With tough competition in the scooter market, many dealers are turning to powerchairs to future-proof their businesses. AMP interviewed some of the top manufacturers to discuss the trends shaping this expanding market and which equipment presents an opportunity to gain an edge.
OFFERING THEIR VIEWS
- Mark Babb, rehab business manager, Electric Mobility
- Ashley Griffiths, sales director, Qimova
- Mark Duffield, general manager, Karma Mobility
- Daniel Stone, managing director, TGA Mobility
- Graham Silverthorn, product specialist, Invacare
- Theo Sawford, creative marketing manager, Pride Mobility
How can powerchairs give dealers an edge in today’s increasingly competitive market?
Mark Duffield: Powerchairs need assessment and maintenance which most dealers can provide quite easily. In order to offer a timely service, dealers should ensure they can reach the customer within 24/48 hours as powerchair users often rely on their chair 24 hours a day.
Mark Babb: The dealer needs to sell themselves as an experienced and knowledgeable assessor. To do this, they need industry experience and powerchair training to guide the customer to the correct choice. A sound knowledge of seating is vital so that the dealer is able to sell any product with non-standard seating. As a seating specialist for more than 25 years, I believe the seating is a key part of the powerchair and has to be focussed on.
Daniel Stone: By supplying powerchairs dealers can open up greater sales opportunities through a wider demographic of customers. However, thorough assessment of individual needs is essential as powerchair owners often have more complex mobility issues. As many powerchairs provide a greater range of bespoke features, dealers can adapt products to specific needs in a more effective manner.
As customers are more dependent on specialist features for their independence, price competitiveness is reduced as quality can override cost. By providing a modern stylish product with advanced manoeuvrability, younger customers and those in employment become viable buyers, hence increasing sales.
Graham Silverthorn: A choice of modern powerchair designs with practical modular features, cross compatibility and quick delivery rank highly. There’s increased demand for a quick turnaround and speedy delivery on powerchairs and to meet this demand we have created our ‘express range’ with same-day shipment.
Consumers are increasingly looking at more technology and useful apps to aid accessibility and connectivity. Technology doesn’t have to be expensive and it’s breaking these perceptions that it is an affordable solution with tangible benefits to both consumers and retailers in the long term. Key features that assist independence and aid mobility like seat risers, fully reclined seating systems and modular systems offer consumers more choice in a powerchair that adapts to their needs.
Theo Sawford: With ever increasing competition and reduced profit margins for those selling mobility scooters, entry level powerchairs and riser recliner chairs, turning to prescriptive powerchairs can not only be personally rewarding, but financially a more viable option. This type of client isn’t looking for the cheapest solution, more the most beneficial product to enable and enhance their lives. Many dealers are not keen to enter this sector due to the investment required, so those that do can gain an advantage.
What kind of support do suppliers offer dealers who might be new to powerchairs?
Ashley Griffiths: Qimova offers an extensive range of wheelchairs, from simple, made-to-measure products right up to high-end posture management equipment with bespoke options and accessories. We of course give full and on-going training to all our dealers. We are very happy to do joint assessments until they feel completely confident in their ability to prescribe our wheelchairs.
Daniel Stone: TGA provides comprehensive product training for all dealers and engineers who support the WHILL Model C. This ensures there is thorough and up-to-date knowledge of the product so servicing and repairs are efficient. To reassure dealers further, TGA area sales managers and product specialists are proactive in their approach to added support. They can provide joint demonstrations and also offer training.
Graham Silverthorn: With the increasing use of technology and innovation in powerchairs, we recognise the importance of keeping our retailers as up-to-date as our sales teams. Whether retailers are new to the industry or have well established businesses, everyone we work with has access to our continuous support service from initial product demonstration to aftersales, spares parts, and training. Our territory managers are highly knowledgeable and provide retailers with one-to-one support on assessments, customer visits and on-site training.
Theo Sawford: The key here is training and support. Understanding the products and how to correctly prescribe them is essential to making this work. We supply training to those who are serious about getting into this sector of the market. We will also offer support during the assessment and handover process, through one of our product specialists, until the dealer feels confident.
Mark Duffield: We have quite a large range of products and would recommend that dealers start with the less involved products to start with. Karma has recruited Eric Van Olst to help with product design and development and in the future he will be helping us to set up training courses for the more advanced products within our range.
Mark Babb: Electric Mobility offers a comprehensive course of technical training and one-to-one services from myself to help you acquire, maintain and optimise your skills. We understand the importance of minimising downtime in your daily operations so we pride ourselves on prioritising additional telephone support. Whether it’s technical training, product and sales training or marketing support, Electric Mobility is focused on helping dealers and engineers to provide the experience for customers.
It is important that as well as being designed for end-users, powerchairs are ‘dealer-friendly’ when it comes to repair and maintenance. How do you cater for this?
Graham Silverthorn: Low maintenance and easily accessible parts are an integral part of Invacare’s powerchair designs. We understand that resources are critical elements when servicing or repairing powerchair and our designs ensure that practical features like batteries and electronics are easily accessible to remove and tool free.
