are. The ones that rose to the challenge of supporting the company, let that be our great staff or the suppliers that kept open and supported us throughout the period. “I must admit, I have got a bit more impatient with those in the country (luckily very few in our company) that had hoped to be furloughed, straight onto Facebook to celebrate the fact with a glass of Prosecco and then party on Bournemouth beach spreading the virus! “So, I have become even more resolved to support those that support us and this period has strengthened my concern of making sure the business is successful. It’s always a worry at a Christmas Party (remember those?) when you look out at all the families and realise how important the success of the business is to all those people in paying mortgages etc. “So I’m now even less tolerant of those who believe they are owed a living.

The COVID-19 impact throughout 2020 was brutal; you do not need me to tell you that. Never did we think it would have gone so deep, so quickly. However, like many of my counterparts and colleagues, we adjusted quickly and restructured longstanding business models in response to the fast-moving virus. In a way, COVID-19 accelerated change within the workplace and forced a rethink on traditional methods and values and routes to market. “The monumental fight for survival started in earnest the night Boris made his announcement with the subsequent disruption and chaos which ensued in the wake of the government’s everchanging rules. We had to contend with logistical issues, supply chain disruptions, furloughing, fluctuating lockdowns, track and trace, PPE and the debilitating impact of selfisolating, as well as not forsaking the ever-present risk of infection as we delivered our service. But we generally rolled with the punches and adapted to change. “Personally, my aha moment was realising the need to become comfortable with uncertainly whilst increasing my capacity for empathy. Consultation and communication were other positive areas for the team and allowed anxieties and concerns to be addressed and aired, as well as improving team productivity over a shorter working week whilst always adding value to our customers who now needed our services more than ever – and, of course, still do.


Richard Holland-Oakes

Karen Sheppard

Alastair Gibbs

Managing Director of Recare

Managing Director of People First Mobility

Managing Director of TPG DisableAids

It is not something that occurs often in business; having the opportunity to stop business for nearly four months to revitalise and review your processes. Being able to analyse issues and problems, strategies and infrastructure clearly and the development out of the pandemic is crucial to success. “We have reinvested in vast areas – supply, software, hardware, marketing and website development. Recare is a fastmoving company and has seen extensive growth in recent years and has had to make many adjustments during that time. This often leads to very quickly implemented systems and processes that had their limitations, however, got us through the hectic times. “It is much like getting off your bike, looking back at what you were doing and what you need to do, and getting back on it with the problems eradicated. “We are now prepared to make changes following the lockdown opportunity. We have maintained open communication with our team on our commitment to not only Recare but to them as employees. We have informed them on investments and even the challenges that have been addressed. “Due to the changing of processes, every job here has somewhat changed. When the new systems have been built and implemented, the team are prepared for further changes.”

A business leader requires a whole range of skills. There is the responsibility that it brings, how to be resilient and adapt quickly, staying and keeping team members, having good communication and possessing a diverse set of skills and qualities. “You are told to expect the unexpected and be able to adapt and change plans to the current climate. I already knew I could cope with what life threw at me as a person and now I know that I can be adaptable and cope with unforeseen problems in the business world too. “COVID to the business world was the same as what cancer was to my body - always a possibility but you never expect to witness it. They both came without any warning and to go through it and out the other side can be painful, tiring and takes time to recover. “I have also learned that to be a good leader, you need to take time out for yourself – even if only half hour a day. My mental wellbeing was suffering and until lockdown, I didn’t even know until I had some time out. “Being a good leader doesn’t mean working round the clock.

As a managing director of a modest business in the world of equipment for the elderly and disabled, it has been humbling to see the efforts put in by all of our team when the chips were down. It would have been easy for some to have stepped aside and said ‘not for me’ when we asked them to go out into the unknown to do a job. “It has shown that we have an exceptional team and they get the concept of service to our customers. I guess the question is, what makes this team work so well? “I strive to be a leader rather than a manager and offer to educate rather than assume knowledge. “If nothing else, COVID-19 has taught us all that we are not immortal, we do not stand alone and we must take a positive approach to the provision of solutions.

Have you got a trade thought that you would like industry leaders to discuss? Contact Calvin Barnett at calvin@thiis.co.uk to share your topic.

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LET’S GET IT CLEAR

What makes a good cushion? 6. The benefits to skin care of the right cover The cover of the cushion is arguably the most important element of a cushion for caring for the tissues of the skin, in that this is the part of the cushion closest to the skin. Therefore, the materials that the cover is made from will have an effect on the facility of immersion and envelopment, on friction and hence shear stresses on the skin, and on the microclimate at the skin’s surface. In this article, we explore various elements to consider when selecting the most appropriate cover for a client’s cushion. IMMERSION AND ENVELOPMENT In part five1, we covered the importance of envelopment of the buttocks for maximising pressure redistribution. To facilitate this,

Dr ter Haar has been involved in seating and mobility for over 30 years, including lecturing internationally and developing international seating and decontamination standards.

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This is the sixth article in a series which aims to start getting people thinking more about what goes into a cushion that makes it ‘good’ for one person, but maybe not so good for another. In the first article, we identified the three key elements around which a cushion can be assessed – functionality, posture management, and tissue integrity. In the third and fourth articles, we addressed the benefits of a neutral pelvis and stability for posture management, and contouring of the cushion to optimise positioning. Parts five and six cover the elements of a cushion that address the integrity of the tissues of the skin: this article concentrates on the influence of the cushion’s cover.

Figure 1. Example of body tissue strains resulting from contact surface stresses when sitting on a cushion. Complex strains are developed inside the cushion as well.

the cover has to have sufficient stretchability and flexibility to allow for full immersion into, and envelopment from, the cushion – any cover materials without these properties will lead to ‘hammocking’ and incomplete potential envelopment. Any taut material is likely to have an adverse effect around the ischial tuberosities – the area most at risk from pressure damage. FRICTION AND SHEAR In the August 2020 issue of THIIS2, I covered the definitions of, and differences between, pressure, shear, and friction. Static friction helps to keep us in our seats, but is also what grabs the skin and distorts it. These shear forces lead to distortion of the shape of the cells in our skin and also our blood capillaries (shear strain) - too much distortion for too long leads to cell death. This is on

top of the damage from compression of the tissues and blood vessels from the pressures (axial strain) created by gravity pulling down on the mass of our bodies (Fig. 1). For most people, there is more flesh under the thighs than under the bony bits of the pelvis. Thus, there is more tissue under the thighs than there is under the pelvis to take up the shear stresses of sitting. With this in mind, it is ideal if the material under the pelvis can, to some degree, move with the skin, while having grippier material under the thighs (to stop us slipping into posterior pelvic tilt or out of the seat) (Fig. 2). RISKS FROM TRANSFERS During transfers, there are two key sources of risk to skin tissues from the design of a cushion. The first relates to the ‘slipperiness’ of the cover materials – the less the friction, the easier to slide across it


wash, the other is available to place on the cushion to protect the skin – see part two3 in this series of articles. The furnishing flammability standards and the REACH regulations had started to get in the way of designing good cushion and cover materials for optimal protection of the skin in medical products. For this reason, the flammability testing for cushions and other wheelchair postural support devices have been updated in the ISO 16840-10 standard4. For more details, see the May issue of THIIS5.

