Conversion chain churns out the vans

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

LONDONBERRY, N.H. -- Mark Lore has found a way to stick with the rehab industry without the trials and tribulations of Medicare billing. Ride-Away's president and owner dumped his DME business in 1996, and since has focused on expanding his fleet of vehicle modification centers.
Now, Ride-Away boasts nine locations in seven East Coast states and 175 employees dedicated solely to van conversions and sales. Its newest location in Norwalk, Conn., opened its doors in mid-July.
"Obviously the aging of America is playing a part in driving the increase in business, but I also think that vehicle transportation is independence," said Lore. "As more people become aware that there are alternatives and options available to them to modify their vehicles so they can get out in the wheelchairs and scooters, the more people will opt to spend their money having it done."
Lore joined Ride-Away in 1986 as vice president, and after two years of "rapid growth" he bought the company 1988. Lore attributes the early success to the company's updated approach to van conversions.
"What I found was that the business was highly fragmented," he said. "There was a lot of small mom and pops doing vehicle modifications, but nobody was really doing it well. They were like backyard van converters, and it wasn't being done in a real professional way."
Under Lore's leadership the company started accepting trade-ins and developed financing options for customers, but the biggest difference was the addition of on-site inventory.
"A lot of times people had to order their vehicles off of brochures, so I started putting a lot of inventory on our lots so people could try the different vehicles and see how they worked for them before they made a purchase."
Ride-Away now has 400 different vehicles in stock between its nine stores.
Along with sales, Ride-Away also does the full gamut of modifications, from simple grab bars to complete joystick gas, break and steering systems.
It does about 1,000 full overhauls and another 2,000 smaller jobs a year -- contributing to more than $40 million in sales.
Lore said he hopes to keep growth up by adding at least two locations per year. The new Norwalk store is Ride-Away's second startup this year. It also opened one in Essex Junction, Vt.
"When at all possible, an acquisition is the better way because you start right away with business, but a lot of our competitors don't have good reputations or good people, so that has been an obstacle for us in doing more."
Another hindrance is Lore's reluctance to leave the East Coast. Ride-Away has had opportunities to expand to Arizona, Colorado, and other places on the West Coast, but Lore just shakes them off.
"I'm not a big fan of getting on airplanes and flying across the country," he joked. "Plus, there's plenty of work and business to do on the East Coast. There's no sense in going outside of that."