Innovative Retailer – The Unlimited Company

Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

Name: The Unlimited Company.

The Place: 14 stores currently spread around the UK fairly evenly and an increasing online presence too.

The Story: You have to have your wits about you when you shop here.

How so? If you visit a store in Norwich you are looking for the sign that says ‘Simply Health Independent Living’.

Seems easy enough: However, if you seek out the unit in Kenilworth you will be in a ‘Care and Mobility’ shop.

Um: And of course, should you be visiting in Blackburn then you need to look out for the ‘Unlimited Company’ branding.

I don’t know about you, but I am officially confused already: Don’t worry Managing Director Matthew Main has it covered. These are various iterations of the same thing and the company is busy working towards one brand but it has a complicated legacy having previously been known as Independent Living and in turn being part of a larger organisation called the Simply Health Group.

OK, now can we talk about what it actually sells? Oh sorry, forgot. Must be getting old.

You are old. You’ll be needing one of those mobility scooters next: That’s it! That’s exactly what they sell, among many other things for the home and garden like the brilliant automatic can openers. And Main is revolutionising the whole concept.

There’s a concept? Well, there’s certainly a preconception to move away from. Tell me what you think a shop selling mobility aids and easy grip breakfast trays might look like.

Easy. It will definitely be full of old people and it will be very dull and utilitarian: Finished?

No. It will also be in a draughty corner of the poorest street in the town and no one under 70 will even know it’s there. Plus it will be full of those white grab rails for the bath; Is that it?

Matthew Main, managing director, The Unlimited Company

Nope. It’s also possible that it has smelly carpets and it will close at 3pm because all the old folk will have gone home to watch Countdown: I see all the usual prejudices are in evidence.

I try my best: So now I want you to envisage the Unlimited Company philosophy on retail. Instead of dingy, dirty, back streets with poor lighting, somewhere you reluctantly go when you finally admit defeat. Think light, airy and welcoming. Somewhere you excitedly go to get a new lease of independent life. Shops which have actually been designed (by Fitch) rather than just being units to store large objects. Lots of people don’t even know what most of the appliances on show in your average showroom do, but they don’t have that problem in these shops.

I am envisaging it as we speak: Add to that extended opening hours, which allow people who have jobs and who might be accompanying or supporting the purchaser, to also come and advise.

Yup. Still envisaging: And finish up with the revolutionary idea of such shops in retail parks or even within other retail businesses such as Co-ops or Wyevale Garden Centre outlets (these are going swimmingly well, I am told) so that a trip to one can become a part of an everyday shopping trip for everyone. Dare I say it, even a pleasure!

Very important for the grey pound, I don’t doubt: Ah, let me stop you right there. Unlimited Company is actually potentially more interested in the purple pound.

I’m pretty sure it is the grey pound. Hardly anyone has a purple rinse anymore: My dear ignorant colleague, the purple pound is the disposable income of the disabled – some of whom are also elderly but many of whom are not. The Unlimited Company is focused on a teenage amputee just as much as a 90-year old person. And it is worth billions and billions to any retailer willing to come and get it.

Whoa, who said anything about disabled people? You were the one who assumed the elderly were the only clientele. Main is interested in the ‘independent living’ sector and he wants to sell his products to anyone self funding their attempts to remain active and in their own homes.

Suddenly I get the feeling that this is a very hot area of retail: Keeping people out of hospital beds and happily gardening with long-handled tools or using movable recliners so that a carer doesn’t need to come in to get them up three times a day or drinking out of two-handled cups so they don’t burn themselves is an absolute priority.

Liking it: Add to this the fact that this generation of pensioners are probably the best off ever, with their final salary pensions and owning their own homes, while the disabled are also more likely than ever to be working…

No wait, I don’t like it, I love it: And talking of owning their own homes, the clientele the Unlimited Company specialise in don’t necessarily want white plastic NHS style products all over the place. Functional – yes of course, but also stylish. In fact they don’t want their house to look ‘adapted’ at all.

They don’t? Nope. They want these products to blend into their existing décor. And to this end, one of Main’s many innovations is that the company is really pushing suppliers to up their game on this. They have already got a line of rise recliners where the manufacturers will then also construct other items from the same materials so it doesn’t look like Auntie is sitting on the ‘special’ chair while everyone else is on ‘normal’ furniture.

Ooh, what else is there? Scooter with leopardette seating and pink wheel rims? Steady on, early days. But the company has just hired a new head of merchandising who is tasked with bringing in the most innovative designs from around the whole world so it’s surely just a matter of time.

Can I just ask about technology in store because I don’t think I’m being offensive when I say that old people just don’t get it: Well, I think that is actually pretty offensive – but that doesn’t really matter because it also happens to be entirely wrong. As Main points out, Blackberries were around 20 years ago – so 50 and 60-year-olds can be very familiar with it.

Yeah, but … you know: Plus the whole family is often engaged in making these quite large purchases, sons and daughters have a very big stake in keeping parents in their own homes for as long as possible.

Yeah, but … you know: And there are no tills used in the shop at all as Main feels it constitutes a barrier for the customer and customers are fine with that. All transactions are done on tablets meaning that customers can also look at the range online if they need to. And they are fine with that too.

Yeah, but…No. Stop it – 68% of visits to the website come via mobile or tablets. You need to lose these ridiculous assumptions. But talking of technology, the Unlimited Company did undoubtedly have a problem with too many payment and IT systems (nine of them in total, blame that complicated company history again) so the whole thing was taken down and Net Suite installed just one, which controls front and back-end operations and also the online presence. Simples.

Lovely. So what’s next? A few more stores in the offing? Actually Main reckons there is room for 120 outlets bearing in mind the rapidly ageing population and greater awareness of what disabled people can achieve.

Blimey:  And then there’s the work on virtual reality technology which is in development to help people envision products in their own home.

Crikey: And the recruitment of a nationwide set of clinicians to offer home assessment, which means the company can sell to a need rather than just up-selling.

I get it! Anyway, about that automatic can opener…


PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe.