It has been said that “two is better than one”
— and that seems to be true when it comes to the current
state of the U.S. scooter market.
The market is growing for two reasons: The aging baby boomer
population is becoming increasingly interested in new technology
that will enable them to remain active and independent.
Additionally, recent reimbursement modifications have made scooters
a more accessible option for those who require powered mobility
These sales drivers have prompted home medical equipment
providers to develop both sets of customers through effective
evaluation, marketing, sales and service.
“There are significant growth opportunities in this
product line,” states Ben Kingery, Invacare Corp.'s group
product manager of powered mobility.
He explains that the change in CMS' coverage policy for mobility
assistive equipment has had a major impact on this market. Last
year, the agency released new function-based criteria as a basis
for coverage, resulting in evaluations that focus on beneficiaries'
ability to perform daily living activities such as toileting,
grooming and eating. The change takes clinicians through a
“stepped” process to determine which mobility device is
medically necessary. It also eliminates the requirement for a
specialist to prescribe a scooter.
“It appears that [the new criteria] will increase the
number of scooters being prescribed,” says Kingery.
“When we did our consumer research, it seemed like there
were a lot of people who wanted to get a scooter, or thought they
needed a scooter, but they didn't really want to go see a
specialist or didn't know even where to begin to find
Pieter Leenhouts, vice president of standard products for
Sunrise Medical, agrees that the elimination of a specialist's
prescription has had a positive effect on market growth.
“From a Medicare reimbursement point of view, a lot of
hurdles were removed for this market to grow,” he says.
“Then on top of that, the market itself — just from
consumer cash business — is growing very rapidly as well
because the demographics have shifted, and scooters are becoming
more accepted products for people to use as a mobility
The stepped approach to coverage for mobility equipment also has
shown that many consumers really belonged in scooters rather than
power wheelchairs, says DuWayne Kramer, president of Leisure-Lift.
Aimed at making sure Medicare beneficiaries end up with the
appropriate prescription, the criteria begin with the simplest
devices, such as canes and crutches, then progress to products such
as manual wheelchairs, scooters and power wheelchairs.
In fact, responding to HomeCare's 2006 Forecast Survey,
more than 40 percent of providers said they think their scooter
business will increase as a result of CMS' new function-based
approach to mobility coverage. And in the magazine's 2006 Mobility
Survey, the largest group of providers said they expect scooters to
be their companies' fastest-growing mobility product this year.
But the rules that go along with power mobility reimbursements
also are new. There is some confusion regarding the Interim Final
Rule for power mobility, which took effect in October 2005 but has
now been put on hold by Congress until at least April 1. In place
of a certificate of medical necessity, the rule requires a
face-to-face physician exam and supporting documentation, such as
patient chart notes, to substantiate medical necessity for the
“Providers should follow the rules, which are a little
cumbersome now, but doable,” advises Leisure-Lift's Jim
Ernst, chief operations officer. “Physician assistance is
needed, but if you work with them, they can provide you with what
you need. Also, use the [CMS] algorithm to make sure you get the
patient in the right product, and make sure you can prove that.
“This has always been [the case],” Ernst points out,
“but people have just never been held to the gun.”
The good news? Kramer says that along with the new coverage
policy, new power mobility codes — currently under review by
the SADMERC — also will create opportunities for new types of
scooters. “We have seen a lot of the code recommendations,
and they are going to open the door for new types of scooters that
you don't see right now,” he says.
Focusing on Consumers
Consumer awareness is yet another factor with a positive effect
on scooter sales, according to Cy Corrigan, Pride Mobility's
national sales manager for retail. “We really credit
providers for getting the word out about scooters to consumers and
educating them through mailers, advertising and the print
media,” he says. “We see it as a very good
The look of scooters also has changed, which, in turn, has
changed the way consumers — particularly baby boomers —
view these products. “Scooters have now become products that
aren't so medical looking,” notes Kristen Imperiale, Pride's
director of marketing. “They don't have that stigma, so it's
much more acceptable for somebody to be going away on a vacation
and running around on a scooter. It just makes life
David Lin, Shoprider Mobility Products' president, agrees that
growth in the market is related to the acceptance of more stylish
products. He says the “better-looking, more functional units
mean less dignity issues or concern by the end users.
“Just like boating or other recreational activities, as
awareness improves, scooters become more of a lifestyle or leisure
product, and the market's size will continue to grow as …
acceptability continues this trend,” he says.
Now that accessibility is no longer a hindrance, is the HME
industry prepared to meet the demand for scooters? It depends, say
Mass merchants and discount department stores also have noticed
the increase in scooter sales — and want a piece of the
business — so HME providers must compete with and even beat
them in the race to become the community source for scooters.
Rick Davis, Access Point Medical's director of marketing, says
providers need to emphasize selection and service. He also stresses
the importance of a strong presence in the marketplace.
