I'll take my mobility device to go
by Larry Anderson
August 22, 2014

The mobility benefits of power chairs and scooters only get the user so far. Users also need another element of mobility, which is the ability to move beyond the home—and to take their power chair or scooter with them. Vehicle lifts and accessories fill the need, and also provide HME/DME dealers more revenue through add-on cash sales. “Most people that buy a scooter or power chair don’t buy the vehicle lift initially,” says David Baxter, vice president of marketing, Harmar. “It is, in many cases, a follow-up need.” Not bundling the two together in the original sale is often a missed opportunity for dealers, he says. Other underutilized sales tools are networking and referrals. HME/DME customers know other people with similar lifestyles and/or physical challenges, says Baxter. “Starting a referral program with highly satisfied customers is more powerful than any marketing campaign,” he adds. Dealers should also understand customers’ future desires when it comes to replacement of the vehicle and the powered mobility device. Looking ahead can ensure the provided solution can stand the test of time and still be used as a customer’s needs evolve. It also establishes credibility, says Baxter.

Accommodating Lighter Weight Vehicles

Answering a trend toward heavier mobility devices and lighter tongue weights, Harmar launched the Light Weight Swing Away this year. It allows more lifts to be paired with smaller, lighter duty vehicles without blocking access to the rear door/window of trunks, hatchbacks, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks. Total loaded weights are 20 to 30 percent less than other brands, says Baxter, and “every pound saved equals more mobility.” Contrary to perceptions of vehicle lifts as large, opaque platforms that dominate the rear of a vehicle and impact visibility, Harmar’s Profile Design is not big and bulky, says Baxter. The base platform has high-strength wheel pockets that are adjustable to accommodate a variety of scooter wheelbases. Harmar offers a comprehensive range of vehicle lifts and accessories, including outside lifts, inside lifts, truck lifts, hybrid lifts, micro lifts and custom lifts, matching various combinations of devices and vehicles. Harmar recently introduced the Harmar AL-ZX1. The lift is designed specifically for a new mobility device for which Harmar is the exclusive U.S. master distributor—the Spinergy ZX-1 power-assist for manual wheelchairs. The power system device can be “docked” with a fixed-axle manual chair to transform it into a power chair. The lift allows the user to detach the device, load it onto the lift, elevate and secure it, and then wheel to the front of the car and load the manual chair as he or she normally would. Harmar’s website includes a Compatibility Calculator to allow an end-user or dealer to identify the appropriate lift for any combination of vehicle and mobility device. On the dealer side, the calculator also provides additional notes and details to enable the dealer to better support their customer with alternatives and access- ories. On the consumer side, it is linked to locate dealers to guide the consumer where to buy. The Harmar website also provides detailed information, specs and downloads of brochures and manuals. Harmar provides comprehensive product training for dealers at its facility in Sarasota, Fla., training more than 250 people a year through one or two three-day sessions held each month.

Show, Don’t Tell

Contrary to conventional wisdom, vehicle lifts are neither difficult to install or difficult to use, says Andrew Pyrih, senior vice president of domestic sales, Pride Mobility Products, which offers a full range of interior and exterior vehicle lifts for mobility products ranging from manual wheelchairs to scooters to power chairs. “In many cases, as with an exterior lift, they’re very close to plug-and-play with an existing hitch receiver, and simple to use with many mobility products,” says Pyrih. A vehicle-lift purchase is the same demographic as a scooter purchase, so providers should look at the potential to bundle a vehicle-lift sale when appropriate. In addition to packaging sales, providers should seek to demonstrate how easy a vehicle lift is to use and install. “Show, don’t tell,” advises Pyrih. The Outlander Exterior Lift from Pride Lifts and Ramps is a durable, easy-to-use system to transport a travel mobility scooter. Simple, hitch-based installation requires little to no modification to a vehicle and allows for easy removal. Mobility products increasingly are a tool to enable the growing senior population to maintain independence, and transport mobility products are in more demand than ever, says Pyrih. Vehicle lifts increasingly are versatile for use with the widest range of models, from cars to luxury sport utility vehicles (SUVs), to transport scooters to power chairs. Pyril emphasizes that knowing the right application for a vehicle lift is important. “Scooters are an ideal market for vehicle lifts,” he says. “However, complex rehab users are not. So, fitting the right consumer to a vehicle lift increases consumer satisfaction.” Pride offers extensive field support and provider training. Consumers and providers can both use Pride’s online application product selection tool. After the vehicle make and model and mobility product are selected from drop-down menus, the tool lists the compatible vehicle lift.

