The Purple Pound: Making money in the disability market

In an online article, the BBC has recently shed light on the disability market and presented companies tapping into that potential. The collective spending power of people with a disability, their friends and family, is described as a large segment:  The so-called ‘Purple Pound’ incorporates about 20% of all consumers and is valued at £212 billion, in the U.K. only.

The Blue Badge Company, which produces stylish accessories for disabled people, is a striking example of how diversity brings about diverse perspectives and hence opens doors which would otherwise remain firmly locked. The company name refers to the official blue and white disability sign. Its founder, Ellen Green, told the BBC: “It started because my friend, who was in her 30s and very stylish, had just received her first blue badge for the car. She was looking for a wallet to keep it in but all she could find was a blue one with a white wheelchair on it – it was just like many disability products, clinical and dull and difficult to use – so she made herself one with polka dots on.”

This was the starting point for the business of the Blue Badge Company, which in the meantime expanded their product range. However, Green not only sells products for people with disabilities, she also employs them. The majority of her team is doing assembly, which they can do from home. This makes it much easier for her disabled employees as they face less barriers that hinder them from working. The Blue Badge Company describes their mixed workforce as a crucial source of innovation, as they are “designing items they want, as well as need” in the way they want them to be.

The company also runs a blog, which presents news about the company, but also gives interesting examples of other products from the disability market from talking watches to playing cards for people with vision problems.

Another example of a creative idea transformed into business is the app “Good Food Talks”, which enables restaurants to create audible menus for people with vision problems. It was actually built for visually impaired people but is also used by people with dyslexia or those who need more light, nowadays. Good Food Talks is free for users and financed by the participating companies who pay an annual subscription. Yet being available in more than 1,000 restaurants and used by over 100,000 users in the U.K., the company plans to expand the U.S. soon.

Their director, Matt Wadsworth, detects a huge potential in ICT for the disability market, stating: “[…] now we live in a time where entrepreneurs are seeing the opportunity and using and developing technology to help with accessibility issues.”

As the disability market is widely untapped, not only small start-ups are entering, but also lager companies are discovering ways to get some of the Purple Pounds. Lloyd’s Pharmacy, for example, has opened six stores called “Betterlife”, which only sell items to support independent living of people with disabilities.

According to Diversity marketing experts, this ‘separation strategy’ only scratches the surface of the overall potential of what can be achieved. “From the margin to the mainstream”, should be the aim, says Diversity guru, Michael Stuber, who has done research into Diversity marketing and published a Diversity marketing book. “Many examples show, that Diversity segments are extremely effective and successful to target”, he reports. One success factor is, though, to avoid stereotyping or exclusion. Once established, the targeted approach can be expanded to the mainstream market, he adds. “A diversity marketing strategy can be extremely valuable in a mass market where all brands are competing with similar propositions and messages”, he concludes.

The past decades have already produced numerous examples, many of which are not recognised as former niche solutions. Lowered kerbstones, e.g., were originally introduced for pushchairs and wheelchairs, and became a mainstream benefit for travellers of all ages and genders using wheeled bags. Nevertheless, the potential of accessible tourism is still widely untapped. According to a study included in the International Business Case Report, it ranges between EUR 620 million and EUR 1.93 billion. From a global perspective, calculations see an annual disposable income of about USD 7.9 trillion in the disability market. This should probably not be called a niche market.