Are mobility retailers immune from the highs and lows of footfall rates
With March, April and May seeing footfall slumps and recoveries, the period has wreaked havoc for a number of high street retailers. Four successful retailers in the industry have shared their experiences of March and April’s declining footfall and their thoughts on how much of an impact footfall has on mobility customers.
Ups and downs
In March and April 2018, footfall saw the biggest drop since the recession in 2009, according to figures released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard. In May however, retail sales saw their highest growth since January 2014.
In both instances, the BRC highlighted the impact weather and holidays played in both footfall and sales slumps falls and growths.
Discussing May’s retail sales recovery, Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief-Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The FA Cup Final and Royal Wedding may have got the nation in the mood for celebration but the day itself was a distraction for shoppers as they stayed at home to watch the festivities; sales also tailed off once the party was over.
“Despite this more positive set of sales results, the retail environment remains extremely challenging, with trend growth still very low by historical standards. Retailers remain focused on investing in new and exciting shopping experiences for the future as margins remain tight and the competition fierce.”
The challenging environment of retail
Highlighting an ever-growing trend for consumers to turn online over the high-street for products, many high-street mainstays have resorted to closing outlets or closing down completely in recent months.
On the 7th June 2018, department store House of Fraser announced the closure of 31 of its 59 shops, affecting 6,000 jobs, as part of a rescue deal.
The company’s Chairman Frank Slevin stated: “Our legacy store estate has created an unsustainable cost base which, without restructuring, presents an existential threat to the business.”
In addition, Marks & Spencer announced a string of store closures, whilst Maplin, Toys”R”Us and CarpetRight have all left the high-street entirely.
Is mobility immune to falling footfall?
Whilst the environment for more general retailers has seen a drop, with more looking at creating retail experiences that shoppers are unable to enjoy online, the outlook may be different for mobility retailers potentially less reliant on passing trade.
Speaking to four mobility retailers in May, they provided interesting thoughts regarding footfall in mobility and insights into the impact declining footfall figures had on their business.
Alastair Gibbs, Managing Director of TPG DisableAids
“We have multiple contract customers that are obliged to maintain the equipment they are responsible for and to carry out their statutory obligations on the provision of certain facilities. This provides a regular, reliable source of income for our business which is supplemented by both showroom retail operations and online shopping.
“The harsh reality is that our customers’ needs do not go away because of concerns over Brexit or public spending; it just means that we need to be more proactive in finding the required solutions in a manner that is both desirable and affordable.
“Indeed, we are actually finding that our private stairlift sales are enhanced by us bringing together quality and peace of mind solutions for our discerning customers.
“I suspect those in this industry that have nothing other than High Street stores and are reliant on footfall may well be experiencing a different outcome.”
Carl Drake, Managing Director of Rise Mobility and Furniture
“After a fantastic start to 2018, despite the snow and heavy rain during late February and into March, sales during April were not in-line with the record number of enquiries we received.
“We put this down to a combination of the timing of the Easter holiday and smaller order value sales.”
Karen Sheppard, Managing Director of People First Mobility
“People First Mobility actually saw a slight increase in April, with only the months of February and March showing a slight decrease due to the Beast of the East and the heavy snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures.
“Overall for the whole financial year however we are up by 10 percent on last year and 20 percent on the previous year.
“This is due to a combination of listening to what the customers want and implementing ideas and stock and also going the extra two miles in customer care. Also, working hard and working many hours, along with recognition from winning awards and word of mouth for our customer care and referrals from existing customers is definitely reaping benefits.”
Tracy Simmons, Business Manager at Parkgate Mobility
“We have had a record first quarter and a good April, with sales of large ticket items such as scooters, powerchairs, furniture and stairlifts all up on last year. Service and maintenance work has also increased over last year’s figures.
“We are opening two new shops in Leeds, both will be up and running, one in a couple of weeks the other in about six weeks’ time so we have not personally noticed any down turns in the retail sector/economy.
“I would not say the industry is immune as I have heard from a number of manufacturers say they have had a slow start to the year. Perhaps this is down to the snow and wet weather we have experienced so far this year.
“A 3.1 percent drop in retail sales over April certainly wouldn’t send us into a panic as customer purchasing trends need to be monitored over a longer period of time than one month.
“On saying that, when times are lean, people will cut back on non-essential purchases and will also change their buying habits, looking to cheaper alternatives and hold onto their existing equipment for longer.
“We are in the industry of providing mobility and self-help products essential to those that require them.
“The market for mobility products I would suggest is increasing year in year out as the population grows.
“Things are definitely harder than they once were but I feel that this is more about customers’ expectations than downturn in demand. The dealers who have got to grips with providing exceptional customer service and efficient working methods in any market sector will always do well; it is more about market share going to those dealers who are doing a good job to the cost of those who are not.”
How much of an impact does footfall and passing trade have on your business? Contact THIIS to share your thoughts and potential feature in an article.