Retailer spotlight… The Unlimited Company: A refocus on service

In our July issue of THIIS magazine, we covered the news that The Unlimited Company, the retail arm of Simplyhealth, was entering the next stage of their development. We caught up with Simplyhealth Group’s Chief Commercial Officer Raman Sankaran to find out what this phase involves and why now was the right time to implement it.

With a history spanning back into the 1800s, the Simplyhealth Group specialises in offering customers health and dental plans, providing over three million people across the UK with access to everyday health treatments, products, services and support.

Launched in 2016, The Unlimited Company is the retail side of Simplyhealth and since unveiling their flagship store in Bristol in March of last year, the company has opened a total of seven stores under this new proposition across the UK, garnering praise from the industry for their modern approach to retailing.

The initial strategy

Raman leads Simplyhealth’s broad range of Delivery, Retail and Guidance businesses and following the departure of Matthew Main, has now taken a more hands-on role in leading The Unlimited Company.

Raman explained why the decision was made to first launch The Unlimited Company: "Simplyhealth had retail activities prior to The Unlimited Company, however, we had a strategic review about two years ago to determine our space in the market and what our customer proposition should look like going forward. It was from this that The Unlimited Company was formed with its focus on professional advice and guidance, removing barriers and helping people make the most of their lives and lifestyle.”

The review highlighted that many of the products in the industry were purchased as a last resort, without a full awareness of what products were available or where to turn to for professional advice.

The company set out to change this perception, introducing products as something that could fit into and improve users’ everyday lives whilst also helping maintain a lifestyle. This shaped the look and design of The Unlimited Company’s modern and aesthetically pleasing stores, creating an environment that would feel inviting to customers and allow them to experience products, increase the awareness of what is available and see how they could fit into their lives and home. Additionally, the company would support this proposition with healthcare professionals capable of giving out quality advice and an online presence.

"Our plan at the initial stage was to go out, build this proposition and test it to ensure it met the ever-growing customer need, then roll it out on a national basis,” Raman told us.

"Matt and his team did a great job setting the path and implementing the test. Earlier this year, we took time to review and revaluate what has been learned over the last 18 months. We examined how we are progressing, if customer need was still there, if the environment which we operate in had changed and if so, how should we be adapting to it?”

Adapting in a changing environment

This policy of constantly reviewing the external environment in which The Unlimited Company operates in drives the organisation’s short term and long-term strategy and decisions, ensuring it is aware and responding to customers and competitors whilst evaluating what is working and what needs changing.

Raman shared some of the insights gathered in the review earlier this year which led the company to further refine its retail approach. Customer need was confirmed as being stronger than ever, however, it was in the nature of the competitive market where The Unlimited Company saw the biggest shift.

"Importantly, we are seeing more of the larger national brands enter the market, offering products we would describe as mobility type products. A customer can go online, order a product and it can be with them the next day or even the same day, or it can be picked up somewhere convenient. Naturally, there will be a market for some products where a customer knows exactly what they want.

"Equally we are seeing some mainstream retailers add-in products that could help with some mobility needs into their standard ranges, for example, grab rails within bathroom suites. "

After taking into account and evaluating these factors, The Unlimited Company made the decision to further prioritise their focus on the service and advice element of their offer; where someone wants and needs advice and doesn’t know what is right for them or a loved one to maintain the best quality of life and activity.

"If someone knows exactly what they want, are happy to go online and get it delivered to their home the next day, then there are companies able to really service that part of the market,” Raman told us.

"We are not the traditional retailer from that perspective. We believe the area where we can really add value is very much with customers, carers and loved ones who do not know what they are looking for but want to find the best solution for now and into the future.”

Refocus on expert advice

This service-centric focus could be argued to be nothing new in the industry, with expert advice being offered by most retailers, however, The Unlimited Company is aiming to take this one step further.

"Currently, we are going through a process of recruiting fully qualified occupational therapists to bolster our in-field resource. In essence, they will go out and provide free, home assessments to people,” clarified Raman.

"This is not about having a salesman turn up to a house to sell a product. This proposition is very much around a qualified professional turning up to give the right, objective advice needed. If on the back of that advice, we can help provide a solution, then great. If, however, a solution is not needed or a different solution is best, then our OTs will give the objective advice that customers need.”

Raman gave an example of one of their occupational therapists going to a home where a customer believed they needed a wheelchair, scooter or some form of mobility equipment. The visiting occupational therapist advised against purchasing a mobility aid for fear the user would become too dependent upon it too soon, instead recommending manipulation and physical therapy to try and keep the customer more active and on their feet.

For many in the industry, the idea of telling a customer who wants to buy a product that it is not what they need and suggesting something completely different may seem like a recipe for disaster, but Raman explains how this system feeds into a complete strategy.

"Having these guys going out who are truly focused on the needs of customers rather than sales is important to us. We will use the feedback from our occupational therapists to gain real insight into the needs of our customers and then develop and evolve our range accordingly to better meet the needs of customers.

"It is very much a two-way process, with our product offering being heavily influenced by our OTs and customers.”

The Unlimited Company’s next development stage

Raman stressed the clear focus on service as the next stage of the company’s development, explaining how this fits in with the original strategy of creating lifestyle-centric retail spaces that highlight the aesthetical as well as the functional aspects of products in the industry.

"Really drilling down on the service element adds weight to the stores we have developed,” he said.

"Each store we open evolves based on the learnings from the previous stores. Our latest opening, the Leeds store, has seen different ranges and a different layout introduced from that of our current stores. We will look to roll that back across some of our existing stores after understanding how this works with our customers, it goes back to a continual process of learning and refinement.”

With the company having launched seven stores in 18 months, we asked Raman if The Unlimited Company would be continuing to open these modern, lifestyle-focused stores across the UK.

"The short answer is we will see how customers value and use the different elements of our proposition and the interaction between in-store, in-field and online support to determine the appropriate blend as we move forward.

The future The Unlimited Company

The focus on customer service supplemented by healthcare professionals is one that the company hopes will deliver long-term success for The Unlimited Company, creating an atmosphere of constant review and assessment of the company’s product offer driven by customers and informed by healthcare professionals.

"The long-term goal is to get to a place of having a quality, national provision of a service and advice proposition, supported by the right quality solutions,” explained Raman.

"The OT assessment really helps build trust between us and our customers. After the initial assessment, this service and advice led approach really gives us an opportunity to build a long-term relationship and provide advice on an on-going basis, ensuring we provide the right solutions to a customer throughout their lifetime.”

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