Upwardly mobile: mobility scooter firm sees business grow as vehicles become more sophisticated
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk’s TGA Mobility experiences 30% growth in the past two years.
Mobility scooters have become an increasingly common sight in modern Britain – their popularity driven by improvements in the quality of the products and the inclusion of the latest technologies.
According to a report by the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs (Rica) from 2014, approximately 80,000 such vehicles are now sold each year while the total number of UK users is at the 300-350,000 mark.
One company operating in this area is TGA Mobility - a Suffolk business that has experienced 30% growth over the past two years and last year turned over £11.5m.
Part of this uplift, according to managing director Daniel Stone, is down to the growing acceptance of mobility products in society today.
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“There used to be a stigma,” he said.
“A mobility vehicle was seen as a last resort for somebody to get out the house and now it’s something to allow people to live their life to the full. There’s been a shift in perception. The products have got better and they must continue to improve. The days of them being crude, rattley machines that were ridden down to the post office are gone.
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“Today people can travel for up to 30 miles and they are tailored for people with specific needs – that wasn’t the case ten years ago. Back then, if somebody had a spinal issue and it was a rattley, hard machine they couldn’t use it but now vehicles have proper seats and are adjustable, they have suspension and controls that are easy to use - it broadens the appeal.”
A walk around TGA’s showroom in Sudbury offers a snapshot of the range of mobility vehicles available while in the warehousing area at the back many older models stand awaiting repair and servicing. While TGA does not manufacture vehicles itself, it is the sole UK distributor of a number of leading brands selling direct to the users as well as the trade. It also operates a successful arm distributing powerpacks and batteries for mobility vehicles both nationally and internationally.
“We have worked with some of our suppliers for up to 20 years and as such our companies have grown together,” said Mr Stone, whose father started the business in the early 1980s.
“The UK is a very advanced and developed market for mobility products, so you can’t just find another supplier. There has to be something in their DNA and their heritage.
“One company we have worked with for many years is an Israeli company which was established in a kibbutz. They started off making vehicles to help the elderly get around the kibbutz - the market is different over there, as you can allow two people on one vehicle.
“With a company like this, mobility is in their heritage, compared to a company that, for example, started out making prams and then moved into mobility scooters.”
Mr Stone added: There’s an awful lot of product that is samey and at the lower end of the market and we’ve never really been interested in that.
“We are a small company offering niche products with more thought on design. Therefore, as we’ve grown we have gravitated in that direction - it’s not just about price.”
Covering all bases
Mobility scooters range from the smaller vehicles that can be folded up and transported right through to the much larger, more stable models, some of which even give people the freedom to ride off-road.
“We’ve worked hard to get a range that covers all the bases but without making it confusing,” said Mr Stone
“It’s about ensuring we get the right people on the right products – we will visit them and take them different ones to try.
“When people have mobility issues for the first time they really don’t know what they want. It’s a difficult decision to make if they are looking at this for the first time – Are they in town or country? Do they want to get it into the back of a car? Do they want to take it on holiday? Do they just want to go shopping or do they want to walk the dog? Sometimes people want to be able to do all these things.”
And although the products are made by other companies, the models distributed by TGA include a TGA badge.
“We have always done our own branded product where we have the sole distributions rights for that company in the UK,” explained Mr Stone.
“We work with the suppliers to get products to our specification and we brand them up – it’s important to us and we’ve always wanted to have our own identity.”
Making a difference
Mr Stone shows me the latest mobility innovation that has got the industry talking: the WHILL Model C - a Japanese-made mobility vehicle that last year was named one of the world’s top 50 inventions by TIME magazine. It is lightweight, can turn on a sixpence and is easily disassembled into three parts. It can also be controlled remotely via a smartphone app, so users can park it out of the way if needs be. It’s already regarded as a design classic and is testament to how far the mobility vehicle sector has come.
“Quite often mobility scooters get a bad press and I find that frustrating,” continued Mr Stone.
“They may focus on one incident where a person gets knocked over on a pavement but the amount of good things they do far outweighs this and that doesn’t often get conveyed.”
He added: “When we talk to people in the showroom, get out to exhibitions and get feedback from users, we find out what a difference their vehicle has made to their lives.
“It’s all too easy to forget that at times – like any other business we sometimes shut ourselves away trying to figure everything out.
“But when we hear this, there’s a real pride in the products we source from around the world.”