The bread and butter of most mainstream dealers, mobility scooters represent a huge segment of the market. It is one of the most closely-watched sectors and retailers are always keen to learn about suppliers’ movements and product trends. As the industry gears up for the scooter-selling season, we ask suppliers to offer their views on the evolving market and help dealers to make the most of this expanding space.
What makes a best-selling mobility scooter?
One of the best-placed people to answer that is TGA’s national sales manager, Tim Ross. As one of the market’s leading suppliers, the company has built up a broad portfolio of scooters and it is hoping some of its newest models will sell well via dealer channels over the summer. There are, as Ross explains, a number of factors that need to combine so that a product is popular with trade buyers and end-users.
“Primarily, scooters must provide quality, reliability, comfort and ease-of-use so customer satisfaction is high. Looks are also key as high street buyers become more style-conscious and in-built features need to work effectively and be simple to use. Gimmicks that do not serve a real purpose are of no value to the end-user. However, if quality options and accessories are offered then these can be crucial to bolstering customer choice and strengthening the potential for a sale.”
Ross is aware that dealers need their models to ensure customer satisfaction, healthy returns and business growth. He draws on the Breeze scooter as a model that promises this and also carries strong brand value.
More generally speaking, Aidan McCormack, group marketing manager at John Preston Healthcare, believes that the most popular scooter is the one that allows the user to simply get on with their life without thinking twice about their mobility. But at the same time he says, “users expect good build quality and customer service while having peace of mind that should anything happen, they will be looked after”.
“If the sector is to expand, then all mobility product suppliers need to protect the reputation of the industry. We can’t simply rely on the existing market for repeat business”
The idea of a first class, well-engineered and priced product is paramount for Jonathan Hearth, managing director of Electric Mobility. These elements are essential to a successful product and Hearth insists the company’s models address them in a practical way.
“Electric Mobility’s new Vecta Sport scooter is a case in point. Firstly, it is a very aesthetically pleasing, modern mobility scooter. It has a number of unique and practical features that customers are drawn to. These include unique run-flat tyres to safely get them home, even if they have a puncture. A high power 600 watt motor for even the steepest hills and a unique limited slip differential gearbox to ensure traction on slippery surfaces.”
Echoing Hearth’s point, Nick Knappett, sales manager at OneRehab, identifies comfort, reliability and value-for-money as being the key features consumers look for in mobility scooters.
How is the mobility scooter market and the products within it evolving?
Simply put, Knappett says: “Scooters are becoming more design-led and innovative with an increasing importance placed upon reliability.” Adding to that, McCormack is evidently excited about the prospects of the market, describing the ongoing evolution of scooters as “tremendous”, which he notes can only be a good thing for the end-user. He comments: “As major manufacturers develop new features and improve build quality, what you can offer customers improves too. The market remains challenging and competitive but there is certainly a place for high-quality equipment that is well-designed and helps people just enjoy their lives.”
Looking at the bottom of the supply chain, Hearth believes consumers are increasingly wanting not only functional products but also scooters that are “a pleasure to ride”. He expands: “By focussing on making the suspension work very effectively and providing scooters with good looks, attractive colours and features that make their overall experience better.”
Meanwhile, in Ross’s view, the demand for compact car boot scooters that fold or dismantle is a trend growing at pace. He has spied a move towards smaller scooters that offer transport flexibility when travelling further, for example abroad. But he adds that lightweight designs have led in some cases to scooters becoming less stable with reduced support and comfort.
“Striking an effective balance between reduced size and weight versus stability is difficult. Hence innovation is being driven in the sector by specialists with good market experience, such as TGA, which supplies the popular Minimo Plus 4. This folding scooter offers a compact design and strain-free lifting through carbon fibre components, however driving stability is assured with a traditional four-wheel configuration and a wider front axle.”
Both class two and class three scooters are popular. But which segment has the best opportunities for growth?
Most companies feel that there is plenty of room for expansion in both the class two and class three segment. But the fact that some suppliers are gearing their offering towards one class while others target another, indicates that there is some disagreement. McCormack feels that folding mobility scooters, specifically those that are approved for airlines and designed with travel in mind, are a very important part of the market. That is the reason behind its investment in the ATTO folding scooter. Knappett, on the other hand, is confident class three scooters have the greatest growth potential.
“Primarily, scooters must provide quality, reliability, comfort and ease-of-use so customer satisfaction is high”
The evolution of the scooter market, in Hearth’s view, involves it polarising to a degree, and believes that the traditional 4mph pavement scooter is under pressure as the sector is being squeezed at both ends, he believes. He draws his conclusion after witnessing boot scooters such as the Veo Sport becoming more capable thanks to improved suspension, bigger batteries and more comfortable seats. Compact road scooters meanwhile, such as EME’s Vecta Sport, now tend to have the capability of their larger cousins and as a result are selling in “very high numbers”. The other obvious evolution has been the introduction of folding lithium battery scooters, Hearth explains, and hints Electric Mobility is working to capitalise further on this trend.
Ross, along with most other industry observers, believes both scooter types have at least equal opportunity to grow, but for different reasons. He comments: “At one end of the market retailers are looking for products that meet the growing demand for compact solutions where storage space is limited and transportation is key. Whereas in the larger scooter sector products are becoming a viable alternative to car ownership. Features such as increased battery range and better suspension mean users can venture further afield with greater confidence and control without the need to sit behind a wheel. Ownership and running costs are dramatically lower and local accessibility and parking is easier.”
The scooter sector is a huge segment of the market but it can also be vulnerable. What kinds of challenges is it facing?
Perhaps more of a challenge to the scooter market than most years in recent years, Hearth believes, has been the weather, with people deterred from going out on their equipment when it is snowy or very cold. But he reveals that some of Electric Mobility’s dealers reported that the Vecta Sport coped in the snow, illustrating the case for sturdy models. Furthermore, a challenge for both dealers and end-users is suppliers who are unable to provide sufficient service and parts back-up, he says, adding: “A key for success in the market is using suppliers who can be relied upon and it is not surprising that those suppliers with the best service and parts operations are generally the ones that have been around longest.”
Ross also feels that a major challenge for ethical and established scooter suppliers is unproven new businesses entering the scene without control. Reflecting the concerns of many in the industry, he says that any manufacturer or supplier can set up in the UK market without any prerequisites regarding quality, service and long term supply.
“Scooters are in essence medical devices so I feel the industry could be regulated more robustly. The continued work of the BHTA and its TSI Code of Practice is vital, however more could be done to combat rogue traders who target vulnerable individuals.
“If the sector is to expand, then all mobility product suppliers need to protect the reputation of the industry. We can’t simply rely on the existing market for repeat business, we all need new buyers to enter the sector with confidence. By offering products that are reliable, with features that work properly such as effective suspension, end-users will continue to communicate their satisfaction and hence increase the market. Unscrupulous traders with poor service and unreliable products can potentially damage the brand value of all in the mobility sector.”