“People will go where there is good support and good
service, and HME providers are very well-positioned for that type
of service,” he points out. “They must have a strong
presence in their local market, so that when someone needs a
scooter, they will make the connection.”
Although this may be true, selling scooters to a retail market
— like anything else that is new — may be more
challenging to providers than it appears.
“It may require a [change in marketing plans] for a
community-based rehab provider, who really has been an expert in
taking care of the paperwork to get the medical product reimbursed
from either an insurance company or Medicare or Medicaid and isn't
really taking cash directly from the consumer,” says
“It seems like it would be an easy thing to make that
mindset shift to being able to do business just like any other
[retail] company would. Yet from my experience, it seems for some
people it is a difficult change to make in terms of the mentality
of how they operate their business … It is just a different
way to do business.”
Likewise, he continues, providers need to be sure they are
maintaining their mission. “[Providers] don't necessarily
want a lot of foot traffic if part of their business is to provide
products for people who have a medical need. They don't want to
jeopardize that part of the business because that's extremely
important,” Kingery explains.
“The challenge is in operating in both ways — both
on the cash side with a retail mentality, and then also providing
for community-based rehab customers.”
Marketing to the Masses
Once providers have established that they can — and want
— to create a balance between providing products and services
to their medical customers and promoting a retail, cash-based
business, there are steps that can promote success. One includes
utilizing available manufacturer resources.
An example is the use of consumer financing programs. When
scooters are bought as a convenience, or luxury item, a finance
program can often overcome one of the main hurdles: cost.
“Consumer financing is very important. It offers monthly
payments as opposed to paying all at once or putting the entire
cost on a credit card,” notes Pride's Corrigan. “[A]
consumer financing program, similar to those used when purchasing
furniture or an automobile, really helps, and is a tool for
providers to use in increasing retail sales.”
A number of scooter manufacturers offer help to HME providers in
attracting consumers and converting leads into product sales. Based
on the particular vendor, programs may include a variety of media
formats such as television or direct mail, in-store merchandising
displays and consumer financing programs, all of which can be
helpful when marketing scooters.
But it is important to remember that a home care company's
scooter business must be individualized, says Kingery. “A
generic marketing plan never seems to work,” he says.
“The business is so dynamic that you have to keep trying new
things and adapting to the way people are doing business and the
way people are buying products.”
The industry has done a good job of creating an awareness of the
benefits scooters offer, says Leenhouts of Sunrise. So, the
challenge is not to inform the public about the products but how
providers can distinguish themselves from their competition.
“More people are aware today than five years ago that
there are ways for them to continue to be active in their community
or in their home through powered mobility, and scooters are
primarily seen as outdoor products that allow people to be active.
They understand that now,” he explains.
“The things that are going to make providers successful
are those that really differentiate them.”
Leenhouts says providers should focus on how they can set
themselves apart. “Is it through providing a unique product,
a unique service or a unique sales experience?” he asks.
“It has to do with the value proposition those [HME
companies] provide in the marketplace, whether that is value
pricing or whether that is superior service and support. If you get
to the point where you are just a product and a price with
information being available on the Web, it's very easy for people
to just shop for a given product for the lowest price.
“Providers need to differentiate themselves in terms of
breadth of product offering, service and sales support.”
Creating an Accessible Market
As interest in scooters grows, small-sized, lighter and more
portable scooters seem to be taking the lead due to consumer demand
for portability, says Shoprider's Lin.
Pride's Corrigan adds that the travel-scooter market is showing
great promise because of the convenience these models offer in
terms of maneuverability, portability and ease of assembly.
And Kingery of Invacare points out that the affordability of
smaller scooters also has made an impact.
“There have been reductions in pricing to the consumer
that have made the micro portable-sized scooters affordable,”
he says. “We're getting closer to the magic number where more
and more people can actually afford a scooter even if they don't
qualify for it.”
Although much of the industry's emphasis is on the smaller,
portable scooter style, the technology is also being incorporated
into most other models.
“We have taken the technology and the improvements and
have carried that through our complete line of products,”
says Corrigan. “If someone is looking for an economy scooter,
a mid-range scooter or a higher-end luxury scooter, we've continued
to make advancements across the whole scope of the scooter line,
making sure that we're hitting each market area.”
Cy Corrigan, national sales manager for retail, and Kristen
Imperiale, director of marketing, Pride Mobility Products, Exeter,
Pa.; Rick Davis, director of marketing, Access Point Medical, St.
Louis; Jim Ernst, chief operations officer, and DuWayne Kramer,
president, Leisure-Lift, Kansas City, Kan.; Ben Kingery, group
product manager of powered mobility, Invacare Corp., Elyria, Ohio;
Pieter Leenhouts, vice president of standard products, Sunrise
Medical, Longmont, Colo.; and David Lin, president, Shoprider
Mobility Products, Carson, Calif.