Attention, everyone entrenched in the fierce debate over the finer points of scooter sales and production: Take note of the comeback scooters are making
by Marjory Garrison

Attention, everyone entrenched in the fierce debate over the
finer points of scooter sales and production: Take note of the
comeback scooters are making in the mobility segment of the home
medical equipment industry. Notice, too, that the influx of imports
is slowing, and that scooter manufacturers are moving past the
heated rivalry with power wheelchair manufacturers to serve a new
population of seniors.

Power Wheelchair or Scooter?

A decade ago, bulky scooters served a limited population of
rehab users, specifically those with “less complex
needs,” says Simon Margolis, vice president for clinical and
professional services at National Seating and Mobility and
president of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive
Technology Society of North America. “But we're finding out
that [those patients] are more complex than we thought. They need
to receive a piece of equipment that will be adaptable to their

According to Margolis, for some end users with progressive
disabilities, this may ultimately require moving from a scooter to
a wheelchair.

However, where once manufacturers may have been jaded by the
rivalry between power wheelchairs and scooters, experts say today's
market is different. “The [scooter] market was stagnant
before because the focus was on the moneymaking machines: the power
chairs,” says Juan Carlos Rivera, president of IMC

But leading manufacturers contend that the focus has moved away
from the equipment and toward the user — namely, senior
citizens — earning scooters a place in the mainstream
mobility market.

The populations served by scooters and power wheelchairs today
are “two very different groups of individuals,”
according to Cy Corgan, national sales manager for retail mobility
at Pride Mobility Products. Scooters serve seniors who want to
maintain active lifestyles as they grow older, so that despite
frailty from aging or minor injury, scooters can provide what
Corgan calls “the gift of independence.”

“It's not about rehab anymore like 10 or 20 years
ago,” says Randy Riecks, national sales manager for Ranger
All Season. “Seniors drive this market. They've been active
all their lives, so mobility is important to them.”

Given this positive trend, confidence among scooter
manufacturers is building. “It's a numbers game,”
states Norman Stein, director of marketing for No Boundaries.
“There are millions of people turning 70-plus each day. The
senior market is going to take over the whole medical market in the
next 10 to 15 years.”

Big or Small?

Most manufacturers say seniors demand small, portable scooters
to support their independent lifestyles. “They don't want to
be seen on big, cumbersome scooters, especially if they don't need
[the big scooters],” Stein says.

“They want to keep it simple, so that instead of using
walkers and canes, they can use portable, small, inexpensive
scooters to go to the mall, go to the boardwalk and go to the

“People gravitate toward smaller, more compact scooters
because they want the portability,” explains Cheryl Gwiazda,
product manager for Invacare. “They want to be able to fold
up their scooter and put it in the trunk of their car.”

Small scooters may serve as either a primary or secondary mode
of transportation, depending on the population, experts say. In the
disability market — as opposed to the senior citizen market
— end users have a standard scooter or a power wheelchair as
their primary mode of transportation. But “now, because the
small scooters are so cheap, people buy ‘the little
guy,’ too,” says Jack Sheehan, director of sales and
marketing at Bruno Independent Living Aids. They purchase small
scooters as a second mode of transportation for quick trips, to
avoid having to use a vehicle lift or disassemble a larger

“They need one to go on park trails or in the hills. But
they also need a decent three- or four-wheel unit with some
muscle,” Sheehan says.

Seniors, however, buy smaller scooters as their primary mode of
transportation since they are not spending all day on their
scooter, Stein says. “They are walking and using their
scooter both, or have orders from their doctor to continue to try
and walk,” he says.

The market for small scooters has grown tremendously, experts
say, and has attracted “people just beginning to experience
mobility problems,” adds Rivera.

No matter where you look, smaller scooters are gaining ground,
according to some manufacturers. Scooters have become a cash
product, dropping to an affordable price for end users who don't
rely on funding sources. “This is clearly where the growth in
the market is. When all is said and done, smaller scooters have
multiple uses and serve people with limited income,” Sheehan
points out.

But not all manufacturers are pleased by the rise of smaller
scooters. While some market leaders say the trend will stick
(“Every company has now jumped on the bandwagon with smaller
scooters,” Stein notes), others doubt the merits of the
smaller units as a mobility device.

