Leading suppliers in the ramp sector have revealed the inner-workings of the sector and what it’s like to deal in the solutions. Trends and challenges are common across most companies involved in ramps and here firms discuss how to overcome hurdles and take advantage of opportunities.
Perhaps surprisingly considering their universal function, ramps make up one of the most colourful sectors in the mobility industry. Countless ramps have been developed for almost every conceivable location and situation — all designed to do the same thing. In addition to portable, travel and folding ramps, the need for specialist mobility and access firms to build and install larger products is growing. An ever-ageing population and pressure on buildings and businesses to provide greater disabled access means the entire market is witnessing growth.
But it is difficult to see a particular segment of the sector doing better than others. As Matthew Cochlin from specialist ramp provider Bentley Fielden outlines, each ramp solution is specified to the individual’s requirements and situation so it is difficult to detect any generic trends.
“The main factors that dictate which ramps you sell the most of is the length and the price,” explains Cochlin. “Most dealers would probably find that they sell the largest number of ramps at the shorter lengths and that’s mainly because the shorter lengths are less expensive and therefore accessible to a greater number of customers. From experience, the categories of ramps where you’ll do the highest volume is the threshold ramp category and then the single-fold ramp category but that’s mainly down to the affordability of the ramps in those categories, relative to others.”
Dealership Bentley Fielden supplies its products to individual customers as well as schools, universities, NHS hospitals and local authorities, managing the process from initial specification through to the delivery of the solution.
Similarly, Colin Stead, managing director for Hartlepool-based Peart Ramps, which designs, manufactures and installs large, permanent ramp solutions, says it is difficult to detect trends in the market other than that it continues to be buoyant across the board. One particular area of growth it sees however is the demand for ramps from local authority housing. Stead notes that because people are living longer and more social housing is being built as a result, it is seeing growth in the area it predominately supplies.
“Most dealers would probably find that they sell the largest number of ramps at the shorter lengths and that’s mainly because the shorter lengths are less expensive”
Enable Access, a manufacturer of mobility access and evacuation products based in Hertfordshire, is also seeing “good growth” across all of its product ranges. It finds that the involvement of OTs with its business helps it to plot a route to market alongside its other channels and has noticed a particular growth in full-width lightweight portable ramps. Bethany Claire, marketing coordinator, expands: “We’re pleased to be able to meet this growing need with our new Aerolight range of ramps. The main trends that seem to be shaping the ramp market so far this year are demanding applications and understandably demanding end-users. As a UK manufacturer, Enable Access is well placed to meet these demands.”
Claiming to be the manufacturer of the world’s largest range of mobility access ramp products, Enable Access commands a large portion of the sector. Under the RampCentre brand it sells products that extend from full-width portable ramps through to threshold ramps and modular installed systems.
In terms of trends, it has seen champions emerge from each product category it offers. Its most popular portable product is the lightweight fullwidth Aerolight ramp range, only recently launched onto the market. Aerolight claims to be the lightest range of aluminium portable ramps available, with other ramps of its kind over 60% heavier, while having a weight capacity of 450kg (71st) making it the strongest portable wheelchair ramp available, according to the company.
Meanwhile, on the install side, Claire says that the most popular system is the 100% modular Welcome residential installed ramp system. She attributes this to a handful of key factors. “The popularity of this range is thanks to the easy specification, fast one-person installation and the fact that it’s available for next-day delivery,” she explains.
Recognising that versatility and flexibility is important when it comes to ramp solutions, Peart Ramps offers a modular steel ramp system which is completely recyclable and re-usable. Recyclable options are popular with local housing authorities, which are often providing accommodation for elderly people who may not need a permanent solution. Additionally, Peart’s modular ramp systems conform with building regulations. On top of this, because it manufactures its own products at its own facilities it is able to accommodate special requirements with relative ease. This is a significant advantage in a sector where each ramp installation has individual challenges.
Peart Ramps maintains that modular ramp solutions need to be sturdy and durable for them to be successful. Aside from these qualities though, they also need to be easy to install, dismantle and reconfigure. The firm’s ramps offer a full range of hard-wearing powder-coated paint finishes and feature slip-resistant mesh flooring, which is designed to be more practical and cost-effective than concrete ramps.
For Stead, flexibility and ease of installation are key factors for dealers to consider when buying in stock. Aside from this, cost is still a driver in consumer choice and although solutions need to be top quality and safe, individuals and building owners are shopping around. Some firms believes that unlike other products, ramps are less likely to need regular maintenance and so customers can afford to purchase solutions from cheaper, non-local suppliers who will not necessarily be expected to offer regular after-sales servicing.
Having said this, Claire believes support from the manufacturer is important to consider when purchasing ramp stock. Whether this is after-sales support or help in marketing and specifying a solution, many firms still believe ramp dealers require the same level of support as they would receive from powerchair or wheelchair suppliers. Claire also thinks dealers should make product versatility and choice a priority when selecting stock.
Cochlin, however, would not recommend dealers purchase ramps for stock. He says: “There are so many products and variations of each of those products that it would cost a small fortune and require significant storage space to be able to offer all options. The majority of suppliers offer drop shipping on a next-day basis anyway.”
Bentley Fielden nevertheless is constantly reviewing and expanding its range to include the latest and most modern access products to make sure it remains ahead in a competitive environment. As a result, Cochlin says: “We are confident that we can solve pretty much any access problem. If we don’t have an off-the-shelf product that resolves the issue, we’ll work with one of our partner companies to develop an appropriate solution.”
For the most part, though, it seems that ramp providers agree that when it comes to supplying and installing solutions, then individuality is key.
As with all mobility products, individual requirements dictate the purchase of each product. But with ramps, it is not only about catering for a user — prospective solutions also have to be planned around the built environment and the variables that come with it.
UK manufacturers, dealers and installers, however, are leading the way in coping with these challenges. And although the ageing population promises to bring significant opportunities for the ramp sector in future, no company is taking success for granted. This factor alone is driving the leading players to develop their portfolios as they seek to ensure they bring practical and affordable solutions to the market. The ramp market truly is on an upwards trajectory.