Figure 2. Relative effects of shear strain on thinner tissues under a bony prominence (ischial tuberosity) as compared with deeper tissues (under the femur along the thighs)

and the less ‘grabbing’ of the skin and therefore less shear strain on the skin tissue. The second relates to the degree of contouring of the cushion – the greater the profile of any medial and lateral thigh supports, the greater the amount the user will need to lift or be lifted for a lateral (or forward) transfer. MICROCLIMATE Whereas pressure, friction, and shear can lead to pressure ulcers, there’s another element that has an influence on skin health and that’s the microclimate at the skin’s surface. Microclimate covers the effects of temperature and moisture. Taking temperature first: If a cushion has been stored overnight in a cold environment, then sitting on this cold surface could encourage capillary closure and therefore restrict the transfer of nutrients to the tissues. If the temperature is too high, this leads to the risk of sweating and moisture accumulation. An important side-effect of higher temperatures is that each one degree centigrade of increase in temperature leads to 13 per cent more metabolic demand: 13 per cent more oxygen and nutrients needed, and 13 per cent more carbon dioxide and metabolites to be disposed of. When we come to moisture, this comes from the skin as water vapour or as sweat. Non-breathable cover materials often lead to water vapour not being able to dissipate away

and thus leads to moisture build up. Moisture on the skin leads to maceration (the wrinkling of the skin we get with having our hands in water for too long) and macerated skin is more susceptible to the effects of friction and shear. Further sources of moisture can come from leaking wounds and faecal or urinary incontinence. The take home message is, again, that the material that the cushion cover is made from is critical to the health of the user’s skin. Issuing a water-resistant or ‘incontinence’ cover may protect the cushion from the user’s outputs, but the water vapour permeability will have a large influence on whether the water vapour will condense or wick away. So, how much do we want to protect the cushion versus protecting the user? CUSHION ADDITIVES Both cushions and covers may have additives to their materials, in particular to improve their resistance to ignition. Since cushions may be placed against bare skin, there are biocompatibility and REACH-related requirements for these chemicals. Be aware that some of these chemicals will be removed in washing processes and cushions which pass flammability tests when new may lose some of this protection after washing. However, the washability of covers is important. Users are recommended to have two covers so that when one is in the

IN CONCLUSION There are always elements of compromise for each user. The process of assessing the risk/benefit profile will indicate which cover solution is the most appropriate for each client. From the topics covered in this article, what the cover of a cushion is made from is critical for optimising tissue integrity, whether it is from enabling envelopment into the cushion, reducing the risks from friction and shear strain, or keeping air circulating to optimise temperature and moisture control at the microclimate level. The cushion materials have more influence on positioning and pressure redistribution. Cushion Cover Tissue Integrity Check/score as per your cushion cover’s ability to meet the user’s needs 1. Immersion 2. Envelopment 3. Friction optimisation 4. Shear reduction under ITs 5. Breathable cover 6. Microclimate management 7. Washability 8. Ignition resistance 9. Biocompatible components What makes a good cushion? 5. Pressure Care THIIS December 2020 pp 60-62

1

Pressure, Shear, and Friction. What’s the difference, how do they relate, and why should each be managed in their own right? THIIS August 2020 pp 52-53

2

What makes a good cushion? 2. Functionality THIIS March 2020 pp 62-63

3

ISO 16840-10:2021 Wheelchair Seating — Part 10: Resistance to ignition of postural support devices — Requirements and test method

4

You’ve been fired! Flammability standards put to the test THIIS May 2020 pp 42-43

5

www.thiis.co.uk / 33


THE OT’S PERSPECTIVE

The OT’s Perspective The Power of Collaboration By Stuart Barrow

Having worked in the world of occupational therapy for a couple of decades now, I’m fortunate to have a long list of retailers and manufacturers that I can count as friends and clients. As a result, I’ve learned first-hand the power of collaboration. I’ve never understood those individuals and organisations that close themselves off and refuse to work with others. The way I see it, we all got into the business because we want to change the world for the better. So, the more we’re able to collaborate to do that, the higher our chances of succeeding. One of our clients, Jan Wdowcyzk, definitely agrees. I sat down and grilled him about all sorts of things… WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO? “I’m Jan Wdowczyk and I’m proud to have been part of the Kingkraft team for four years now. “With a background of working within home adaption, care, education and public attraction areas for over 10 years, I have a really solid understanding of the diverse customer requirements within these sectors. “I’ve worked a lot in partnership with therapists, case managers, architects and families, which I believe is vital in order to ensure a collaborative approach that meet the needs of each and every end-user; keeping them at the heart of what we do. “I’ve recently made the transition to a digital marketing role after working in a product assessment and project management role within

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our sensory division, Sensorykraft. “Marketing has always been my passion – I’m a firm believer that innovation and new products alone are not enough to sustain a business. “For success to be achieved, it must be powered by the cogs of a solid marketing strategy. I am excited about the opportunity to expand our marketing capacity and share and promote our great products and product benefits to the wider dealer network.” WHICH MANUFACTURERS DO YOU WORK WITH? “We are very fortunate to work with some of the best manufacturers in the business and this is reflected within our high-quality product range. Ropox, Pressalit, Geberit and Guldmann promote fantastic products and solutions to complement our own manufactured products, helping us to meet the range of needs of each end-user in one project.”

Stuart Barrow sits down with Jan Wdowczyk, Digital Marketing Manager at Kingkraft, to talk collaboration, home adaptations and marketing in the healthcare sector…

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON THIS YEAR? “We are proud to have been involved in a number of exciting projects recently. Jan Wdowczyk “The national ‘Changing Places’ installation within all UK Centre Parcs venues. Facility installations that promote accessibility, independence and equality for families in need of access to specialist care equipment whilst enjoying public attraction venues. “Residential specialist school and college projects within a number of educational venues (including those residential), providing specialist sensory bathroom areas suitable and accessible for students and residents that need specialist adaptations to bathing, changing and toileting facilities.

A Kingkraft Centre Parcs Changing Places installation


“Bespoke home adaptation projects within a number of home environments, working with case managers, therapist, architects and families to meet the specialist adaptation requirements for endusers to access and enjoy safely within their home. “Care home projects within a number of care settings, expertly tailored for the needs of both young and older users. Providing specialist equipment to meet the bathing, changing, toileting and sensory needs of residents.” HAVE YOU GOT PLANS FOR FUTURE PARTNERSHIPS AND PRODUCTS? “We’ve been at the forefront of manufacturing height-adjustable baths, basins and changing tables for the past 35 years. We are currently expanding, including the build of our brand-new offices and a new product showroom in Sheffield, which we are excited to use for product demos and training sessions.

“This has been done to help facilitate our future dealership growth plans. “We’re also excited to be moving forward with increased focus on promoting our own manufactured products and we are actively developing new partnerships within the UK trade market. “What’s more, we have a number of brand-new, exciting products due for launch in 2021 that will certainly appeal to the trade market. “Neal Dadswell, Head of Sales and Development, will be championing the expansion of new and existing trade partnerships. For further details or to arrange a meeting, contact Neal on 07703537202 or n.dadswell@kingkraft.co.uk” WHY SHOULD SOMEONE WORK WITH YOU AS A TRADE PARTNER? “As I said, collaboration is key. For us, the most important thing is achieving the result for the enduser, and whether it’s one of our own products that’s achieved that

Promoting Independence Ltd offer four main services

Bespoke Occupational Therapy Consultancy to Manufacturers/ Suppliers of Goods or Services to the Disabled

Bespoke Occupational Therapy Assessments and Recommendations to individuals with a disability or impairment either directly or through their advocate / charity / fund holder

Stuart Barrow of Promoting Independence is a member of the British Association of Occupational Therapists panel and a recognised contributor in the field of home adaptations. He also runs the popular Occupational Therapy Adaptations Conference

result or one of our partners, we’re happy either way. “If you’d like to talk about the benefits of being a trade partner, get in touch with Jan Wdowczyk on 07701 325348 or alternatively, jan@kingkraft.co.uk.”

