While powerchairs are in high-demand from end-users, it is essential that dealers offer the products that are going to work best for the consumer and indeed themselves. Leading powerchair suppliers outline what make their products and support a competitive choice among both retailers and consumers.
Powerchairs are a staple product and important stream of revenue for a lot of dealers. The sector is generally well served by a range of manufacturers and demand for the machines is steadily increasing in line with the rest of the mainstream market. The range of products available can make it challenging for suppliers to stand out, but dealers can also have a tough job deciding which products to invest hard-earned cash in.
The fact there are an increasing number of models available in the UK from both suppliers in Britain and also from abroad, makes it a very competitive arena for manufacturers and retailers alike. Every firm wants its hands on the best products and Mark Duffield, general manager of Karma, predicts that the fast-moving segment will become increasingly competitive as more manufacturers enter the space.
This will make keeping a pulse on trends and developments all the more important for distributors. Although the sector is undoubtedly competitive, some, including TGA national sales manager Tim Ross, believe it has stood still for a long time and is in need of a breath of fresh air.
He says: “The UK powerchair market has for a number of years been dominated by a small number of manufacturers all producing similar ‘me too’ products. This has resulted in very limited choice for end-users looking for stylish, innovative solutions that specifically meet individual mobility needs.”
Ross adds that to challenge this, TGA has introduced its WHILL which takes a different approach to design. He goes on to say that without products like this, end-users are left with a “limited choice of mechanical-looking products which commonly do not bolster self-esteem”.
Similarly, confident that the market will likely see an increasing demand for innovative and different powerchairs in the coming years, John Preston Healthcare’s group marketing manager, Aidan McCormack, believes it is well-placed to aid dealers. He says the folding powerchair market is growing and continues to grow. The Foldachair he says, targets those who are just struggling with their mobility and do not have a complex disability.
“Typical users include those who can’t walk as far as they used to but want to maintain their quality of travel including enjoying holidays. This market is growing and with population trends will only continue to grow. Users want portability and something that is easy-to-use and reliable with good build quality; the Foldachair gives them all that.”
Also keen to show dealers its offering can enrich their powerchair portfolios, Ryan Hirst, head of sales and marketing at Sunrise Medical, explains that as the NHS provides a more comprehensive range of powerchairs to its clients, dealers can feel as though they are lacking anything different to offer customers.
“Quickie creates products that allow our dealer network to differentiate themselves with products like the Quickie Salsa M2 Mini Red Line. This stylish compact wheelchair addresses the clinical needs of the user, but also offers luxury and style that is unlikely to be found in an NHS-issued powerchair. At Sunrise Medical we expect that there will be more emphasis on ‘upgraded’ products for dealers and certainly within our new line of powerchair products, which will be launched throughout 2018, there will be wheelchairs to satisfy the dealer’s need for a more ‘dealer specific’ product portfolio.”
Meanwhile, Alan Sullivan, marketing manager for Drive DeVilbiss’ retail division, notes that from the supplier’s experience, the powerchair sector has mirrored recent trends in the mobility scooter market. He says that over the past few years the demand for folding scooters has continued to grow year-on-year. The timing of its new Folding Powerchair therefore, is well placed. Sullivan believes that this latest launch is likely to capitalise on the trends of the current powerchair segment.
He adds: “The market is evolving and consumers today are looking for powered mobility products that not only make their lives easier but also fit into their busy lifestyles. It appears that many want all the benefits of a powerchair or scooter but without the associated issues such as storage and transportation or the time and effort involved with assembling or splitting the product.
“I suppose in this busy day and age, we are all looking for ways to make life a little easier. It wasn’t that long ago, this came in the form of microwave ovens or remote controls for the TV, nowadays typing has become too much effort as many talk to Siri to search the internet. In the world of powered mobility it comes in the form of a very lightweight auto-fold scooter or a powerchair that folds to a very compact size in a second.”
While innovative products are good for widening a dealer’s offer, there is always a danger that complicated machines can be more hassle than they are worth and cause serious headaches for retailers. Traditionally, some powerchairs have been tricky for time-pressed dealers to service and maintain but the most forward-thinking suppliers keep retailers in mind during the design and support process.
Hirst explains that Sunrise’s new Fast Track Spares system means the critical parts of the Salsa M2 Mini, and many other powered wheelchairs, are now held in stock in the UK and are available with a 72-hour lead time when ordered through the new system. He comments: “Sunrise also has a highly skilled Technical Service Centre and Product Specialist team to provide the best support for troubleshooting and solution finding. Having this support empowers our dealers to provide the best possible support to users, without the traditional challenge of wheelchair manufacturers slowing things down.”
Focusing on the design and build of the Foldachair, McCormack says that it is made to be very reliable and the most common issues come from users rather than component failure or build quality issues.
He adds: “Problems do occur of course, and we have systems and people in place to help resolve technical issues as they arise. We hold most spare parts in stock and the Foldachair warranty is three years for the frame and one year for everything else.”
Adding to McCormack’s comments, Duffield notes that Karma uses PG Drives control systems. He says they have “excellent diagnostics which can point dealers to the area of a problem”. “We also fit MK Batteries as standard as they are highly reliable and offer great after sales care,” he adds.
Providing dealers are served well by manufacturers and they invest in the products they feel will add most to their business, the opportunities for those operating in the market are significant. While the internet is undeniably an issue, Ross believes it presents an opportunity for TGA’s physical retail partners because they can focus on a face-to-face assessment model. He maintains that while some online dealers sell on price, those that retail powerchairs by allowing users to interact with the product are setting themselves up for success.
For Hirst, one of the main opportunities for powerchair providers is equipment designed specifically for the dealer channel. He says that while the growing portfolio of products available through the NHS network presents a challenge for retailers in the powerchair market, there are also “considerable opportunities”. The Quickie Salsa M2 Mini Red Line, he claims, boasts a combination of features not available through powerchairs on through the NHS. And with personal wheelchair budgets designed to give users more choice in what equipment they get, it is likely that dealers will see greater demand for the powered products.
Not to understate the market potential, McCormack confidently states that the opportunities for powerchair sellers are “enormous” as the population ages. He believes that users are more prepared to use equipment that helps them to live independently. But McCormack is fully aware that the cost of equipment can limit end-users in what they can purchase. This must be a consideration, particularly for dealers in certain areas where people generally have less to spend on equipment. It can be advantageous to stock a range of options at different price points to ensure all ends are covered.
There is evidently much to consider for dealers when it comes to building a powerchair range to retail. The choice of products and claims coming from different parts of the supplier pool can make it a tricky area to navigate. Fortunately though, the sector is expanding and whether dealers choose to make them a focus or simply dabble, powerchairs present a rich opportunity. As long as dealers are prepared to provide the maintenance and aftersales support such equipment demands, they will be able to benefit as the segment grows.
What is important to remember too, is that suppliers are there to support dealers whether it is with maintenance, parts, training and driving innovation according to the latest trends. Dealers working together alongside manufacturers will be placing themselves in the best position to grow their powerchair sales. In this way, businesses can rest assured that their hard-earned cash is being invested in the best possible areas.