Andrew Atkinson is a man on a mission to make mobility aids affordable and accessible for everyone in the UK. Frustrated by the prohibitively high prices of these essential devices, Andrew decided to take matters into his own hands and use technology to create a solution.
Industrious From a Young Age
Andrew’s entrepreneurial journey began at the age of 13 when he helped a man who had moved into his grandma and grandad’s house after they passed away. The man ran a mobility business but had little technical ability to fix electric mobility scooters. Andrew, who had a strong natural technical ability, helped him to fix his scooters after school hours. He continued to work for the man part-time alongside his studies, and left school in 2000.
His passion for working on mobility aids didn’t wane, and he continued working for his former employer until 2004. Though as time passed, Andrew picked up on an opportunity in the mobility sector that his previous employer had chosen not to pursue: selling online. In 2004, Andrew left his employer to start his own online mobility company, Mobility Smart.
“I remember back then, I was looking at how the existing mobility aids market was severely limited in its reach. At the same time, I was watching the huge growth of the internet, creating a great opportunity to supply daily living aids and mobility gear to a much larger audience on a national basis. Being naturally entrepreneurial, I thought that it was an opportunity too good to miss, so I jumped at the chance to start my own online business.” – Andrew Atkinson
Starting with only £1000, Andrew faced numerous challenges in the early days of the business. As a young entrepreneur in a market usually run by much more seasoned experts, he struggled to find suppliers who would deal with him. He nearly quit before the close of the first year, as getting accounts with suppliers began to seem impossible.
However, Andrew had a strong belief that the online selling model was here to stay and had enormous growth potential, so he persisted.
From 2006 on, his business expanded into selling through trade accounts, winning orders from the NHS, schools, care homes, and councils. In 2008, Andrew and his staff rented their first building in Garstang – a unit on Creamery Industrial Estate – which they still have today. The same year, they acquired their first van to deliver mobility gear in the area. In 2009, Andrew opened a retail store in Garstang to service local mobility needs.
Weathering the Storm
By 2012, Andrew had migrated the online store to the Magento ecommerce platform, which was an incredibly financially challenging process. The technology problems caused a significant downturn for the business, but Mobility Smart bounced back to reach a £1 million turnover in 2013. The business invested heavily in technology and expanding the staff team. In 2016, they upgraded to Magento 2 ecommerce platform, which Andrew described as equally challenging once again.
“Like with many other online and technology-based businesses, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced has been keeping up with the constant cycle of changes that the internet can throw at you. With almost two decades of business behind me, I am still learning and adapting. There are new challenges coming at myself and the team almost daily, as technology marches on so quickly. I just accept that and make it my business to stay well ahead of the curve.” – Andrew Atkinson
The business successfully navigated Brexit by nurturing successful partnerships with several suppliers and manufacturers. However, when Covid hit in early 2020, it caused operational difficulties, due to only having limited staff available in the office and warehouse to fulfil orders. Despite initial upticks in orders due to PPE and sanitising products, a ‘perfect storm’ of Brexit, Covid, and the impact of the Evergiven container ship being stranded in the Suez Canal in 2021, caused massive delays in the supply chain and big shortages in other areas.
Despite these difficulties, Andrew and his team stuck to their commitment to customer care and satisfaction, which got the company through this difficult time.
The war in Ukraine pushed up energy costs for the company, making it much more expensive to run the warehouse and fuel delivery fleet. Customers also felt the squeeze, cutting spending on everything except essential items as they faced a cold winter in 2022/23 and saw their energy bills, food costs, and mortgage rates skyrocket.
Despite this pressure on the business, Mobility Smart remained buoyant by offering very competitive pricing on essential mobility aids for the broadest possible demographic. They continued to increase their range of products and kept prices low across the range, while introducing a series of flexible payment options to help customers spread the costs of their purchases.
An Ongoing Success Story
In 2023, Mobility Smart invested heavily in new offices and workshop space, with a revamp of their main retail showroom. Behind the scenes, the team integrated advanced AI technology into several business processes, increasing efficiency and lowering operational costs.
The business continues on a path of growth, with a philosophy of offering the best products to make life easier. They are now the largest UK online company specialising in mobility and daily living aids, with an extensive customer base spanning the whole of the UK.
“I look forward to a future of continued growth, utilising technology to assist us on this upward curve. In the medium term, I see a move to much larger premises to help us to accommodate the increase in demand that we are seeing, which we believe will continue into the 2030’s and beyond. We’ll also continue our expansion into value-added services, like our recently launched Bathroom Adaptations project. There are so many areas of potential expansion, so it looks like a very exciting future for us.” – Andrew Atkinson, Mobility Smart CEO
Through his hard work and innovative use of technology, Andrew has made a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities and mobility impairments across the UK. His dedication to affordability and accessibility has helped countless people regain their independence and live full and active lives.