[prev] …after each customer individually. We want to be with customers from day one, and when they want to change we want them to come back. So, we have a comprehensive workshop, which is fairly unusual in our industry. But that investment is important to us.
DOES HAVING AN ENGINEERING BACKGROUND HELP?
Absolutely. Seldom are two customers the same, and each little product, each modification, can be life changing – things we take for granted every day. The height of an arm rest, the position of a seat throughout the day, the right seat belt. Lots of companies pop up in our industry, selling mobility scooters and so on, but as founder members of the British Health Trades Association, we have a code of conduct backed by the Trading Standards Institute, we’re audited, they come and visit the premises and make sure we have the parking and toilet facilities, properly trained staff – everything a professional setup should have. It’s not just open a shop and sell what you like, as it sometimes is in other areas. People also buy more over the internet now, but we’re looking to cover that with our new website which went live on 16 June. If people are genuinely happy to order online, that’s great – if it’s a repeat order, for example. But I don’t want to ship a scooter to Devon to someone who can’t unload it or get rid of the packaging or if they don’t know how to assemble it. It’s not the right way to do it. We have been ISO accredited for many years. We did that in 1996, and it was pretty unheard of in our industry. It’s just about putting that extra bit of effort in.
WHY DID YOU GO DOWN THE ISO ROUTE?
Several reasons. We are dealing with the NHS, and with a lot of their tenders and contracts they would expect that level of accreditation. But we had also got to the stage as a friendly family firm where the turnover was getting bigger and we needed some structure. As you get more staff coming on board, everyone needs to be working in the same way, with clear procedures.
YOU MENTIONED THE NHS AND VARIOUS INDIVIDUAL CUSTOMERS – WHO ELSE DO YOU DO BUSINESS WITH?
We deal with nursing and retirement homes, educational establishments, social services, and charities from Land’s End to John O’Groats – national charities and local charities. We have some products that we solely import to the UK, such as specialist pieces of equipment that go into hospitals or schools. In Scotland, the Highland Health Board is a regular contract for us. We have the same arrangement in Wales. All over, really! But we also did some work for Big Brother, for advertising agencies, for Madame Tussaud’s… It’s something different every day.
It was quite an unusual enquiry! They wanted a small trike to put a big person on. I thought it sounded a bit strange at first… Then they explained they were from Big Brother and that they wanted the housemates to ride this little tricycle around some cones. We do a lot of children’s bikes that are adapted, so we sent one up to the studio and it was used on the programme. We also made an exact replica of Professor Hawking’s chair when his waxwork was made for Madame Tussaud’s. Saatchi and Saatchi did an advert for BT, and we made another for that, then there was a Belgian film company who needed a replica of his chair so they could do distant shots without him having to be present.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A ‘TYPICAL’ CUSTOMER?
We do wheelchairs from £150 to £20,000… So, from something that is just used to push Great Auntie Mabel to the shops, to a chair where a young adult would wake up in the morning and be transferred into the chair for the whole day, and may only have movement in their chin with which to control the chair. Extras like Bluetooth for phones and iPads, ventilators to help somebody breathe – these are some of the complexities that can crop up with our clients.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT FINDING THE PRODUCTS?
Dad travels to exhibitions and factories worldwide looking for unique products to import and distribute through our other company called Amilly International Ltd, which is the import side of the business – the name comes from Amy and Milly, who are my two girls. We import products that we distribute throughout the UK and Ireland: children’s lightweight positioning buggies from California, ramps from Nebraska, rough terrain buggies from Germany, gait trainer, special hoisting and bathing equipment from Denmark, children’s push chairs from Poland, standing equipment and more. Now we get approached by foreign manufacturers, to import andpromote their products in the UK. This year it is planned to bring in more unique products
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE COMPANY?
Three years ago we built the new offices and workshops. Last year we implemented a new invoicing, barcoding and store procedure. And this year it’s the website. We’re also Motability accredited, so people who receive a Motability allowance can transfer that into the hire or lease of a scooter or powered wheelchair, full insured and maintained for three years. There’s not another company that does that between here and Cambridge. That will grow – so, there’s plenty on at the moment.
THIS EXPERIENCE OF THE PAST 30 YEARS MUST HAVE HAD A HUGE INFLUENCE ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DAD…
I like working with my father. We’ve had maybe a half a dozen arguments in the whole of the time we’ve worked together, which is pretty remarkable, really! We both enjoy our jobs and both have nice lives. What more do you want, really? The job’s got to be done, and there are 15 other people here relying on us getting it right. That’s important – it’s not just about dad and I anymore. My uncle John is here, along with a husband and wife team, David and Denise, who together have been here almost 60 years. Most of the team have been here many years, although we have two relatively young newcomers who are a very important part of our future: specialist equipment builder Ollie, and Sam, our digital marketing guy responsible for our website and all internal IT systems. Between us we total around 285 years’ of experience in this company.
HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT?
I don’t think the grey matter was there for the pilot’s job! It’s been good fun, and from day one I’ve looked forward to coming to work. It’s weird to be 46 years old and to have been doing this for 30-odd years. But I don’t get bored of it. Every day there’s something. I don’t see the customers so much these days, with everything that’s involved in running the company, and I do miss that, but I do still wander down there and see customers I’ve known for 20 years. I don’t think I could ever do anything else
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Social Mobility: The Mobility Aids Centre 1 2