Dealing With Safety Issues

Bruno Independent Living is also working to accommodate the growing consumer preference for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, says Andrew Bayer, Bruno’s product manager, who has 32 years of experience in new product development, engineering and vehicle applications. Bayer constantly monitors new types and styles of vehicles coming onto the market, as well as various mobility devices, to ensure Bruno has products to accommodate vehicles on the road today and into the future. To enable safe transport of mobility devices even by smaller vehicles, Bruno offers the Chariot. The Chariot eliminates safety concerns of transporting large scooters and power chairs on smaller vehicles, while also preserving all the seating and cargo capacity of the vehicle. The Chariot includes swiveling wheels spinning along the roadway surface under the vehicle lift platform to help support the load. Even small cars with minimum curb weight of 2,400 lbs (and a frame-mounted hitch) can use the Chariot, says Bayer. Originally launched in 2012 for cars, the Chariot has since then undergone several performance enhancements. In 2013, Bruno expanded applications for the Chariot to also include mini-vans, smaller crossovers (CUVs) and SUVs. Bayer says customers tend to get irritated if they come into a DME store asking for a vehicle lift and they are told they should go out and buy a larger vehicle. The Chariot’s compatibility with smaller vehicles avoids the problem, says Bayer.

Joey Platform Lift by BrunoThe Joey Platform Lift by Bruno

Unfortunately, many customers and even dealers don’t understand the safety risks of over-loading a vehicle with a traditional outside power lift, says Bayer. “It’s a huge problem in the industry,” he says. The combined weight of a vehicle lift and scooter must not exceed the vehicle’s towing capacity. Overloaded vehicles are prone to traffic accidents because of reduced traction and compromised steering and braking capabilities. Heavy loads can wear out a vehicle’s rear suspension prematurely, as well. (Bruno’s Chariot avoids the problem by shifting some of the weight to an additional set of swiveling wheels.) For mounting inside a vehicle, Bruno offers the Curbsider line of crane hoist lifts including custom mounting brackets for each vehicle make and model. Most installations require no drilling but use existing mounting locations. In minivans and SUVs, there’s a good chance installation of the lift will still allow use of a third or half of the third row seat. Bruno provides same-day shipping of vehicle-specific mounting brackets to dealers. Bruno also offers the Joey interior platform lift and the Outsider outside lift for pickup trucks and SUVs that have enough hitch strength—typically 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. Bruno’s Pow’r Pac accessory provides a separate power source (independent of the vehicle’s power) for lifts installed on hybrid vehicles. Bayer also hints at two new developments coming from Bruno in 2015, related to adding more value (to the dealer and product) and to solutions outside the vehicle. Dealers should advertise their vehicle lift capabilities in a variety of ways, says Bayer, whether advertising with car dealerships and referral sources or keeping their websites up-to-date. They might also invest in pay-per-click advertising, and/or hire a consultant to maximize their website. Other possibilities include reaching out to out-patient clinics at hospitals and nursing homes, monthly association meetings, hospital rehab centers, children’s centers, worker’s compensation boards, veterans affairs offices, vocational rehab departments, Medicaid waivers, etc. Bayer also notes that dealers often do not respond effectively and in a timely manner to leads provided by manufacturers, sometimes losing the sale to another dealer. He also urges patience in the sales process, noting that on average, a sale can take from four to nine months to complete. “If someone is looking, stay with them,” he notes. “You need to have a process in place to stay with the customer.”

PVI's INDE2 power chair liftPVI's INDE2 power chair lift offers one-switch operation and includes a lifting capacity of 350 pounds.

Plug-and-Play Promotes Cash

Fred Jensen, vice president, sales and business development, Prairie View Industries (PVI), says the demise of The Scooter Store is opening opportunities in the scooter market for other dealers. He sees an “explosion” in the scooter market that is also a chance to sell more vehicle-lift products. Not requiring hard-wiring to a vehicle’s electrical system simplifies installation of PVI’s Independence line for dealers and simplifies the route to add-on sales. “Our plug-and-play device enables a dealer to stock an item, pull it off the shelf and install it on the spot,” he says. “This is a cash revenue source for the dealer network and an instant solution when a customer is in a dealer’s showroom and has an immediate need to transport a scooter or power chair.” PVI’s Independence hitch-mounted vehicle lifts feature a battery pack that makes installation of the lift truly plug-and-play. Installation merely involves removing the lift from the box, installing the battery and plugging the lift into the hitch of the vehicle. The lift can be easily interchanged from one vehicle to another. (It can also be hard-wired to a vehicle if a customer prefers.) Four models of Independence lifts can accommodate 95 percent of all power chairs and scooters, and a swing-away option can enable operation of a hatch or tailgate. One Independence model is for scooters, another for standard power chairs, a third for mid-wheel-drive power chairs, and a fourth for extra-large power chairs and scooters. The lifts weigh from 95 to 115 pounds and have a weight capacity up to 350 pounds, with an option to upgrade to 400 pounds. There is a three-year warranty. A calculator on PVI’s website directs which lift is needed for a specific vehicle and power device, considering variables of towing and load capacity. PVI also offers the MT series of non-powered, hitch-mounted wheelchair carriers incorporating a manually operated ramp. PVI provides lift stands at no charge to dealers, enabling them to display the lifts in a retail showroom. Part of the delivery process for a power wheelchair or scooter (or at the time of repair) should include an explanation of the ease and low cost of hitch-mounted devices, says Jensen. PVI also offers point-of-sales brochures. “We make our lifts with simplicity in mind,” he says.