Mobility business powers ahead in accelerating expansion drive; SCOOTERS have put Kevin Collinson on the road to success, as David Jones reports.
KEVIN Collinson's company is dedicated to increasing the mobility of thousands of people by providing them with improved means of transport.
Appropriate, then, that the business itself may soon be on the move.
Collinson is not the sort of man to stand still and has grasped business opportunities in the market for scooters and powered wheelchairs with both hands.
He set up Prestige Mobility just two years ago and since then the business has gone on to enjoy growth and win a top business award.
From humble beginnings - two staff working with a telephone from a shed - the business has grown into an operation employing 33 people in North West Wales and another 20 in the UK.
First year turnover was just under pounds 1m and that has risen to pounds 3.5m this year. Even more rapid growth could be on the cards if the Bangor-based company secures EU Objective 1 funding for a proposed major expansion.
Managing director Collinson says: ``Our core business is the sale and subsequent servicing of electrically powered mobility scooters and power chairs manufactured in the Far East or the USA.
``But our long term goal as a company is to develop facilities to manufacture or assemble the products in Wales and we would hope to source many of the components from the UK if not from Wales itself.''
Crucially, that plan hinges on the bid for financial help from the Objective 1 programme for a proposed pounds 1m development on Llandygai Industrial Estate, on the outskirts of Bangor. The 12,500 sq ft of floor space would enable Prestige to relocate its head office, currently located in a building close to Bangor railway station, and its distribution and service centre, at present at Gaerwen, Anglesey.
``We have asked for Objective 1 funding of about 32pc and we would fund the rest ourselves. But without that EU funding, the plans we have for the future will not happen immediately,'' warns Collinson.
``If we do receive the funding, we will aim to make an immediate start on the project. Even though the company is only two years old, several American companies have tried to buy us out to get a foothold in this country. We have resisted those offers but will be seriously tempted if we do not get the funding.''
Llandygai will be a phased development in a building which is being refurbished to the company's specifications. Expansion to the site is expected to create about 10 new jobs in the first year, and more later. The company has already won a Welsh Development Agency Smart Award for Innovation which will help address quality issues and examine ideas on how to improve the scooters' technology.
But why site such a business in Bangor? Collinson says he has lived locally for the past two decades and likes the area. He says he is pleased to be able to provide employment for local people and to be able to reinvest profits in growing the business.
``We could be more centrally placed in relation to the rest of the UK and it does cost us money to get our products out, but we do not think that is a problem.''
He said he had approached the Business Connect offices in North Wales but had been unable to access the sort of guidance or mentor programmes which he felt could have helped it at the time. He had to put his house and his own money on the line to get the business started, a risk which is now paying off handsomely. He continues to hold 100pc equity in the business. Asked to do a spot of crystal ball-gazing and predict where the business will be in five years time, Collinson says that sales will have mushroomed to somewhere in the region of pounds 25m, although he claims that could easily double if the company moves into manufacturing and sells into the European market.
``Over the past two years we have sold between 3,000 and 3,500 units. Ninety-nine per cent of our business is direct to our customers and the other 1pc is to charitable institutions.
``The company's net profits are about 12pc, up from 9pc in our first year. It is a healthy margin, but with our heavy advertising costs we do need to be careful. Most of our business is won through media advertising, in newspapers, and on television.
``We do need to maintain healthy margins to be able to fund the growth of the business. That said, we are very competitive and refuse to be beaten on price.''
Collinson said: ``Our customers are mostly in the UK, but we also supply the scooters to Norway and Madeira. The export side of the business will increase substantially if we can assemble the vehicles here in North Wales.
``We are going to expand and diversify in the first half of next year into reclining chairs, adjustable beds and stair lifts, all for the domestic market.
``We have a massive customer data base and we might as well use it to maximum benefit. People have been ringing us up and asking if we supply these other products and we thought why not tap into that market.''
The company has a developing internet presence but uses its website more to disseminate information on its product range and service than to sell because it says it is important for customers to also get personal help from staff in choosing the right product.
The fact that its management and sales team has many years combined experience in the mobility market has allowed the company to provide the sort of quality product and level of service normally achieved only by longestablished businesses.
Rapid growth and a can-do attitude were recognised when Prestige Mobility was presented with a Daily Post Achievement Wales 2002 Business Award last month. The company won the University of Wales Bangor-sponsored Start-up Award.
``We are competitive and we like to win. But we were up against a couple of tough candidates for the award and it was nice to come out on top. Just getting onto the short-list was success in itself, winning was the icing on the cake. We did not go to the award ceremony thinking that we were going to win.''
Prestige is hoping too work more closely with Bangor University and to tap into its resources to help grow the business.
Collinson may be the company's leader but goes to pains to make it clear that he regards the success of the business as a team effort.
He says that when interviewing potential new recruits their attitude, drive and determination to succeed carry more weight with him than a cv listing of academic achievements.
Hand-picking staff is important if the business is to realise its potential. And a bonus system helps employees to ``make a good living for themselves by doing the job properly.''
Collinson does not seem to be overly surprised by the success of the business which he says makes quality of customer service its touchstone.
``It is a growing market, but most people in it are trying to sell rather than trying to help the customer. We insist on helping the customer get the right product and it has to be a quality product at a fair price delivered in an ethical deal. Building quality into the business has been paramount.''
Age: 34. Home town: Liverpool. Now resident: Llandudno Junction. Education: Friars School, Bangor, after his family moved to North Wales when he was 13.
Degree in criminology from University of Wales Bangor. First job: In his parents' fish and chip shop in Llanfairfechan.
Marital status: Lives with partner and their two children.
Interests outside work: EvertonFC season ticket holder; reading autobiographies.
Unfulfilled ambition: ``To help people who mean a lot to me.'' Personal business philosophy: ``Help people get what they need, and you will get what you want.''
COLLINSON: His ambition is pounds 25m turnover with help from EU aid programme
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|Publication:||Daily Post (Liverpool, England)|
|Date:||Dec 18, 2002|
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