Friday, 18 January 2008

Commercial sense in Conductive Education

January Sale at Ability Camp: a pointer to the future?

In the context of present world economic conditions Western consumers are getting well used to buying their goods and services at discount rates. One way in which retailers respond to economic conditions is to hold a ‘Sale’ and there is always something to be had somewhere at a reduced price. Most consumers know that if it’s a bargain they want they should shop around – and the Internet is a good place to start looking.

There is no reason to think that Conductive Education should be any different.

A strong Loonie and a weak US Dollar

The Canadian Dollar (the ‘Loonie’) had a bad time over the nineteen-nineties and hit the bottom in 2002 at under 82 US cents. Families in the United States willing and able to travel for a Conductive Education experience often found it a positive economy to go north to Canada for what they wanted. thanks to this (to them) very favourable exchange rate. A particular beneficiary of this ‘conductive tourism’ was Ability Camp, in Picton, Ontario.

As mentioned more than once on these pages, the world has now changed and economic change affects Conductive Education as it does everything else.

The US economy has not done well in recent years. Canada’s has ridden the oil boom and the boom in other basic commodities, the value of the Loonie rising correspondingly against the euro, the pound sterling and the yen. The first surge is over now, and the Loonie has fallen back a little to around US$0.95 (giving rough parity with the pound) but the new economic balance seems set to stay, with relative strengths of the two dollars remaining at about the same level for the forseeable future.

For US families wanting to purchase Conductive Education services north of the border that could represent a hike in price of over fifty percent – not of course just in the services themselves but in all the associated costs that families who travel have to incur.

In any field, whatever benefits Canada might offer to US consumers, price will not in general one of them. On the contrary, earlier price differentials might be reversed. In other words it could be cheaper to shop around at home. As for Canadians selling goods or services in the United States, in any field, the market has got much tougher – and will probably remain so..

Ability Camp: robust response

Ability Camp is one on the longest-established Conductive Education providers in Canada (it has been going thirteen years now). It concentrates on services for cerebral palsy and strokes, but helps other conditions too, and for those who want it also offers a hyperbaric chamber. It has in common with many other Conductive Services around the world that it is parent-led but it is distinct from most in always having been a commercial venture. Over the years hundreds of children and adults have passed through its doors, many of them from the United States.

The latest email drop from Ability Camp drop reflects the new market-place condition, reporting that most families who come are struggling to find the money.

As the US dollar has fallen increasingly sharply Ability Camp has not increased prices over the last two years. As a commercial operation it is responding proactively. It speaks the language of ‘customer relations ‘ and has recently upgraded its physical facilities to provide greater added value to who choose Ability Camp over alternative facilities in North America:

Last year, we remodeled all of the bedrooms and common room (photos should be on our web site shortly.) High speed Internet is available free of charge in all rooms and each room has a telephone with an answering machine. We have also added a second classroom to the building and installed a coin-operated washer and dryer.

And now it has a Sale on, expressed in terms familiar enough at your local supermarket but not yet, I think, in Conductive Education.

We still have openings in our Feb. 11 to Mar. 14 (7—14 years old) session, which is being offered at a 25% discount.

5% discount off the next visit for families that refer new clients to the camp

Recently, many families have decided to book two sessions, usually back to back. We would like to reward this level of commitment and offer these families a 20% discount on their second session, We will also extend this discount for families taking two sessions in the same calendar year, or a family that comes with twins.

Going private in a commercial world

When Ability Camp started up in the nineties there were some in Conductive Education who rather looked down on it, as ‘private’. The high ideals of Conductive Education, this implied, could be matched only by funding from the state or through charitable organisations, preferably the former. That’s as may be, but the sad fact is that state systems have yet to deliver and many people in Conductive Education have learned to be a bit leery (or even outright distrustful) of the values and motives of state systems. As for charities, despite some remarkable contributions, Conductive Education is less and less a ‘hot’ cause for donors and in some countries the sector is becoming more bureaucratic (in the United Kingdom horrendously so). Further, students of the free lunch will not be surprised that charitable donations can come with the donors’ own agendas.

In a world where welfarist ideals are increasingly in flight and commercial relationships increasingly the norm for all sorts of personal and social activities, Ability Camp’s position begins to move towards being normal for contemporary society, raising the question of who is the deviant now.

And one has to remember that there have been other longstanding commercial concerns in the internationalization of Conductive Education. For example, Moira in Hungary and Conductive Education Support Services in the United Kingdom are long-established enterprises that over the years have adapted and evolved in response to changing economic circumstances and emerging commercial opportunities. In doing so they have helped kick-start local initiatives and made a disproportionate contribution to the development of Conductive Education services around the world.

Note that both these two enterprises are conductor-led.

Future employment for conductors

For a long time now there have been conductors who have worked as ‘self-employed’ – that is legitimately so and paying taxes etc accordingly. I am not here referring to conductors who still work in the Black Economy – nor to conductor-nannies, who might fall into either category. I know of legitimately self-employed conductors in the United Kingdom, Germany and Hungary but there are surely others too). Increasingly too I am aware of conductors operating independently in ‘consultancy’ roles, consulting to institutions or to service-users according to inclination or opportunity, and others who are seriously considering the benefits of operating in this way. Often the latter group includes conductors chaffing at the frustrations and career limitations of their work in existing institutions, where personal advancement and new, innovative ways of working might depend on a long wait for dead men’s shoes.

Social and economic change today may demand significant institutional changes in response, and require them fast. In 2002 would anyone in Canada and the United States have predicted the reversal of financial fortunes of the next six years and planned accordingly? If you can’t plan for a known world, you can at least plan to be flexible as times change. There is no a priori reason why already existing state and charitable institutions should not show the same flexibility as a commercial enterprise but many will find it hard. Can you imaging Ability Camp’s January Sale being widely emulated in many services elsewhere? But how will all this look in, say five years time? Commercial concerns can act flexibly and commercially in a way not necessarily open to all kinds of organisation. Commercial organisations that are unable to change quickly enough will die. State and charitable institutions that cannot be similarly flexible and responsive to market change, when faced with the same problems, may not die immediately but linger painfully on – but for how long and to what purpose?

State-voluntary services provided may or may not shrink in absolute terms but will have increasingly to change the ways in which they operates – they will have to be ever more ‘commercial’. But continuing expansion on Conductive Education, in terms not just of numbers but also the range of more flexible kinds of service delivery, may depend on the creation of new commercial initiatives to create employment for conductors, and depend too upon conductors themselves taking the initial initiative.


Laura Blue (2008) The Loonie takes off, Time, vol. 171, no 2, 14 January, pp. 35-8


1 comment:

  1. The mind boggles!So, that's how our 2 potential Irish conductors have learned to think in New York! ... I wrote a bit longer comment earlier, but the blog wouldn't publish it. I hope it does this time. I find it hard to follow the mindset of a computer for conversation. Emma