REPORT: How dealers can re-market specialist seating to lift sales

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It is no secret that specialist seating solutions play an important part in the lives of people who are elderly or disabled and as a result are a strong retail asset for mobility dealers. Not only are they vital for day-to-day comfort but there is increasing awareness around their medical benefits for users. However, some believe that even more can be done to market seating solutions as medical equipment on the same level as hoists, mobility scooters and stairlifts.

Rebecca Dunstall, clinical specialist at Careflex, a provider of seating solutions, asserts: “I think we really need to step away from seeing specialist seating as a comfort chair, it really needs to be seen as a prescriptive piece of equipment, just as important as hoisting equipment or anything else. If we can step away from that and see it as a medical device, even an orthotic device if it’s used for corrective purposes, then hopefully we can really raise awareness of how important it is to someone who has abnormal posture or is at risk of pressure injury.”

Reinforcing this idea, Lisa Wardley, managing director of seating specialist supplier Repose Furniture, notes: “It is essential that any healthcare facility looks at their potential customer needs. They will have seating requirements and their generic needs should be met within the specialist furniture provided by that facility.” It is agreed that postural management should be at the forefront of care providers’ minds and, as such, retailers marketing their seating should tailor to this to get the best response.

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Repose’s Harlem Porter is tailored to support neurological conditions.

Repose’s Harlem Porter is tailored to support neurological conditions.

In a time when the public care sector is undergoing an unprecedented squeeze on resources and private care companies are looking to tighten costs, retailers looking to approach care facilities can arm themselves with a bona fide argument for saving providers money. An expert in the field, Dunstall is well placed to offer advice to retailers on how they can convince care providers that specialist seating can not only improve clients’ lives but also save care companies significant amounts of money.

Speaking at Rise4Disability, Dunstall said 30% of patients in the community and around 20% of patients in nursing homes are at risk of pressure injury, resulting from improper seating. “If we’re thinking about a grade one where there may be some redness but the skin is still intact, treatment costs about £1,000. For a grade four, which can see full tissue loss, even down to the bone, that’s over £24,000. So if we’re thinking about a 100-bed nursing home where up to 20 of those residents are at risk of pressure injury, we’re talking almost half a million pounds just to treat that pressure injury,” Dunstall comments.

“We need to step away from seeing specialist seating as a comfort chair, it needs to be seen as a prescriptive piece of equipment, just as important as hoisting equipment”

Repose also believes the specialist seating market this year will put more stress on the medical benefits of products and the cost savings they can bring. Wardley advises retailers: “There will be more emphasis on postural care due to the ongoing cost of managing skin breakdown in the UK. ‘Stop the Pressure’ states that treating pressure ulcers costs the NHS more than £3.8m every day. Any organisation that takes seating seriously is really taking on board the financial cost but also the health and well-being of their clients.”

But its not just about a medical offering. Manufacturers are now more aware than ever that retailers need to be supplied with seating that offers clients style as well as support. As obvious as it may seem, retailers can expect to shift more units if they market the real importance of aesthetics and style to their clients.

Speaking in regards to a user’s style preferences, Dunstall highlights: “Even if a chair has a host of clinical benefits, the user might not use it if they’re not comfortable – that’s how important it is. If the user doesn’t feel comfortable then they’re not going to use it. Does the chair fit into their daily living? Otherwise all that hard work won’t pay off.” Retailers could argue that the financial savings care providers are trying to achieve through preventing pressure injury could be undone by something as simple as a chair a user does not like the look of.

Lisa Wardley, managing director of Repose Furniture.

But it’s not only end-users in the care sector that are trying to pull costs. Suppliers of specialist seating are generally aware that retailers experience knock-on effects whenever the care sector slows spending. As a result, manufacturers like Repose are looking to support their partners by offering them something to encourage promotional discounts to bolster the retailer’s advertising. This year, Repose has embarked on an initiative to offer its partners special offers each month on its products. This is partly in a drive to push its own sales but also in the hope of boosting business and the product offer for retail partners.

“We recognise that purchasers have tight budgets and therefore we have a range of high quality seating solutions to suit different needs – all without compromising quality,” explains Wardley. Additional support is put in place to improve business for all parties, as Wardley points out: “Our designers and resident OT, Kate Sheehan, work in close partnership with client retailers and health chair suppliers to tailor solutions for their particular client’s requirements and budgets, to the point that we have designed and manufactured bespoke solutions.”

Few people would argue that retailers of specialist seating solutions are not pushing their products in every way they can. But it is clear that an expert insight into the reality of the human and financial cost of unsuitable seating can be used by retailers to market products in a new light. Predicting the market is never straightforward so it can be difficult for dealers to decide what to stock. But in terms of seating solutions, it appears that the two key factors driving trends are a greater emphasis on postural care and stylish chairs that the user likes and is comfortable in. If suppliers and dealers can offer products in line with these trends and market them accordingly, 2017 could prove to be a bumper year for the specialist seating market.

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