Acorn Stairlifts: How we knew it was time to expand

POSTED: 22nd March 2016
IN: Industry news

We spoke to Dave Belmont, Company Secretary at EEF winners Acorn Stairlifts, to find out some of the secrets to their impressive growth.

Ever since they were established in 1992, Acorn Stairlifts have gone from strength to strength, expanding internationally to the point where they export to 80 countries and are now the number 1 supplier of stairlifts in the USA.  Every 9 minutes, an Acorn Stairlift is installed somewhere in the world!

After their recent success at this year’s EEF Future Manufacturing Awards, where they took home the Winner of Winners Award, Outstanding Export Award and runner up in the Business Growth Award, we spoke with Company Secretary Dave Belmont, to find out more about Acorn Stairlifts and how they’ve managed to achieve such enviable growth.

High ambitions fuelling growth

Acorn Stairlifts started back in 1992, with the company’s founder selling second-hand stairlifts out of the back of his car. When he couldn’t source models quick enough to meet the ever growing demand, he decided to cut out the middle man and start making his own.

“We have always been highly ambitious,” Dave comments. “Our mission statement is to be the biggest and best stairlift supplier in the world. We’ve always strived for growth – it brings down the unit costs of our stairlifts and brings us the critical mass required to service our geographical markets efficiently and profitably.

“We’ve always had an end to end business model. We design, build, sell, install, and service our stairlifts. We’re not reliant on any third parties in the distribution process. In many ways, Acorn is a retailer that makes what it sells.”

Taking a long term view

In order to grow your business, it’s vital that you’re able to look ahead and see the bigger picture. While putting growth strategies in place will involve an initial investment, it’s important to keep the long term pay-off in mind.

Dave explains how this way of thinking has been key to their success, saying: “Being a private company, Acorn Stairlifts has been able to take a long term view and make significant investments in new markets, without expecting to make immediate profits.

“We now have our own sales and distribution companies in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Ireland. Our turnover in North America is now higher than in our original, traditional UK market, and Acorn is now the market leader for stairlifts in the USA. There are not many UK companies that can say that.”

Training and development

According to the 2014 Scale-Up Report, two of the biggest issues facing businesses trying to scale up are finding employees with the right skills and building their leadership capability. However, these common problems have not held Acorn Stairlifts back, as Dave explains:

“We have a very active recruitment team and have also started to employ apprentices. We run our own leadership development programme which seeks to develop our staff into our next generation of managers. In fact, many of our senior managers started as stairlift engineers and administration staff.”

Take a look at our infographic to find out how British businesses can achieve scale-up success.

Investing in infrastructure

For Acorn Stairlifts, having the right infrastructure in place has been vital, and has allowed them to build a reputation not just for their high quality product, but also for their speed of delivery.

“No-one grows up with an ambition to own a stairlift”, Dave adds. “In many cases, a customer needs a stairlift urgently, so they can come out of hospital after an accident, or to avoid going into residential accommodation.

“Acorn Stairlifts has invested heavily in sales and installation infrastructure, so that we can respond quickly to customer enquiries. In the UK, we can even offer a next-day installation on bespoke curved staircases. None of our competitors can install stairlifts as quickly as this.”

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