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Life after lockdown part 2 36 / www.thiis.co.uk

2020 was filled with ups and downs. In Q1, the promise of strong trading was in the air. Q2 saw COVID-19 spread and the first unprecedented lockdown, where confusion and uncertainty dominated. The warmer Q3 period brought with it a bounce-back as hope reentered the picture. Q4’s bitter cold also came with a bitter reminder that COVID-19 was still with us as another lockdown was introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As the industry looks to 2021, THIIS spoke with key mobility retailers to discover what impact last year’s winter lockdown had on business.


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LIFE AFTER LOCKDOWN

Recare’s Richard Holland-Oakes (pictured right) has used the lockdown lulls to invest in infrastructure so it is ready to capitalise during a post-pandemic recovery – Image taken before pandemic

LOCKDOWN DÉJÀ VU For the industry and the country as a whole, seeing the end of the first lockdown in June was historic, marking the end of a strange and difficult period. Exiting the first lockdown and enjoying a recovery in the summer, there was a degree of optimism in the air. By mid-September, however, rapidly rising cases saw the government and devolved administrations come under pressure to act. Increasingly in October, there were calls for a short, temporary lockdown – referred to as ‘circuit breaker’. Reluctant to place the UK into another national lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson rolled out a ‘three-tier lockdown system’ instead. The scheme placed localised restrictions based on the prevalence of the virus. The devolved administration in Wales, on the other hand, announced on 19 October that it was introducing a ‘firebreak’ from 23 October until 9 November. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola

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Sturgeon confirmed on 23 October that it would introduce a five-tier system, while Northern Ireland opted for short circuit-breaks. With cases rising and concerns mounting over the NHS’ ability to cope in England, Boris Johnson confirmed on 31 October that England would enter its second national lockdown from 5 November until 2 December. With just four days to prepare, mobility retailers in England found themselves, once again, facing the prospect of a steep fall in demand during the industry’s already quiet season. LOCKDOWN BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT Despite being called a lockdown, the second autumn/winter lockdown had some notable differences. Schools remained open and the clinically vulnerable were not required to shield. One thing that had not changed, however, was the requirement for non-essential retail shops to close. Omitted from the government’s

essential retail list again, mobility retailers found themselves in the familiar position of being unsure whether their showrooms were deemed ‘essential’.

“What was more interesting during the second lockdown was people’s willingness to have people into private properties for assessments, installations, servicing and breakdowns - to name a few” RICHARD HOLLAND-OAKES


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LIFE AFTER LOCKDOWN

For high street retailers such as People First Mobility, the lockdowns have proven difficult as anchor shops in town centres closed

On 4 November, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA)’s CEO, Dr Simon Festing, announced to its members that the Association’s interpretation of the government guidelines classed mobility retailers as essential. “It is the BHTA’s understanding that, as part of the health and care supply chain, equipment for disabled people and the elderly are considered to be ‘essential’ and, therefore, retailers are permitted to operate during the lockdown,” he confirmed. It was not until late into lockdown, however, when the government finally added mobility retailers to its ‘essential’ list. Despite the early clarification from the BHTA, some mobility retailers in the sector decided to close during the second lockdown while awaiting official confirmation from the government. THE IMPACT ON THE INDUSTRY Just before the second lockdown, THIIS conducted its ‘State of Play’ survey – a follow up to the June survey. 40 retail bosses responsible for over 175 of England’s mobility

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showrooms detailed their lockdown plans, with the results significantly differing from the spring. According to November’s survey, mobility retailers took a markedly different approach to shutting showrooms when compared to the spring. An overwhelming 77.5 per cent confirmed they would keep their showrooms open throughout the lockdown. In comparison, spring saw 65 per cent of mobility retailers temporarily closing their stores at some point over the period. The shift in results between spring and autumn reflected how much the industry’s approach to lockdown had changed – and that change in mood was reflected by shoppers. DOWN BUT NOT OUT Skegness-based People First Mobility were one of the retailers in the industry to shut its showroom doors during both lockdowns. As Managing Director Karen Sheppard notes, however, the second lockdown had a distinctly different feel to it. “The first lockdown was a lot stricter than the second, with not

even cafes allowed to open for takeaway, so footfall in town was very low with only two chemists open for people to go to,” she explains. “The second lockdown was less so. Despite retail being closed, shops could still offer a ‘click-and-collect or ‘home delivery’ service which we found people used. More shops were open in the town so people could venture out to several stores at once and coffee shops opened with takeaway service. The government didn’t push the stay-at-home message as hard on the second lockdown so traffic and footfall saw an increase over the first lockdown.” This change in lockdown sentiment, with more people out and about, seemed to be the case across England as a whole. Boasting over 30 branches across the UK, Mike Williams, Managing Director of Ableworld, emphasises that the second lockdown failed to significantly dampen the mood of its customers as it had in the spring. “The second lockdown was a totally different experience to the first, possibly more disappointing personally, as I, like the rest of the country, was hoping that it wouldn’t happen,” he explains. “Business-wise, in the first lockdown, we immediately furloughed around half of our staff, closed a few stores on Saturdays (kept open the rest of the week) and

“I understand that we are now classed as an essential retailer so any further lockdowns we have the green light to stay open. Will this truly be beneficial to the business?” KAREN SHEPPARD


were also looking, in some stores, at a 50 per cent reduction in business.” According to Mike, the company enjoyed the ride of the recovery wave in the summer, with a sales boost in June. It also brought forward its summer sale forward, sent out around a million leaflets and saw a sharp increase in footfall and sales. “In the second lockdown, we took a different stance. At present, in the company-owned stores, we only have two people on furlough (out of 150 staff) and promised up to Christmas that we would not be furloughing others – we will review in the New year but if we do furlough, it will be very limited,” he continues. “We opened normal hours and have no plans to change that. In the second lockdown period, business stayed level to last year (although below our planned budgets).” Ableworld was not the only company in the mobility retail sector that saw business remain largely unaffected during the second lockdown. Stuart Mobility,

a specialist in riser recline and healthcare chairs, also enjoyed a relatively successful trade over November. “The first lockdown saw business come to a grinding halt as the country followed guidelines and retreated inside,” says Justina Nurse, Managing Director of Stuart Mobility. “Care homes closed and OTs went virtual, leaving assessments and visits non-existent. However, as more guidance came out and seating became more and more essential, work started to increase. Our showroom has always been appointment only to enable a personal service and proper assessment, so we did not have to change much when the pandemic hit.” Introducing COVID-secure measures during the first lockdown, including hand sanitisers and PPE, Stuart Mobility weathered the first couple of months, despite seeing a distinct fall in important care home enquiries. “Business started to increase from

“Those manufacturers that chose to cut out the distributors in these large deals may well find themselves in great need of those distributors going forward…” ALASTAIR GIBBS

May onwards with a dip in July but then a steady increase every month from then onwards,” continues Justina. “Our year-end in May saw an overall increase in turnover by 12.7 per cent from the previous year, so despite the virus, we performed well over the 19/20 financial year. The

TPG’s Alastair questions what impact the redistribution of excess equipment supplied to the Nightingale hospitals will have on suppliers in the mid to long term

