Retailer Spotlight... Ableworld: Driving for growth

Driving for Growth was the theme of Ableworld’s Annual Franchise Conference in March as the company celebrated its seventeenth year of continued growth. THIIS caught up with the mobility retailer to find out more about its plans for expansion over the coming years.


Founded by Mike Williams, Ableworld has become one of the most successful mobility retailers across the UK. A significant proportion of Ableworld’s growth over the last few years is attributed to its franchise model. Out of the company’s 32 stores, it is an even split between company-owned stores, principally in the North West of the country and franchise-owned stores operating in the rest of the UK mainland.

The Ableworld brand can now be found as far north as Inverness and as far south as Southampton, with stores in both North and South Wales and as far east as Colchester in Essex. The country’s largest specialist mobility retailer can truly boast covering all points on the UK compass.

The franchise conference was held for the second year at South Cheshire College in Crewe. Ableworld is a community partner with the college and sponsors two dedicated rooms to help students understand the needs of elderly and disabled people. One room replicates a hospital ward and the other is a living space in which some typical Ableworld products are displayed and demonstrated.

The theme of ‘Driving for Growth’ was suggested by Ableworld staff and there were speakers from the industry as well as internal presentations from key Ableworld personnel. Also in attendance were representatives from Which? to celebrate Ableworld recently being awarded the prestigious Which? Trusted Traders endorsement, an important acknowledgement of the trustworthiness of the retailer.

Ableworld (UK) Ltd posted 19% like-for-like growth for year ended 31/8/16 and the franchise side of the business saw a 45% increase.

Since February 2016, Ableworld has opened four new stores under its own management and is demonstrating its commitment to driving growth through company stores as well as franchises. New outlets have been opened in the North East in Darlington and Stockton, as well as Rhyl in Wales and most recently, Stockport.

At last October’s Trade Days, Ableworld’s Operations Manager Amy Prophett discussed the importance of maintaining control during a period of high growth and it seems that Amy and the team have continued to practice what she preached in her presentation.

This was demonstrated last year when the company was granted primary authority status, joining forces with Cheshire East’s Trading Standards Office. Working in partnership with their Primary Authority, Ableworld were awarded nine certificates of Assured Advice, demonstrating their dedication to Consumer Rights and Ethical Trading. This can give their customers peace of mind that when they buy from Ableworld they will be treated fairly.

Amy told us: "Having a dedicated contact who is trained on current legislation and has a team of people that they can check with to ensure we are working within the law gives real peace of mind for both us and our customers. It has allowed us to confidently put procedures and services in place that we wouldn’t have done without the advice we received from our Primary Authority.”

On a highly practical note, Amy and Finance Director Neil Cox arranged for presentations from suppliers for a complete new till management system at the franchise conference.

Amy’s view was that engaging with franchises at this stage on something that would have a major impact on the entire network was not only important but essential.

She said: "In order to ensure that the new system truly meets the companies needs we require input from all stakeholders and the franchise conference was the perfect opportunity to hear what is important to our franchises.”

Ableworld will now continue this through workshops with key members of their head office and the store support team to ensure the new system will meet all requirements.

Neil commented: "Our present system is coming to the end of its natural life in 2021 and we wanted to upgrade to a system which joins up business critical functions that are currently operating in isolation from each other. In particular, we are looking for a system that houses the entire customer experience in one place, allowing us to monitor our performance and offer an enhanced relationship with all our customers.”

Ableworld’s specialist division also continues to gain the trust and respect of healthcare professionals who are increasingly happy to recommend Ableworld to their clients, as evidenced by the 5% current rise in business for year to date.

As part of its medium-term growth strategy, the organisation has joined the latest cohort of 13 UK companies who have been admitted on to the London Stock Exchange’s ELITE Programme for growing companies.

The official launch of the latest group of companies to join the programme was opened by Margot James MP, the Small Business Minister and Xavier Rolet KBE, CEO, London Stock Exchange Group.

Mr Rolet said: "ELITE is an incredible success story; creating a powerful community of the best and most dynamic entrepreneurs, advisers, investors and business school academics from the UK, Europe and around the world. It is boosting access to finance and financial education for Europe’s 23 million SMEs, allowing them to scale and grow.”

Ms James added: "The Government is committed to helping SMEs access the finance they need to grow and scale up. Finance is important, but fast-growing businesses also need skills and advice and London Stock Exchange Group’s ELITE programme is helping companies from a number of sectors right across the UK. It’s great to be here today, watching the next group of ambitious companies enter into the programme.”

Paul Boniface of Ableworld explained: "Our strategy has always been to develop the brand nationally and, in time, internationally. We are currently the largest specialist retail mobility company in the UK and have ambitious plans for the future. In order to bring those plans to fruition, it makes sense to look at all the options open to us and by joining the ELITE programme at the London Stock Exchange, we will have access to many areas of expertise and potential funding opportunities.”

Paul continued: "When and if we do raise capital via the markets, we will use those funds to accelerate our growth and consolidate our position as the country’s number one specialist mobility retailer.”

Not one to fear a challenge, Paul is setting himself the goal of scaling Mt Kilimanjaro this autumn. The charity climb will see the driven finance director ascend the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

Paul, a regular walker, told us: "Although I like to think I keep myself reasonably fit, this is by far the hardest challenge I have ever undertaken. The more I speak to people who have done it before, the more I realise that it will not be a ‘walk in the park’. However, the fact that we are doing it for some very worthwhile causes including the Wingate Centre, a local disabled charity, is giving me extra motivation. With all the cuts to benefits and the general economic uncertainty, centres like the Wingate Centre are struggling to keep their levels of funding where they need to be so charity events like this really make a difference”.

If you want to sponsor Paul, go to www.giveall.org and search for Paul Boniface (the Event is #ClimbKili2017)

As well as wishing Paul and the group well on their trip, Ableworld MD, Mike Williams, said that as part of their sponsorship deal, he will insist Paul wears the full Ableworld uniform for his ‘trophy picture’ at the summit!

From Mt Kilimanjaro to the London Stock Exchange, Ableworld is by no means taking its foot off the pedal in its pursuits to reach impressive new heights and looks set to accelerate growth into the future.

The website for the company is www.ableworld.co.uk