In this blog (the third in a four-part series about retailing telecare) Richard Haynes, Director at The Community Gateway and founder of Gadget Hub, shares his experience of giving telecare the retail factor.

During Easter of 2013 I took part in a national competition called the ‘Retail Factor’, hosted by The Mall Fund. My concept was to retail, in a mainstream retail environment, telecare and electronic assisted living technologies (eALT) or, as I prefer to call these products, Life Enhancing Technology (LET). The Mall Fund owns and operates six shopping centres across the UK, represented in Greater London, the North West and South West regions. It is home to over 600 retail units and attracts approximately 1.4 million shopping visits every week. Imagine what I thought! With that many retail visits, the (then called) ‘3 million lives’ NHS England initiative could be achieved in less than 2.15 weeks. Job done! The competition was open to anyone with a product or service they wanted to sell. There is more about the competition on Shirley Ayres’ blog, so I am not going to dwell on the competition too much except to say something about the format and types of retail businesses taking part.

Retail formats

Most of the finalists I was competing with had established retail businesses that were selling existing recognised products, with price points well below £15 to £20. They included baby products, cupcakes, and mobile phone covers. The retail format being used were the types of kiosks that you often see Sky occupying in shopping malls. By contrast, my business was based on a product range and category very few people had heard of and neither the product market nor the business was in anyway established. Additionally, the average price point for me was upwards of £40, although we had Magiplugs starting from £4.99, and the more expensive end of the product range was in the £100s.

There were some stipulations in the competition and in total 27 competition conditions applied. One rule was that applicants must have an established retail business to participate in the promotion… Mmm, I thought. There is not even a market for telecare or LET to speak of, for consumers anyway. I read the advert inviting people to take part three to four weeks before the competition applications closed and the two week trading/judging period started. So in February, I didn’t have any inventory or POS (point of sale) and certainly no inventory controls or EPOS (electronic point of sale or in other words a means to receive payment). I would need a branding and promotions strategy. I would need materials, pricing, means of supply, means of payment, and to consider other aspects including recruiting support and providing training to ensure the information provided was accurate and proper, as well as signposting should someone need expert advice. Still, I was determined to have an operating retail ready business for the first day, and I wanted it to look professional. It caused some tensions with people within the industry, not least some of my colleagues, but I believed what I was doing was right. So it was not without some personal sacrifice. I worked for seven weeks, unpaid, and put everything in place that was required. I had help planning the event and in supporting the kiosk from Our Place Community Hub CIC and West Midlands Police. I drove around the country to meet with manufacturers, explaining what the competition was about and gathering product very kindly lent to me. In particular, I was very grateful to PivoTell, Just Checking, The Carephone, and Easylink. There were some positive steps from O2 Health and Home and also TSA (Telecare Services Association), but sadly the timescales were just too tight to mobilise. The initiative was promoted through these channels and requests for support were made. In the two weeks of trading support was provided by Dudley Council Telecare Service, Stonham Mental Health, and West Midlands Police.

My lessons in retailing telecare and LETs

I will confess at this stage, I have had a lot of experience in retail but it was a long time ago. I left school on a retail apprenticeship, going on many residential training weeks and attending college and have worked all over the UK in a variety of retail settings as part of my training and development. I then, after graduating in Business and Finance, joined a graduate recruitment programme and worked in retail operations, store development, finance, IT, marketing, buying and distribution. The main advantage this gave me over the people who volunteered to support me was that I actually knew how hard it would be. I didn’t have, as the competition required, an established business, but hearing the voices, ‘that won’t work’, ‘we need evidence’, ‘telecare is too specialist and niche’, and ‘there is no consumer market’, spurred me on.

My response to the points ‘that won’t work’ and ‘we need evidence’ is dealt with in a separate blog on my web site (‘they ought to have known better’). Very briefly though, whilst it would be desirable to have more evidence of the benefits and outcomes for telecare, what we do know and is very well placed before us and evidenced is that health and social care continuing as we are, will definitely fail…

What next?

This is the third in a four-part series of blogs (read the others here). In my final post I will share more of the lessons I’ve learned during my journey of retailing telecare.

Thanks for reading!

Richard @richardchaynes @tcg_cic 

Check out a photo gallery from Richard’s retailing experience