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LIFE AFTER LOCKDOWN second lockdown had no effect on us at all and our sales increased greatly during November.” Oxfordshire-headquartered mobility specialist Recare’s founder and managing director Richard Holland-Oakes notes it was not just customers’ willingness to leave the house that was different in the lockdown. “What was more interesting during the second lockdown was people’s willingness to have people into private properties for assessments, installations, servicing and breakdowns - to name a few,” he points out. “Many who were previously wary and who were strictly shielding during the initial lockdown had no intentions to venture out. It resulted in a sharp increase in all-terrain product enquiries after the first lockdown.” CONTENDING WITH LOCKDOWN CHALLENGES While the second lockdown did not result in the same declining levels of demand as experienced in the first lockdown, its effects have still been felt across the industry. Many retailers were still reeling from the first lockdown, eventually exiting the industry completely after being unable or unwilling to rebuild. Recare’s managing director notes that some smaller companies in the sector still have staff on the furlough scheme and have scaled back operations. While the scheme may help reduce financial burdens, Richard also says it means those companies are potentially losing out to competitors and weakening their ability to recover. “The whole industry fears that these smaller companies, many of whom have been going for many years and ran by very dedicated people, risk losing all they have built due to something that is entirely out of control, he says. “For these companies, it is disheartening to have conversations about whether they will be able to recover from this experience after the furlough scheme ends. It will be discouraging to see many more people being made redundant

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following the return to what will be the new normal.” So, for those already struggling, a second lockdown announcement came as unwelcome news as the industry entered its traditionally quieter period. In particular, high street retailers, who often rely on footfall from surrounding shops, found themselves isolated as nonessential retailers closed. Considering the plight of the high street mobility providers, Recare’s Richard Holland-Oakes continues: “Many other companies within the rehabilitation, care and mobility industry have shop fronts in high street areas, with footfall their most prominent source of income. “Naturally, with the banks and many shops being forced to close, high street mobility retailers likely saw a significant reduction in footfall that they would not have necessarily seen without the coronavirus. “Everyone knows the high streets have seen a steady decline over the years as people enjoy the economic and social benefits of being able to purchase products direct to your home address. This has developed to be such a convenient way to buy for both consumers and suppliers.” With its shop on the high street in a destination that largely relies on the tourism and hospitality sectors, both lockdowns particularly hit People First Mobility’s 2020 trading. “Before the autumn lockdown, the government and local authorities had extended the local caravan sites opening season,” she says. “Unfortunately, our customers had to travel home as the sites closed due to lockdown and then tier three classification.” Karen also concedes that the lockdowns have accelerated a move to online but she still maintains that people, particularly elderly customers, still like to visit physical high street shops. “The closure of shops also necessitated a clear shift towards online,” she says. “However, we still have a reasonable proportion of elderly customers who are not online and who are not internet savvy.

“…the Ableworld Model will, I believe, continue strongly and we will open more stores in 2021.” MIKE WILLIAMS

“Some customers who would call in weekly to say hello and to bring the weekly cakes or biscuits are now not venturing out as far or as often, even after lockdown. If they are not out as much, then, in turn, that reflects on the scooters not needing repairs and services.” With restrictions compounding the already lower demand for bigticket mobility aids over the winter months, TPG DisableAids Managing Director Alastair Gibbs stresses that the lockdowns have reinforced the need for mobility retailers in the industry to diversify. “It has to be said that although we did keep the showroom open to supply critical and essential supplies to those in need, the other mobility aids for new users has seen very little activity,” said the Herefordshire-based retail boss. “Now that the winter season is upon us, we are extremely fortunate not to rely on just mobility for our turnover. For those mobility retailers that have little else to offer with regards to full-service contracts with local authorities or NHS, I do fear that business will need to change still further to remain viable. I guess this is another lesson in diversification and spreading the risks over a broad product basket to lessen the impact on any one sector.” A THIRD LOCKDOWN ON THE HORIZON? With the potential of another lockdown at the start of 2021 amid rising cases, mobility retailers may well face a difficult start to the new year. Unlike the first and second lockdowns, retailers in the industry would enter a third with the


knowledge that they are officially classed as ‘essential’ retailers. After sustained lobbying by retailers and the BHTA to local MPs and government, the mobility retail sector was formally included in the government’s “essential” business list late into November. The announcement came as welcome news to many in the sector, providing much-needed clarity in the event of another lockdown. “The most annoying factor in all this was trying to prove to various councils etc that we were an essential retailer – it’s obvious,” says Ableworld’s Mike Williams, recollecting about his efforts to have his stores officially recognised. “So, a lot of my time was spent arguing with various bodies and persuading people we should be on the ‘list’. I thank others in our industry that have also been arguing the point, at long last we are now all recognised!” Echoing Mike’s sentiments, Stuart Mobility’s Justina Nurse adds: “The news from the BHTA to say we had been classed as essential was welcome and I believe if a third lockdown or local restrictions were implemented, the essential

classification should help the sector weather the restrictions.” A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD The confirmation that mobility retailers will be able to keep their showrooms, even during a lockdown or in tier three zones, will help business leaders plan and continue generating sales. Interestingly, People First Mobility’s Karen Sheppard questions whether the classification was the ideal outcome for all retailers in the sector. “I understand that we are now classed as an essential retailer so any further lockdowns we have the green light to stay open. Will this truly be beneficial to the business?” asks the retail boss. “Footfall will be low in a lockdown, holidaymakers unable to travel and costs of staff wages and utility bills must be covered with no help for the downturn in trade. If able to close then some grants are usually given to help but if we close as an essential retailer through our own choice, no grants will be available. “I do think that our products and services are essential to many, however, there should be something in place if businesses around

you are closed due to a lockdown affecting trade for those that remain open.” RECOVERY ON THE HORIZON Rather than focusing on the doom and gloom of another possible lockdown, the industry may be able to look forward to another potential recovery – as enjoyed over the summer of 2020. Striking an optimistic tone, Ableworld’s Mike considers whether a Q1 postlockdown recovery is on the cards for Ableworld. “Yes! We are in an industry that is growing and will continue to grow and, as a retailer, I believe (as is already happening) that more and more will be pushed towards the private sector,” he maintains. “So, therefore, yes - the Ableworld Model will, I believe, continue strongly and we will open more stores in 2021. “Once again, in the new year, we will be having a strong sale offer, market heavily and be positive about the future. We have the news about the vaccine and we all hope that is successful as well.” Similarly, Stuart Mobility hopes for a strong start to the year, with

Ableworld’s founder Mike Williams remains confident of a strong start to the new year, fuelled with a large-scale sale

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LIFE AFTER LOCKDOWN winter proving to be the busier period for riser recliners. “As a specialist company, we are expecting a strong recovery and increased sales for 20/21 - sales are already up on this time last year,” says MD Justina Nurse. “Our marketing is working well but recommendations are also on the increase and we have started to work with new suppliers as well as keeping our strong relationships with our current suppliers, Repose Furniture and Electric Mobility.” On the coast, however, People First Mobility’s Karen was more doubtful of a rapid return of business as experienced in the summer of 2020. With the winter chill in the air and a loosening of restrictions for five days over the festive period, the seaside retailer worries that the November lockdown was just a precursor to a stricter one in January. “Summer 2020 saw a strong recovery for a few months because it was warmer weather and the holiday sites opened back up with people allowed to travel, plus people were desperate to get out after a long three months,” she explains. “This time, it will be a lot quieter and recovery will be slow and hard. With five days at Christmas to be able to mix and travel to different tiers, a further lockdown in January or February, I believe, is imminent. “Q1 is always a quiet quarter and, this time, I foresee it being even quieter.” Predicting a difficult winter and spring, Karen hopes that Easter may mark a positive change and return to normality, fuelled by warmer weather, fewer cases, more testing and vaccines. The potential for a vaccine to help the industry, and the nation, to overcome the pandemic is also not lost on Recare’s Richard HollandOakes. However, so too is the potential impact of Brexit. “The vaccine will help our clients’ confidence to increase in 2021 and it has the potential to stimulate growth in various industries,” he says. “There is, of course, the implementation of Brexit, which is a significant variable which is

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not something anyone can truly predict the impact of. As long as the economy holds up and charities and other services can manage the influx of those who require financial aid and equipment, Recare is in a position to see a strong start to 2021 following our strong end to 2020.” People First Mobility’s Karen wonders what damage a weakened economy may have on retailers in the sector. “With many people losing their jobs as big brand names go into receivership, people have less money to spend,” she says. “Within the older age sector of our customers, hopefully, this isn’t an issue as they still have their pensions, but will they use their savings to help out children and grandchildren financially?” Also considering the wider impact of the virus, TPG DisableAids’ Alastair Gibbs points out the unfortunate fact that many of the lives lost to COVID were, and continue to be, primarily made up of the mobility sector’s key demographics. “It must not be forgotten that COVID-19 has cut short the lives of very many people that were just moving into our traditional market sector. It is reported that nine out of ten COVID-19 related deaths are over the age of 65,” says Alastair, regretfully. “In other words that is at least 50,000 UK residents removed from our industry’s main target audience. I have no doubt that this will have some impact on the ability of some companies to recover any lost ground or indeed remain viable in their current form.” THE 2021 OUTLOOK As industry players in the mobility sector look to 2021, the year promises many more challenges for business leaders to contend with. While hopes of a vaccine lay on the horizon, it is almost a certainty that the virus is also not planning on going anywhere soon. And, as Rishi Sunak announced to the nation on the 25 November, the UK’s “economic emergency has only just begun.”

With government spending and stimulus packages likely to be tightened, Alastair suggests that it may be equipment suppliers that face the most significant challenges soon. “I think some suppliers saw some exceptional business with supplies to NHS Nightingale Hospitals, buying additional beds, hoists, mattresses, etc. to equip these overflow hospitals,” he says. “As those hospitals start to disband and break up, the equipment will be distributed to the other areas that are the traditional buyers. This may well mean saturation of equipment in the marketplace and no need to purchase any more for several years to come. “Those manufacturers that chose to cut out the distributors in these large deals may well find themselves in great need of those distributors going forward to find sales for the odd one or two units here and there.” The impact of a health and social care system with less money to spend on equipment and excess supplies may intensify the challenges facing suppliers wrestling with Brexit, supply chain shortages and shipping problems. Considering what the next 12 months hold for retailers in the sector, the outlook from all the mobility firm bosses were largely positive – a sign of the level of resilience that each has built over 2020. “The majority of the mobility retail sector will survive and come back stronger,” states People First Mobility’s Karen.

“This whole pandemic has made our business stronger, more resilient and as a family business left us feeling grateful.” JUSTINA NURSE


The mobility retail bosses consider how much the lockdowns have encouraged key demographics to look online

“For us, I am confident that the next 12 months will be better than the last 12. There is a lot of work to be done and resilience will be key.” Importantly for Karen, the ability for retailers, particularly on the UK’s high streets, to recover and develop will require the assistance of local and central government to help the already beleaguered shopping hubs. “Government and councils have to help the high street and invest in free parking to get people into towns. With many high street names failing, the towns will need investment,” she asserted. “Businesses will pass through distinct phases which include aspects of survival, consolidation and innovation.” Refusing to let the pandemic and the shifting restrictions dampen its plans, Ableworld has committed to continuing its expansion in 2021. “Business at Ableworld hasn’t changed that much,” comments Mike.

“We are still meeting people in a sensible environment (not a great lover of Zoom etc.), looking for new stores, ranges, new franchises, and still intend to drive the business forward to keep our position as number one retailer in the industry. “In the background, we have to hope that some people are more sensible than we see daily on the news.” If the term to describe 2020 was ‘uncertainty’, 2021’s will most certainly be ‘resilience’ as mobility retailers face another challenging year ahead. Rather than letting the potential hardships consume their thoughts, though, many retailers are heading into the next 12 months confident in their ability to overcome. “The next 12 months will see a new way of doing business which we are prepared for,” asserts Recare’s Richard. “Due to the majority of Recare’s business being national complex

rehabilitation products, this is an area that will never see an actual drop in value and growth as people that require complex equipment are not fortunate enough to delay for long periods due to extenuating circumstances. “Recare has continued to invest throughout the lockdown, and much of our avenues have experienced growth, regardless of the months lost to lockdown.” Equally as bullish, Stuart Mobility’s Justina Nurse ends: “We have plans to increase sales and to keep growing in the year ahead. “This whole pandemic has made our business stronger, more resilient and as a family business left us feeling grateful.”

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RETAILER SPOTLIGHT An illuminated cube display captures the attention of customers entering the showroom

Bringing new freedom to customers Shopping is generally thought of as a pleasurable experience for a lot of people, so why shouldn’t people associate that with buying a lifechanging mobility product? Giles Donald, Founder of Wheelfreedom, doesn’t see why not. He opened his new showroom in Chessington earlier this year with exactly that goal in mind. “We feel that coming to our

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showroom should be an experience that people can enjoy and feel that they are getting the most out of,” states Giles. “I don’t see why they shouldn’t be excited about the opportunities that these products can bring.” This determination to offer a stand-out customer experience in the industry is nothing new for the mobility retail maverick. It was

Giles Donald, Founder of Wheelfreedom, talks to THIIS about his unique mobility retail model, an innovative new retail space in Chessington and the challenges of opening a showroom during the pandemic…

this desire to transform how people got hold of their equipment that inspired him to enter the industry over a decade ago. SETTING THE WHEELS IN MOTION A personal experience led to Giles’ introduction to the industry back in 2007. It was while working in London for a niche recruitment business that he heard a friend had


RETAILER SPOTLIGHT

“We see ourselves as an assessment centre for customers to come and get fitted for the most suitable equipment” GILES DONALD

these instances, you really need a wheelchair but NHS Trusts generally don’t supply them for the short term.” The short-term hire service also set the wheels in motion for Giles to look at other ways to help people with particular needs…

Giles Donald, Founder of Wheelfreedom

been having problems finding a wheelchair for a sick relative. “It was a palliative care scenario and a case of them needing to hire a wheelchair for the short-term. He couldn’t find anything suitable and ended up having to buy something for a substantial amount of money. Shortly afterwards, they were left with an almost-new product and no use for it,” says the Wheelfreedom boss. Giles and his friend Henry, now a co-director, agreed that there had to be a better way. “That’s where we came up with our new concept of hiring out equipment,” continues Giles. “There wasn’t really that kind of thing available at the time. If you wanted to hire a wheelchair, it could

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be quite complicated and expensive. People would have to leave big deposits and they would, more than likely, have to go and pick it up.” Giles and Henry launched Wheelfreedom with the aim of offering a nationwide manual wheelchair hire service with next morning delivery, making it simpler and more convenient for the customer. The service was aimed at helping people with an immediate need for a standard wheelchair rather than the prescriptive market, highlights Giles. “It could be someone who has an elderly relative with limited mobility visiting or someone who has left hospital and has been told by the NHS to keep their leg elevated. In

TO SEE, TOUCH AND TRY By 2012, Wheelfreedom was becoming more mainstream and it began to offer powered equipment, such as mobility scooters, for customers to purchase as well as hire. This particular part of the business, however, would only cover London and the South East. Giles explains: “The new part of the business was focused on products which we needed to assess for and have one of our team hand over. Customer service had always been the number one priority for us in the business and we wanted to make sure we had our own team of engineers looking after our customers. We didn’t want to outsource to third parties.” From its industrial unit base in London, the company had its own team of assessors visiting people in their homes to assess them for equipment. This home-based assessment service was – and remains – critical to the business. However, Giles also saw demand from people who wanted to visit an environment where they could get a full understanding of the different products and models available, seeing and trying a range before making that all-important purchase. “If someone is new to the industry and they are looking


for a prescriptive powerchair, for example, they often want to see what the whole market has to offer. We were already partnered with the major manufacturers and so that was where the idea for our new showroom stemmed from,” says Giles. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION Finding the perfect location for the company’s new HQ took a couple of years, he says. The team were originally looking at a site closer to where they had been based in London. After being unable to find what they were looking for, though, they decided to extend their search area a year ago. Eventually, they found the perfect spot for their business in Chessington.

“We’ve got a great team in the business and we really wanted to make sure the location worked for them,” emphasises Giles. “Our site in Chessington is working out well as it is very well connected into London and is just off the A3 and M25. Being a little bit further out of town has also given us a bit more flexibility in what we can do with the space. “We have lots of onsite parking and the layout of the unit means we have a customer-facing environment at the front but we also have [hidden] space at the back for our decontamination unit, workshop, warehousing and so on.” Located on a business park rather than on the high street, the business does not have any signage or

footfall. Giles stresses that the new showroom is a departure from the ‘traditional’ mobility shop. “When you are trying to cater for so many product ranges, it becomes impossible to do that from a small space and you can’t give the customer the choice and experience. Being able to have enough space and a large number of products is key,” he continues. “We see ourselves as an assessment centre for customers to come and get assessed for the right equipment. People are booking an appointment for a certain piece of equipment rather than coming to browse as in the more traditional retail spaces.”

Eye-catching graphics

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RETAILER SPOTLIGHT

Striking props show how equipment can be deployed in day-to-day life

KEEPING IT IN ON THE DOWN-LOW Wheelfreedom’s showroom opened without too much fanfare just before the autumn lockdown last year. Giles says that they deliberately didn’t tell people about it. “It sounds crazy but when we opened, we always wanted to open very quietly. We didn’t want a flood of customers to come and not be able to meet their needs properly,” explains the retail leader. “We wanted to get feedback from our customers, check our systems worked correctly and make sure our staff had all the correct training. There was no big unveiling. The only way people have found out about us is through word of mouth.” A CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE Consistently prioritising the experience of the customer, Wheelfreedom’s retail model prides itself on the level of expertise it can offer, details Giles. When a customer makes an appointment at Wheelfreedom’s

showroom, the mobility boss says they can expect to be given tailored information about what they need from a specialist with in-depth knowledge of a specific product base. The HQ’s onsite workshop also enables the retailer to make repairs and adjustments quickly. Maintaining its commitment to ensuring customers work with dedicated Wheelfreedom team members, the company boasts a fleet of vans with a team of mobile engineers, while new purchases are delivered and set up by its own staff – a service which is included in the price. A key feature of Wheelfreedom’s service is that if a user does have a problem with their equipment, the company will loan out one of its own products so that the customer is not stranded. “We have a large fleet of loan scooters and prescriptive powerchairs, and so on. So, if a customer’s product needs to come in

Let the Powerpack do the pushing Incredibly easy to fit and simple to remove Designed and made in the UK Range of up to 10 miles

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for repair, we can keep them mobile and independent,” he says. Importantly, Giles asserts that it is Wheelfreedom’s aftersales service where the company differentiates itself from others in the industry. “Price is not the most important thing,” says Giles. “The customer needs to know their product is going to be backed up and looked after properly. The key thing for us is customer service.” Rather than relying on big deals or discounts, Giles says customers will instead find “good value and a transparent price” at Wheelfreedom, coupled with its customer-centric service and product expertise. Importantly, he stresses staff are not on commission or sales bonuses so a customer has the peace of mind the team have their best interests at heart. “Having one centre of excellence means we can have product specialists on hand to advise and measure customers. We want to make sure the customer is getting the correct product that they can be comfortable in for the long-term,” he says. “With rise and recline chairs, for instance, it is critical if a customer is expecting to be in one for many hours a day that it fits. The only way it will fit someone well is if it’s measured correctly and made bespoke.” Unlike its national equipment hiring services, Giles says that it is imperative that retail customers live within a strict catchment area – covering London and the South East only. According to the Wheelfreedom founder, it ensures the company is able to provide an efficient back-up service.


BRINGING STYLE TO THE SHOWROOM Arguably, the most striking aspect of Wheelfreedom’s new HQ is its spacious and contemporary retail space. For those that remember Betterlife’s concept store, Wheelfreedom’s space may look slightly familiar. That is not by chance, as the retailer engaged the same design team responsible for LloydsPharamcy’s award-winning mobility shop concept in Leeds. Ensuring customers are met with a spacious and welcoming environment when they visit was at the top of the list when designing the unique showroom, says Giles.

He notes it is about striking the right balance and being mindful of not cramming too many products into one space. “When you’ve got a whole load of equipment piled in on top of each other, the customer is not getting a real understanding or experience of it,” says Giles. “On the other hand, we didn’t want so few products that we were having to show customers brochures because they have only touched, felt and tried a couple of examples.” He continues: “Some of our customers are very experienced users of products and they know exactly what they’re looking for. “Others are new to the industry

“Having one centre of excellence means we can have product specialists on hand” GILES DONALD

and want to sit down with a cup of coffee and take the time to get a good understanding of the products, maybe come in more than once and bring along a couple of family members so that they can feel confident in what they’re purchasing.”

Equipment is well spaced out with useful information panels about each product

Call to find out more

01787 888 106 Attaches in seconds

or email trade.sales@tgamobility.co.uk www.tgamobility.co.uk QUOTE: THS20

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RETAILER SPOTLIGHT

The large airy space enables customers to move around with ease

To this end, the showroom has consultation zones and eye-catching displays that are talking points in themselves (see sidebar, pg53). THE IMPACT OF COVID Deciding to remain open during the lockdowns, Giles highlights that in the spring, the company had to scale back massively. He recounts on just how much of a challenging time it was for all of his staff, with the government’s furlough scheme and support packages proving invaluable. At the same time, Giles made sure the office, workshop and his team of engineers were available to customers. Customer demand dropped during this time, he says, and maintenance callouts reduced as people stayed at home more and were therefore encountering less problems. This meant fewer engineers were needed on the road, however, when people did have problems, Giles wanted to make sure that his technicians were ready to act. He notes: “The reality is if a powerchair user is in their home and it breaks down, they can’t get from one room to another. That is an immediate need and we needed to be there to fix that.” During that first lockdown, Giles says the focus was on its customers’ wellbeing, rather than generating revenue. “It would have been cheaper for us to shut the doors, come back in two months’ time and crack on from there but, from our point of view, it was never an option as our customers needed us.”

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The period following the first lockdown offered some light relief for Giles and the team, with the industry bouncing back in July. “When we first came out of lockdown, the levels of COVID were much reduced, certainly in the area around us, and there was an element of a lot of people wanting to get on with their lives as normal - or the ‘new normal’,” he explains. “Obviously, those most at risk were still shielding but a lot of people were wanting to get out and enjoy the good weather, and get that piece of equipment.” Everything became quiet again during the second lockdown in November. By this time, the Wheelfreedom team had moved into their new HQ in Chessington and Giles felt confident about having a solid foundation capable of weathering the looming disruptions. Importantly, Giles asserts that the business has gone above and beyond to ensure it ticks every box from a COVID-secure point of view.

