CareCo is today a national British mobility retailer, with shops across England, Scotland and Wales. It employs over 160 people in 15 locations and ships 3,000 products a week from its warehouse at the Brentwood HQ.
But how did it get to where it is today? Today I sat down with Will Harrison to learn about how the company first started out and what its plans for the future are. The journey started 12 years ago in a barn in Ingatestone...
When Did You Start Working in Mobility Retail?
"I started when I was 14 years old, so it must have been in 2001, and sold my first products from my parents barn, so you could say that CareCo was born in a barn!"
How Did You Advertise and Sell Your First Mobility Scooters?
"I used to advertise second hand mobility scooters and riser recliners on shop advertising boards, and customers would pick them up from my parents barn. My dad runs Willowbrook, and back then they used to sell mobility scooters as well as chairs and beds. I would buy their returned and ex-demo stock for around £100 a piece, and then sell on. Within a short time I needed to employ some staff to help me."
What Was your Biggest Challenge Running a Business as a Teenager?
"The business side of things was a real challenge. I didn't know anything about running a retail business, so learning how to create invoices and purchase orders, keeping the accounts in order and keeping track of stock levels and sales was a huge learning curve.
"Luckily, I hired a strong team to help me early on, and today we have state-of-the-art systems in place (and the same strong team!) to keep everything running smoothly."
How Did You First Grow The Business?
"In 2009 I set up Discount Mobility Direct (DMD), which was a mail order company.
"We built a website and opened trade accounts with Pride Mobility and Drive Medical, and started added one or two products a day. We also created a 16 page mail order brochure."
When Did You Open The First Shop?
"The first shop was opened unintentionally! We soon outgrew my parents barn and moved to a 11,000 sq ft warehouse and office in Chelmsford on Tattershall Way.
"The idea was to continue to do website and mail order only, but customers kept finding us and knocking on the door, so we converted a small office downstairs into a tiny mobility showroom.
"It was only about 300 sq ft, but it was a hit with customers - we soon realised that we needed to get a larger shop, so soon after we moved to what is now the CareCo HQ at Brentwood, which has a 50,000 square foot warehouse attached to the showroom, with offices upstairs - and a much bigger car park. Just after, we opened our second shop in Brierley Hill, close to Willowbrook's factory, which it moved to in 2009 after acquiring the British furniture maker, Ashley Anderson.
"We soon saw the benefit of running an additional retail unit alongside the website and mail order business, so decided to continue to expand the showroom side of the business. Hayes to the west of London was next, and we've kept growing since."
How Many Shops Does CareCo Have Now?
"There are now 15 shops in the UK: Brentwood, Maidstone, Canterbury, Norwich, Brierley Hill, Eastbourne, Cheltenham, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Leeds, Southampton, Hayes, Croydon, and we just opened our first store in Scotland last week, in Glasgow!
"We are planning new stores in Warrington and Preston, which should be opening in the next few months. You can find all our showrooms here."
What Was Your Eureka Moment?
"Without doubt it was the decision to move from being just a reseller of mobility equipment to a manufacturer / retailer.
"We still sell the top brands, including Pride and Drive, but we now have dedicated teams of designers and engineers working on our own mobility brands, which include many CareCo products, along with Abilize road scooters, MaxiComfort chairs, Li-Tech lightweight scooters, I-Go powerchairs and Tuni walking aids."
What is the Future for CareCo?
"Our goal is to have a mobility shop within easy reach of everybody in the UK. Mobility retail is a fantastic business to be in and as our products improve, demand continues to grow. Our Glasgow store also has a sizeable warehouse attached, so we are in a better position to serve Scotland and the north of England.
"It also has the UK's first indoor mobility scooter test track - many customers have told us how they are apprehensive about riding a mobility scooter for the first time, so we provide training and advice in stores, and in Glasgow, they can test drive scooters inside the safety of the showroom.
"We plan to grow the range of products that we sell under our own name and keep working closely with the major innovators in the mobility industry so that we can bring the best new products to the UK market.
"This year we started our first national TV campaign by sponsoring ITV3 Afternoons, and we've just come back from a film shoot in Scarborough for our next TV ads that will be on air by the end of the year! CareCo aims to be the leading mobility retailer in the UK. “We’re also launching a new outlet mobility store soon – as the number or showrooms increases we have a larger number of ex-demo items to sell. In a way it feels like we’ve come full circle, as we are now looking at ways to market our ex-demo items - but I won’t be putting ads in shop windows this time round!"
Thanks Will for taking the time to answer these questions - CareCo has been on a great journey so far, and I'm looking forward to being part of the journey in the future!