By Jennifer McFee
A growing Manitoba business is driving forward with its efforts to help others by removing barriers to transportation and health care. MoveMobility got its start by designing and manufacturing wheelchair-accessible conversions to original equipment manufactured vehicles.
CEO Richard Jones began pondering vehicle modifications 30 years ago in an attempt to find safer and more comfortable ways to transport his sister-in-law, who lives with spina bifida. “It sowed the seeds of why we’re in business — we like to care for individuals who need a safe method of transportation. We were in a completely different market space for vehicle modifications and we were getting asked if we do wheelchair-accessible vehicles. That led us into the market here in Winnipeg,” he says. “There was no one doing it and there was such a demand. Advance to today and we’ve developed a range of innovative solutions for safe transportation. We have a solution that’s economical and meets industry standards and safety codes.”
In 2015, MoveMobility branched out to open an Ontario-based facility to manufacture vehicles, in addition to its Winnipeg location. “We were slowly growing,” Jones says. “Then 2019 was an interesting year for us because we had 35 per cent growth in one year through innovation. We hired a lot of local people here and we had a desire to go into the export market.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Jones saw it as an opportunity for further improvement. “As a company, we were able to change direction very fast. We were in survival mode, but we went through every line item expense. We wrote letters to all our vendors about their supply chain and products, and we asked if there was anything we could do to help,” he says. “We partnered with our vendors and it helped us understand the challenges they were going through. We shared those challenges, which made us a stronger company. It goes back to the whole vision and philosophy of the company — we enjoy helping others.”
For MoveMobility, the pandemic also led to challenges with its own supplies and raw materials like steel and lumber. “These things became very difficult to get, so we put the whole business model on its head to turn ourselves into being completely self-sufficient,” Jones says. “Through 2021, we decided to go into our own manufacturing. We’ve made an investment in machinery and we manufacture everything we put into our vehicles here in Winnipeg.”
This process has resulted in further growth, with a 40 per cent increase in employees in 2022. “It’s provided local sustainable work,” Jones says. “It’s made us even more nimble, quick and adaptable as a company.”
In the midst of the pandemic, MoveMobility also began getting requests to develop a mobile outreach vehicle to help support unsheltered people living on the streets. The company responded by developing a mobile medical treatment centre, and the inquiries continue to come in from across Canada and the United States. “Our true vision of turning ourselves into an export company is becoming a reality because of inquiries in the product and what we’ve been able to manufacture in-house,” Jones says. “Innovation means we’re able to offer a product to the outreach community in the States, which is huge. The opportunities are endless. It’s another complete market that we never even saw on our radar screen.”
On this journey towards expansion and export, Jones is quick to acknowledge the help they’ve received along the way. “Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) through Prairies Economic Development Canada saw what we were doing early on and gave us support,” he says. “RBC has also been extremely supportive of our cause.”
At the same time, Jones stresses the value of participating in World Trade Centre Winnipeg’s Trade Accelerator Program (TAP). “I can’t speak highly enough of the whole TAP program because it gave us those contacts,” he says.
“As soon as we mention we’ve been through TAP training, companies sit up and listen.”
CAO Carrie McDonald agrees they’ve seen tangible benefits since completing TAP in 2021. “It’s paid for itself a hundred times over now through the introductions, the different resources available and the export plan we put together,” she says. “I refer to that plan all the time and I use it as a framework for other plans. It’s been incredible.”
Although they’re still working through a few export-related hurdles, Jones is optimistic about more opportunities to expand the company’s reach. “We’re forging ahead with our export plan now. It’s going to come to fruition through Q4 of 2022. We’ve also signed on with a marketing agency to help us develop our U.S. market even further,” he says. “As well, we’ve signed up for a program to help us internally with the leadership structure.”
In 2023, they expect to add at least eight more positions to the company, thanks in part to another upcoming expansion. “We’ve had an offer accepted on a 10-acre parcel of property in CentrePort where we’re going to build ourselves a new facility in about 2025-26,” Jones says. “We’re bursting at the seams — and it’s very exciting.”