Discussing the steps it has implemented, he says: “During the lockdown period, we were open for appointments only and gave customers exclusive use of the whole showroom so they knew they were in a safe environment and everything was sanitised. “Even now, we book appointments so customers can come in and have exclusive use of an area in the showroom that is focused around their particular product base.” The product specialists carrying out customer assessments are also kitted out in the relevant PPE, he stresses. Customers, he says, can feel comfortable that they are entering a safe environment; an airy space with air conditioning that’s as COVIDsecure as possible. LOOKING TO THE FUTURE Giles is not looking to roll out multiple shops. As he sees it, the mobility market is split down two sides: prescriptive and high-street retail. Wheelfreedom is looking to combine the best from both in one flagship showroom that is a destination for customers. “We have the stock and numerous products across multiple ranges for those who want to choose from the widest selection of equipment, in an environment where they can see and try it all,” he maintains. “But we also ensure we always have product specialists on hand with the in-depth knowledge and experience required to provide specialist advice on each individual


piece of equipment, from high-end prescriptive powerchairs to rise and recline chairs.” The internet continues to be a strong force in the industry and, as Giles sees it, this is not necessarily as damaging as it was perceived in the past. “Ten years ago, I think there was a tendency for businesses to advertise a product and customers to go for the lowest price they could find. I’d like to think that’s starting to do full circle now,” he continues. “I think consumers are better informed. They will use the internet to research and check they’re choosing a provider who is credible and able to offer a great service. Customers now have so many platforms in which to let fellow consumers know if a company is not delivering on its promises; it is far harder for a business who doesn’t care about its customer to succeed in the medium- to long-term. “While there will always be the consumer who wants the lowest price possible, I believe there’s a growing number now who think that while price is important it needs to be balanced with other factors.” This, he believes, is good news for the industry and for those businesses that put their time into making sure they’re getting the experience right for the customer. Not only contending with COVID-19, Giles, like many businesses in the sector, is also preparing for the potential fallout caused by Brexit. The passionate retailer suggests that communication with both suppliers and the customer is key for managing the likely disruption. “There may be delays on stock and that’s going to impact us so we will have to be careful about how we manage our customers’ expectations and really arm ourselves with as much information as we can from our suppliers. The relationship and communication with suppliers will be critical during this time.” Having a large showroom space has already enabled Wheelfreedom to expand its product ranges of nonprescriptive wheelchairs, rollators and furniture.

“We didn’t do a huge amount of furniture before, however, our assessment expertise aligns with it perfectly,” adds Giles. “If a customer is looking for a rise and recline chair that they are going to be spending 10 hours a day in, it’s critical that it fits them correctly and our team already have the expertise to make that happen.” By staying true to the commitment to customer experience at the heart of the business, Wheelfreedom finds itself poised to continue its exciting development. For Giles, managing to give customers access to the right equipment that can transform their lives continues to be the most

gratifying aspect of his work. It is that motivation that continues to see Wheelfreedom develop 14 years on since delivering its first wheelchair. “Quite often, people can have had particular mobility challenges for years and haven’t been aware of what is available to them, or they had never really had anyone spend the time to drill down into exactly what their issues are and how to resolve them,” he finishes. “It’s amazing to be able to make such a difference to somebody’s way of life.” www.wheelfreedom.com

Bold ideas for a big space When Retail Experience Design were approached to design the new mobility retail space for Wheelfreedom, the team knew this was an unparalleled opportunity to transform the experience of customers searching for the right mobility equipment. The brief was to achieve an experience-led space to exhibit Wheelfreedom’s large array of mobility equipment – a forward-thinking, flexible, and practical design, within a limited budget. It wasn’t just about making a lovely-looking space, says Dean Waugh, Creative Director of Retail Experience Design. “We looked at how we could get people to circulate around the space and make it an interesting experience of customers. “We wanted the customers to understand what they are seeing without being overawed by all the products jumping out at them.” Careful consideration had to be given as to where each product would go, with space designated for the key category areas. The products are very much part of the displays and the design team added unique touches to show off key products. Says Dean: “Changing floor finishings and adding in props and graphics can help to create a solid display area for products so that they don’t look like they have just been left there.” An open car boot in one area shows how a piece of mobility equipment can fit inside it. In another, a key product positioned on an angled plinth elevates the eyes upwards. Another striking feature to greet customers entering the showroom is the full-height illuminated cube display showing different types of active user wheelchairs. The showroom incorporates Wheelfreedom’s signature colours and features bold illustrations, aspirational lifestyle photography, and statement brand messaging. Says Dean: “Crucially, the final design is sensitive to the customer journey, whilst touchpoints ensure adequate personal space, providing the opportunity for customers to understand the products, their features, and benefits.” www.retailexperiencedesign.co.uk

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RETAILERS BUYING GUIDE

Buyers’ guide to Manual wheelchairs

Each month, discover key products from a different segment of the mobility market to consider offering to customers

Ypush wheelchair from Ypush Phantom Wheelchair from Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare The Phantom Wheelchair has a modern design, lightweight silver aluminium frame and provides a wide range of added extras for users. Available in both transit and self-propel, these wheelchairs are designed for either occasional or frequent use and can be used indoors and outdoors. With a maximum user weight of 21 stone, the Phantom Wheelchair features stylish two-tone padded upholstery that is easily removable. The mobility device also has a half-fold mechanism alongside a push button for smooth angle adjustable armrests. The manual wheelchair also boasts user-friendly long-reach brakes, an ergonomic handle for swing in and out footrests, and puncture-proof solid tyres. The self-propel model also has quick release 24inch self-propel wheels. The Phantom Wheelchair comes with a lap belt, heel straps and padded full-length armrests. www.drivedevilbiss.co.uk

54 / www.thiis.co.uk

The new Ypush manual wheelchair gives the carer power-assistance at the touch of a button. Unlike a bolt on power-pack, the Ypush power-drive is integrated so it can be pushed like a normal transit chair, engaging power seamlessly at any time, without changing any settings. www.ypush.com

Agile from Karma Mobility The Agile is the latest addition to the Karma range of wheelchairs, which comes with detachable footrest hangers and flip-back armrests. It has a lightweight aluminium frame and takes users up to 125 kg. Having been successfully crash tested, the Agile is available in transit and self-propel, and in 16inch, 18-inch, and 20-inch seat widths. Optional accessories include a tension-adjustable backrest, elevating leg rests and anti-tips. www.karmamobility.co.uk


A FIXED RATE INSURANCE PACKAGE

RETAILER ESSENTIALS Exclusive to Retail Members of the BHTA

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Option 1: Excluding Employers Liability - £224 including 12% Insurance Premium Tax

Option 2: Including Employers Liability - £280 including 12% Insurance Premium Tax

REQUEST INFORMATION For more information on our insurance packages, please contact Stephen Aldridge - our Client Director who has worked with BHTA’s members for many years. E: stephen.aldridge@verlingue.co.uk T: +44 (0) 208 282 8595 W: www.verlingue.co.uk

Cover provided by Markel (UK) Ltd

ABOUT US Verlingue is the approved insurance broker for the BHTA insurance scheme, which is available exclusively to BHTA Members. We are part of the Verlingue Group, one of Europe’s largest independent insurance brokers, employing over 1,100 people and placing premiums in excess of €2 billion.

Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority


RETAILERS BUYING GUIDE

Bromakin Street Classic from Bromakin Constructed from either aluminium or titanium, the Street Classic’s frame style is strong and versatile, easily adjustable and lightweight. This manual wheelchair is fully bespoke, built specifically to suit the user’s needs. It can be manufactured to suit whatever size or weight limit, from paediatric to bariatric. www.bromakin.co.uk

Action 3NG Mid Wheel Propulsion from Invacare

Ergo Lite Series from Karma Mobility According to Karma Mobility, the Ergo Lite 2 is one of the lightest wheelchairs available, starting from 8.5kg complete. It is available in 16-inch or 18-inch seat widths and comes in either transit or self-propel. The double cross brace ensures that the wheelchair is durable and light. The Ergo Lite and Ergo Lite 2 were also selected as a Retailers’ Choice of the Year selection.

The new Invacare Action 3NG Mid Wheel Propulsion (MWP) is an innovative manual wheelchair that facilitates a more active rear wheel position, with an active tilt feature. The ergonomic six-wheel design enhances manoeuvrability, offering easy access to the wheels for an ergonomic and energy efficient position of the arms. www.invacare.co.uk

Rogue from Ki Mobility The Rogue manual wheelchair from Ki Mobility is lightweight, with a transport weight of 4.81kg and an ergonomic folding backrest that’s easy to operate, even with limited hand function. Clean lines and an attractive frame design with larger, thinner tubing makes the wheelchair lighter, stronger, and smarter.

www.karmamobility.co.uk www.kimobility.com

56 / www.thiis.co.uk


Flexx Series from Karma Mobility Described as Karma’s most adjustable wheelchair, the Flexx is available in a variety of seat widths from 15-inch to 24-inch. The seat depth is available from 16-inch to 20-inch and there are two backrest heights: 17-inch and 20-inch. The seat to ground can be adjusted from 16.5-inch to 21inch and the backrest angle is also adjustable. With a wide variety of settings and accessories, Karma says the Flexx is ideal for users with specific requirements. www.karmamobility.co.uk

K2 from Trekinetic K2’s three-wheel design allows it to cope with most terrains and the carbon fibre seat makes it lightweight and easy to transport. The chair also includes a nitrogen shock absorber, which acts as a tilt-in-space mechanism, as well as a patented system to change the camber of the wheels for indoor or outdoor use. www.trekinetic.com

TraveLite Transport Chair from Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare The TraveLite Transport Chair was specifically developed for easy storage and transportation. It folds into a compact size and includes a travel bag with wheels, making it ideal for occasional use such as shopping trips, days out and holidays. Weighing just 10kg, Drive DeVilbiss says the chair folds to approximately onethird of the size of a typical folded wheelchair for easy transportation and storage. Multiple cross braces for added strength and stability feature on the TraveLite Transport Chair, alongside flip-up padded desk arms and 8-inch solid puncture proof tyres. The wheelchair comes with a lightweight travel bag and removable and heightadjustable footrests with heel straps, as well as excellent retail packaging, according to the company. www.drivedevilbiss.co.uk

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RETAILERS BUYING GUIDE

XS Aluminium Wheelchair from Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare Available in self-propel and transit, the XS Aluminium Wheelchair is a popular choice for retailers and their customers, describes Drive DeVilbiss. Developed with added comfort in mind, the XS Aluminium is transportation-friendly with several additional features as standard. With a lightweight frame weighing under 9kg in carry format, this manual wheelchair features a padded seat and back cushions, with a tensionadjustable backrest for added comfort. Boasting a sturdy, colourful aluminium frame, the wheelchair is available in two seat widths: 18-inch blue or 20-inch red. The XS Aluminium Wheelchair also has quick release wheels, puncture-proof PU tyres, flip up and removeable padded desk-style armrests, quick release swing in/out footrests, and rear stepper tubes with integrated height-adjustable anti-tip wheels. www.drivedevilbiss.co.uk

RECRUITMENT

Adaptations Specialist

Wheelchair Clinical Lead

We are recruiting for an Adaptations Specialist to join our new created division, Clearwell Care. This is an exciting opportunity for an individual with a clinical or industry background to join an established and successful regional leader.

We are recruiting for a Wheelchair Clinical Lead to join our new specialist division, Clearwell Care. This is an exciting opportunity for an individual with a clinical or industry background to join an established and successful regional leader.

Your focus will be on supporting therapists within local authorities, charities and private clients with home adaptations including stairlifts, TFL lifts, access ramps, steplifts and bathroom conversions. You must be experienced in surveying and assessing client needs across a wide range of conditions, age groups and types of property. You will be responsible for ensuring prompt service delivery and ensuring the quotation process runs smoothly.

Your focus will be on supporting NHS wheelchair services, charities, private therapists and clients with prescriptive manual active and passive wheelchairs, powerchairs and specialist seating. You must be experienced in assessing and prescribing rehabilitation equipment across a wide range of conditions, age groups and settings.

You will need to demonstrate experience of the following: • Surveying skills to be able to specify product dimensions and features

We are looking for a motivated, self-driven and organised individual. You will need to demonstrate experience of the following:

• Meetings with multi-disciplinary client teams such as clinicians and healthcare professionals to provide product assessments

• Hands-on clinical assessment for products with children and adults with moderate to complex needs

• Participation in industry events (e.g. trade shows) to develop new relationships and promote the company

• Face to face meetings with multi-disciplinary client teams including clinicians and healthcare professionals to provide clinical/product assessments and advise on product suitability

• Providing regular training and product awareness sessions to therapists You will need excellent organisational, interpersonal and communication skills as well as a warm personality to enable you to develop strong, long term relationships. We are also looking for a creative thinker, who can find new ways to develop product pathways and improve outcomes for clients. You will be IT literate and able to utilise to IT systems to improve efficiency and client service. Full administrative support will be provided. You will ideally be based within commuting distance of our Burgess Hill HQ or around the M23 corridor for easy travelling across our territory. We are offering a highly competitive package with a generous basic salary and an uncapped quarterly bonus based on revenue generation and achieving customer service targets. You will be provided with a company van, mobile phone, tablet and laptop.

Please send your CV with a cover letter attached to:

hr@clearwellmobility.co.uk 58 / www.thiis.co.uk

You will also be the clinical lead for our retail business which spans 12 showrooms across Sussex, Surrey and Kent, providing product advice and staff training to our retail teams.

You will need excellent organisational, interpersonal and communication skills as well as a warm personality to enable you to develop strong, long term relationships. You will also need to be a creative thinker who can find new ways to develop product pathways and improve outcomes for clients. You will be IT literate and able to utilise IT systems to improve efficiency and client service. You will ideally be based within commuting distance of our Burgess Hill HQ or around the M23 corridor in Sussex or Surrey. We are offering a highly competitive package with a generous basic salary and an uncapped quarterly bonus based on achieving customer service targets and revenue generation. You will be provided with a company van, mobile phone, tablet and laptop.


THE ERGO LITE 2, PROUD WINNER OF

RETAILERS’ CHOICE OF THE YEAR 2020

The Ergo Lite 2 transit weighs just 8.5kg complete and the self-propel breaks down to 6kg making them among the very lightest wheelchairs available on the market.

Karma mobility ltd Unit 6 target ParK, redditch Worcestershire b98 8yn T: 0845 630 3436 E: info@karmamobiliTy.co.uk www.karmamobiliTy.co.uk

Ergo Lite 2 Self Propel Wheelchair

Ergo Lite 2 Transit Wheelchair


ENRICH YOUR EVERYDAY The industry leading Breeze range with all-round capabilities, for adventures on or off the beaten track.

Unrivalled and uncompromised. The Breeze S3 and Breeze S4 offer comfort over a range of terrains. Both with upgrade options to suit every lifestyle. To enquire about the Breeze range

Call 01787 888 106

or email trade.sales@tgamobility.co.uk www.tgamobility.co.uk QUOTE: THSA21

Profile for THIIS

THIIS January 2021  

In the first issue of 2021, THIIS discovers more about innovative mobility provider Wheelfreedom and how the company is setting itself apart...

THIIS January 2021  

In the first issue of 2021, THIIS discovers more about innovative mobility provider Wheelfreedom and how the company is setting itself apart...

Profile for thiis