Alphamarque was set up to provide options to people that have difficulty getting around due to age or disability. Over the last 30 years, Alphamarque has established itself as the leading mobility and easier living supplier in the home counties by offering quality products with personalised services. The founder and Chairman of Alphamarque, Grahame Partridge gave Herts Review some insight into the business and its plans going forward.
The idea of setting up Alphamarque came up when Grahame was working as a Senior Executive for Remploy, a UK government supported programme dedicated to finding work for disabled people. Grahame had observed that outside work, most disabled people found getting around extremely challenging as there was a lack of facilities and products which could make their life easier. “Access was difficult. Mobility was difficult, and this affected the quality of life of the disabled”.
Armed with strong retail and marketing experience from 18 years working for oil giant Esso as well as the drive, and ambition to build a business, Grahame set out to find a solution for this problem. In 1990, Alphamarque was registered as a private company focused on creating a retail network of shops and mobile showrooms to sell lots of products for easier living for the elderly or disabled. The company started trading in the first quarter of 1991. “At the time, most equipment or products for the elderly and disabled were solely provided by social services. It meant there was little choice for them. Our business offered choice and service by making available several options to the elderly or disabled”.
Setting up a company during a recession is no mean feat. However, Grahame believes that it helped him focus on how to build a business and a framework that mitigated risk. “I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to control my destiny. I am really grateful for my career in Esso and Remploy because I acquired the skills and experience needed to thrive in business. Add in the fact that I come from a family that is caring and love helping people, I was confident I would succeed.”
Initially, Alphamarque put together a network of agents focused on speaking to customers, creating awareness, and selling products. “It was almost like the Avon model then. With my past business experience, I created a professional catalogue of our products to support our agents on the field. These were stepping stones and as a young entrepreneur, it was an opportunity to test new things in the market”. The company also created awareness with the Stroke Association, British Heart Foundation amongst others. As demand continued to grow, the company became profitable and set up its first physical shop in Hatfield Galleria in 1996.
This was a major turning point for the company, and it remained in Hatfield Galleria for the next 13 years. Grahame puts this into context. “When we moved to Hatfield Galleria, there were 80 stores with 40 independents. By the time we moved out of the Galleria, there were only 3 independents including us. We upsized 3 times moving from a retail space of 800 sq. ft to 3000 sq. ft. The Galleria believed in me. It was also important to think big and put our products in front of approximately 5 million people. Success was slow and steady. Our achievements were down to hard work, determination, our product selection and our exceptional customer service”.
The company has now settled into a retail unit in St Albans, Hertfordshire with another shop in Colchester, Essex. It has a strong supply chain with relationships that have lasted for many years with many British manufacturers. “We have kept the business profitable for all these years. We work with our suppliers providing product feedback, design, and packaging ideas”. A common theme in Alphamarque is the long relationships it has built over the years with customers, suppliers and even staff. For instance, the manager in the Colchester shop has worked for the company for 27 years.
The success of the business has come with its fair share of challenges. Initially taking on staff and training them was challenging. Letting go of the day-to-day responsibilities was a challenge as Grahame loves what he does and is deeply passionate. Closing the Colchester shop during the covid-19 lockdown brought more challenges as well. For every challenge, the team at Alphamarque have shown resilience by looking for solutions. For instance, Alphamarque has taken steps to halt all weekend trading so that the shops are thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated for the safety of staff and customers. Although this has some adverse impact on sales, customers and staff are happy that they can trust Alphamarque to always do the right thing.
Alphamarque is a unique business. Customer service is at the heart of everything. There are several instances where the company has gone out of its way to provide exceptional services to customers including extending trading hours for a customer to pick up a product. They also take products to customers to test before they purchase. “The free advice, information, support, service levels and helping people without them feeling indebted to us is what we are about”. It is no coincidence therefore that over 80% of their business comes from personal recommendation with the rest from advertising mainly through Facebook.
For Grahame, each positive or negative event is always an opportunity for something better. He is extremely proud of the business he has built and wants to create a legacy. His family has been extremely supportive and have always been involved in the business in some capacity. At the moment, his daughter Caroline is managing the business. The business is not for sale. There is a possibility of acquiring another business, but it is key to remain profitable and protect what has been built. He will continue to support the business in various capacities until he can no longer do so. Alphamarque will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. Our team congratulates Alphamarque on this great achievement. For mobility and easier living products check Alphamarque’s website here.