While scooter selling season may be coming to a close there is little time for mobility retailers to sit back. The autumn and winter season is upon the industry which means it is crunch time for dealers wanting to cash in on the annual surge in demand for rise recliners.
There are few people as aware of the importance of this part of the year for certain companies as Sherborne Upholstery’s joint managing director, Chris Walker. He speaks for many when he says that now “is an extremely important time” as the longer nights and colder weather mean end-users spend more time inside, sitting in and getting out of their chairs.
Demonstrating just how important the season is for businesses selling rise recliners, Pride’s senior sales manager, Paul Clayton, reveals that sales of the products tend to increase by around 40% between September and December compared to May and August. This is largely down to mobility retailers promoting the products more in their showrooms to capitalise on demand.
Of course, each retailer pitches themselves differently and some rely more on this period than others. David Tomlin, director at Primacare, which supplies distributors with furniture, estimates that rise recliners typically make up about 20% of a dealer’s annual turnover. While he admits that this figure may vary significantly between businesses, it nevertheless goes to show the sector is a vital revenue stream for mobility retailers.
Interestingly though, Electric Mobility’s Cosi Chair product manager, Anthony Thresher, has found that sales of rise recliners are evolving and claims that they are now best sellers all year-round.
He says: “Mobility shops are becoming more focused on these products and a substantial amount of showroom space is being given to riser recliners. We think this is being driven by the increase of care in the community schemes and the growing national NHS shortage of beds as hospitals continue to struggle…forcing more people to be cared for in the home.”
Squeeze in the middle
The next few months will undeniably be critical for a number of firms in the industry and keeping abreast of trends will be advantageous. Thresher’s insight is that there are “polar opposite” trends within the current marketplace. He believes sales are strong at the premium end of the market and equally buoyant at the lower end.
“The middle market is definitely feeling the squeeze and is getting hit hard as consumers are being offered a choice of entry level chairs at low prices to attract shoppers into shops. With showroom space being extremely limited retailers appear to sell only entry or premium offerings.”
Tomlin agrees that the entry level of the market is seeing an influx of equipment but where the end-user is concerned, he sees this trend as an issue.
He explains: “There has been an increase in Chinese manufactured cheaper chairs supplied by importers and most retailers tend to have one as a starter price point. However the majority of these chairs are what they are – cheap. And they use cheaper actions which tend to open up the hip angle and create shear. They are not as comfortable and stable and supportive as our chairs. We see the requirement for a tilt-in-space chair increasing and over 95% of the chairs we make would have this function.”
While dealers may be pulled towards either the cheaper or higher end of the market, Clayton feels that given how wide the market is, dealers need to be able to offer all types of rise recliners. This is so that when a would-be customer visits the showroom looking to purchase a chair they can be shown a full range rather than limiting their purchasing potential.
Making the most of the rising market in the coming weeks
While most companies will no doubt be looking forward to the prospect of boosting sales in the coming weeks and months, as with any market, there are barriers standing in the way.
Unsurprisingly, the huge choice of different places to buy a rise recliner is one of the main challenges Clayton recognises. He says that to counter this, mobility dealers must promote their business well in their locality and ensure that the consumer knows what they sell and what they can offer.
Overcoming the challenges however also falls to the manufacturers, who are responsible for supporting their partners. Thresher notes that educating retailers on products so they understand them fully is one of the most important aspects of support.
Similarily, Tomlin comments: “The main challenge is always that the ultimate customer is not often a repeat customer and so the reasons to buy a more expensive British-made, tilt-in-space chair have to be continually explained and the sales person trained. Many manufacturers can make similar looking chairs and the differentiation is a continuous problem.”
Echoing Tomlin, Walker says that chairs that look great and appeal to customers are very important. It is a challenge for designers to ensure that rise recliners are functional and comfortable without looking like a medical product, he says. Walker feels that this can be aided by having matching chairs, settees and recliners that can complete a suite rather than only offering a standalone recliner.
He adds that when looking for rise recliner stock, mobility dealers will do well to look at matching pieces that complement one another while also catering for people of different heights and weights.
Explaining what else resellers should look for in stock, Walker comments: “The days of older people wanting tapestry fabrics are long gone. Quick delivery is a must and on lots of occasions the person requiring a riser recliner needs it immediately. I would also always recommend a good battery back-up to get around any power failures and also an anti-entrapment feature to ensure additional safety.”
Meanwhile, Thresher thinks that dealers should be looking to offer a wide range of chairs. He is seeing less and less choice in showrooms with retailers stocking cheaper, low-end models from multiple suppliers which all have the same functionality.
“A showroom with five chairs may only be selling one model whereas stocking four to five chairs with a different movement can help the consumer find the chair best suited to their condition. We are also seeing a huge push for UK manufactured chairs with 25 stone weight limits being fairly standard across all medium and large models and five years warranty.”
Despite the different recommendations on what products to stock, each dealer will be pitching themselves differently and they cannot be expected to be all things to all people. Nevertheless, keeping your options open and staying as diverse as possible seems to be a good way of approaching a sector that not everyone can agree on.
Perhaps a few key things to consider are what audience you are trying to target, how you are laying out and presenting rise recliners in the showroom and what stock suits your business model. After winter has passed it will be clear what has worked, what has not and what can be learned for the next season.
Q&A: Alan Sullivan, marketing manager, Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare
How important are rise recliners to mobility retailers during the autumn/winter trading season?
As we enter the autumn and winter months scooter sales begin to slow down and the importance of rise recliner sales and other high ticket items rises. From our experience, riser sales are not as seasonal as scooters and some other mobility aids but they are very important to the retailers during the quieter winter months.
What are the main challenges facing this market and how can they be overcome?
Our challenge has been to develop our range to ensure our portfolio stays in line with the evolving market and customer demand. Over the last year we recognised our range required some attention and we are now delighted to be launching a new range of risers including some premium UK manufactured models at the Trade Days show.
In a market with such a rich and diverse supplier offering, what should dealers look for when selecting rise recliners to stock?
The key factor is to provide customers with choice, appreciating the diverse needs of the market and trying to accommodate this in store. The issue for many retailers is they don’t have the space to be able to display the range they would like to, hence they have to be very selective with what they can display in the store. We find the stores that have the most success have a ‘price point’ chair on the floor to start from and then a small selection of other more premium models to sell up to.