Shrouds and plastic covers are designed to clip on or off a product making it easy to replace or change the colour to suit a customer’s style. Cross compatibility of parts across our powerchair range is a key feature that reduces inventory for spare parts and keeps costs to a minimum. For example, Invacare’s Modulite seating system is modular and adjustable, all parts in the system are cross compatible, highly adaptable and can be easily and quickly adjusted to customer needs.
Mark Duffield: We use reliable parts from established suppliers such as MK Battery and Penny and Giles. The controllers have built in diagnostics which allow dealers to identify faults quickly and easily to ensure the customer is inconvenienced for as little time as possible.
Ashley Griffiths: Our powerchair range is designed and manufactured in Denmark to the highest standards. As our chairs are modular, if there is an issue with any part only the defective part needs be replaced rather than the entire assembly. This is very cost effective and not labour intensive.
As standard with all our models the seating and base are inter-changeable. Therefore, if we had designed a specific seating system for a client and there was an electrical fault that could not be solved on-site, our engineers carry a spare powered base so that the client’s seating system can be transferred to the spare base.
Mark Babb: Our Rascal range of powerchairs is based on standard configurations with the development options of comfort seating. Rascal powerchairs offer the dealer a range of simple and easy-to-operate products with hassle-free upgrades, perfect for dealers new to the market. We provide an engineer’s training course which covers servicing, maintenance and fault finding.
We also offer a full package of parts and servicing support for our authorised dealer network, including a dedicated area dealer manager to advise and assist in the sales and promotion of Rascal powerchairs. This is aided by a transparent pricing structure to it make it easy for all of us to work in partnership together.
Theo Sawford: In the early days I don’t think this was given a lot of consideration by R&D teams. Now they understand that this is just as important as making the powerchair work for the user. This is especially important for the NHS where time is money. Having quick access to the batteries and easy to remove motors and electric modules is a must in today’s environment. Our new Interactive Assist app also allows dealers and wheelchair services to connect to a powerchair’s control system remotely.
Daniel Stone: TGA’s WHILL Model C has been consciously designed to be as simple and streamlined as possible, to help both practically and aesthetically. Its minimal design means there are fewer components which improves performance and in-built technology provides straightforward diagnostics via an impressive app.
Each WHILL provides a certain level of adjustment to customer needs which can be completed easily and without the need for specialist tools. Every aspect of the design has been considered in an ergonomic way – both externally for the user and internally for service engineers. If parts do need replacing, availability is not an issue as TGA continually stocks a comprehensive range of components at its Suffolk headquarters.
Personalisation is a growing trend in mobility equipment with end-users. What kinds of options do you offer when it comes to powerchairs?
Mark Babb: We have been developing personalisation with the launch of the Ryka Sport 4mph MWD powerchair. Customers love to personalise their powerchair and accessories. We think that offering a product with personalisation can make it extra special by really adding that crucial ‘wow’ factor.
There really is no end to the creativity and possibility for our customers and we’re constantly amazed by the quirky yet valuable personalisation and incorporation of vital components in order to accommodate for the comprehensive needs of individuals that people opt for.
Graham Silverthorn: We’ve been listening to our customers for over 130 years and built strong relationships in meeting a diverse range of challenges and using our experience to offer a vast range of options and accessories. We offer numerous powerchair options from different speeds and remotes including the LiNX REM400 and REM500, which can connect up to three devices at the same time. We also offer a choice of seating systems, cushions, backs and seating fabrics as well as various frame colours, with over 100 colour combinations available on the TDX SP2 range, and a host of accessories allowing consumers to personalise their chair.
If customers can’t find what they’re looking for then we have Invacare Unique, our customised service offering a catalogue of specials or modifications that are not available on the standard order form. These range from longer armrests, wider seats, customised controls or if they want something more personal like a specific colour. Through our Unique service we can offer to reproduce colour specials from any RAL through to specific colours of favourite cars.
Ashley Griffiths: We offer a completely bespoke and made-to-measure powerchair that is designed and built around each client’s individual needs and requirements, which means we have a chair suitable for everyone. We believe in a real commitment and a close relationship with our customers. We listen carefully to their requests and needs which helps us to continually develop and improve our products, thus allowing us to specialise in individual solutions for the end-user, from paediatric through to bariatric. Everyone is unique, so why should a powerchair be any different?
Daniel Stone: WHILL Model C is a powerchair aimed at style-conscious people seeking a solution that is eye-catching and modern. Personalisation is provided by a choice of six different panel colours and a selection of mounts to hold mobile phones, tablets and cameras. It is supplied with an intelligent smart key for individualised security and the smartphone app provides remote control driving following a transfer out of the seat.
Theo Sawford: A key part of our development and progression has been in making the powerchairs look great. Aesthetics are just as important as the functionality. I believe Quantum offer more colour choices than most of the other manufacturers. Nicer shrouds, hidden cables and black wheels with coloured inserts are just a few options that make our powerchairs look