“Small ‘skateboard’-type scooters are a
liability nightmare for the dealers in terms of product reliability
and longevity,” says DuWayne Kramer, president of Leisure
Lift. “When sold to the average scooter users, [small
scooters] quickly prove unsatisfactory. They also stand to decrease
reimbursements by low-balling the product line with inferior

Other manufacturers recognize faults among smaller scooters but
believe they serve a purpose in the marketplace. “There's
good and bad to it,” Riecks says. “We've found through
dealers that because of the price, smaller scooters are a
reasonable purchase but they don't always serve the end users'
needs. [However], our company likes the attitude of the product
because it's lightweight and portable and easy to

“I've always sold the [micro-scooter] as somebody's second
scooter,” says Tom Jones, owner of Black Bear Medical, a DME
provider. “The big scooter is [kept] at home.”

But Jones says his sales of smaller scooters have declined.
“We used to sell a lot of micro-scooters. We [carried] three
brands last year, but now we're down to one.”

Import or Domestic?

Competing against the price market created by offshore
competitors has been tough for domestic scooter manufacturers,
experts say. “In the last two years, the price has just kept
going down and down and down. It's really gotten competitive with
everything coming from offshore,” Riecks says.

As in many other home care markets, some scooter manufacturers
are concerned about the quality of foreign-made products. However,
manufacturers say the rate of new overseas competitors has slowed,
and see this as a promising sign for consumers. “The price
point in [the scooter] market has moved down because of imports,
but this [trend] is reaching maturity,” Sheehan says.

Providers want satisfied customers and play a vital role in
selecting high-quality products for the showroom floor,
manufacturers say.

“After several years of low cost imports flooding the
market, dealers are looking for units that will last longer for the
consumer,” Kramer explains.

Manufacturers that import scooters say they make moves to ensure
the reliability and quality of their overseas products.

“The reliability of imported scooters is not as good as
American-made unless the manufacturer takes special care,”
Sheehan says. “We do import one scooter, but we take special
care to open every box.”

And, as a result of the recent war between the United States and
Iraq, many manufacturers have seen an upsurge in requests for
American-made products. “That seems to hit a nerve with older
Americans,” Kramer says.

Ultimately, manufacturers depend on informed providers to ensure
that end users are purchasing the product most appropriate for
their needs. “It's up to the retailer to address that
issue,” Sheehan says.

Regardless of whether or not small scooters will prove their
case among competition in the growing market, if manufacturers can
make their products “stand out in the sea of ‘me,
too’ scooters,” says Kramer, the future is

Experts Interviewed:

Cy Corgan, national sales manager for retail mobility, Pride
Mobility Products, Exeter, Pa.; Cheryl Gwiazda, product manager,
Invacare, Elyria, Ohio; Tom Jones, owner, Black Bear Medical,
Portland, Maine; Simon Margolis, vice president for clinical and
professional services, National Seating & Mobility, Nashville;
Randy Riecks, national sales manager, Ranger All Season, George,
Iowa; Juan Carlos Rivera, president, IMC Heartway, Fort Meyers,
Fla.; Jack Sheehan, director of sales and marketing, Bruno
Independent Living Aids, Oconomowoc, Wis.; Norman Stein, director
of marketing, No Boundaries, Garden Grove, Calif.

Expanding Waistlines = Expanding Bottom Line

“Obesity is a problem among [scooter] users; it's why they
are users,” says Simon Margolis, vice president for clinical
and professional services at National Seating & Mobility and
president of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive
Technology Society of North America. “This is why we've seen
an explosion of the bariatric market.”

The bariatric market has a strong influence on scooter
manufacturers. Smaller scooters are being manufactured for seniors,
but the bariatric population — which needs larger, standard
scooters — remains a solid niche market, experts say.

“Bariatrics is a huge market for us because of the huge
percentage of overweight people in the United States,”
according to Randy Riecks, national sales manager for Ranger All
Season. “We have dealers who dedicate an entire section of
their floor to bariatrics. I get calls all the time for [chairs
that will accommodate patients] over 500 pounds.”

But the demands in the bariatric market are intense, according
to DuWayne Kramer, president of Leisure Lift. “In our testing
we see most bariatric users are younger, more active and harder on
their products than are mainstream scooter users.

“Just making things thicker does not solve all the
problems,” Kramer adds. “You must start with the usage
in mind and then deal with the weight factors.”