Ableworld provides products and services for the growing elderly and disabled market through its chain of nationwide retail stores. In our large one-stop stores, well trained staff help customers to purchase items such as mobility scooters, rise-and-recline chairs, adjustable beds, wheelchairs, stairlifts and home and personal aids specially designed to help people live more comfortable and active lives.
Ableworld is a growing organisation. Found in 2001 we now have stores across the UK in England, Scotland and Wales. The company started franchising in 2008 after having developed a chain of company-owned stores. Approximately half the network is franchised and this is expected to increase over the next few years as we take advantage of the highly beneficial demographic and economic factors in this growing retail sector.
Ableworld’s comprehensive eight week training programme covers all areas of the business, It is available for one or two people and franchisees are trained on products, systems, engineering (for the stairlift side of the business) as well as internal and external aspects of running the business and a store. Wherever possible the training is conducted by experienced Ableworld managers in the real world and actual working environment.
Franchisees run a mobility store that is open to the public during normal retail hours. The job is essentially that of a specialist retailer; helping customers find the right product for their needs. Usually a store has three people, one of them a stairlift engineer who quotes, fits and maintains stairlifts. This role can be done by the franchisor themselves or an employee, either way full training is given.
Following on from the success of her first franchise in Newark-upon-Trent, Donna Wilson opened the doors on a new store in Lincoln. Although it is quite unusual for a franchisee to open a second unit so quickly, Donna had the advantage that the first store in Newark was a resale: she purchased an ongoing business which already had a customer base and presence in the local community.
Donna’s success highlights the growing incidence of women in franchising and we interviewed Donna to find out her views about her experience of being a franchisee.
Please tell us a little about your background
My background has been mainly in custodial management in the civil service, retail and hospitality retail management. I have a BSc degree that will be conferred this year - one that I’ve been studying for since 1993!
Why did you decide to invest in an Ableworld Franchise?
I invested in an Ableworld franchise because of their ethical values and no-pressure sales approach. My personal experience of being a mother to a special needs child gave me a great insight into what practical support was (and is) lacking. As an end service user, I know how important Ableworld is for the community. The products we sell simply aren’t easy to get hold of by other means, or when they are, the prices are very expensive. Why should vulnerable people in society pay high prices for products that they desperately need? Ableworld is set to change that and I’m all for it.
How did you find the training?
The training was very thorough and covered training of the whole till system, stairlift awareness training, customer services, accounts, marketing and product training. It was a lot of information to take in, but it does make sense the more time you spend in store.
What has been your experience since you joined the Ableworld network?
I’ve met and had the privilege of helping people with many needs and disabilities. Some of my customers are very poorly; giving them a little comfort and better quality of life is very rewarding.
How have you staffed your store?
I have two full-time assistant managers and a full time engineer in Newark. The engineer will also be able to cover the new Lincoln store so I have recruited two more store staff – a manager and assistant manager.
What has been the highlight since you started?
Getting franchise of the month in November 2014, a month after taking over the Newark franchise and just recently opening a second store in Lincoln.
What has been your experience of the support received from Ableworld?
Everyone has been lovely and supportive. I’ve spoken to other franchise owners, and they’ve been very encouraging. It’s nice to get help and advice from others with more experience running their franchise. Head office has been brilliant, you can pick up the phone and get help with any aspect of the franchise. Nothing is too much trouble and you can pick the brains of many years of experience.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan was to expand into Lincoln first and then to other surrounding cities. My long-term plan is to offer specialist advice as a seating and positioning consultant. My larger stores will have dedicated specialist sections with consultation areas.
Have you perceived any particular challenges in becoming a franchisee?
The challenges have been learning how to write a business plan, obtain funding and learning sage when I had no experience of it before. But this is why I joined a franchise, to get help and advice.
Finally, what would you say to anyone considering franchising as an option?
Go for it, only you can hold yourself back. Make sure you’ve done your homework and worked out the viability of the business in the short and long term before you take it on. It’s great working for yourself, you can grow your business and determine your own destiny.
Especially if they were considering a mobility franchise like Ableworld?!
Ableworld offers a retail mix of stairlifts and retail sales in an industry where people are living longer. They are perfectly placed to meet the needs of the elderly and disabled in communities across the country.
One year after opening their mobility store in Southampton one of the directors, Jeff Newman, discussed how things were going.
Jeff, whose previous career had been as a milkman, recognised that many of his previous customers were also potential purchasers of mobility equipment. He teamed up with his son, Steven and his business partner, Chris and together they purchased an Ableworld franchise for the Southampton region. A suitable property was located locally and trading commenced at the end of May in 2014.
Jeff reflected on his thoughts at the time. “Having had daily contact with elderly and disabled customers in my previous occupation, I witnessed several fall injuries and mobility complaints,” he said. “With our store having good parking and being on several main bus routes I believed our highly visible and accessible superstore on Portsmouth Road, opposite the bus station, would fill a gap in the market and serve as a welcome benefit to the community.”
So, one year later how does Jeff feel the enterprise has gone? “It has met all our expectations – especially the satisfaction we get from providing the right products for our customers”.
Numbers-wise, Jeff and the team have consistently hit and beaten budget and have proved that their initial thoughts about the viability of having a modern one-stop mobility store in Southampton were correct.
Of course there have been challenges – getting the marketing mix right has been one of the big ones – but with the help of franchisor’s marketing team Jeff feels that they now have a much better grasp on where their marketing budget is best spent.
In fact an increasing amount of Southampton’s turnover is repeat business and the store has received numerous testimonials from satisfied customers which has led to word of mouth recommendations. Another good source of business has been from local and passing trade.
And what about the future? After a successful first year Jeff sees the second as one of consolidation. “We have looked at moving into other areas like the specialist side of the business but we would like to concentrate on continuing to build on our current customer base.”
With average franchise turnover across the network showing an almost 30% increase on the previous year, there is plenty for Jeff and the team to keep them occupied!