Loads of extras propel scooter sales

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

If any retail HME product cries out for accessory sales, it's scooters. Already a mainstay in the cash-and-carry retail arena, a showroom scooter display can be decorated with a bounty of complementary products that not only make nice additions to a sale, but also can lure customers back in the future.
Though scooters have long been a retail-oriented product, the market is still in its formative phase and poised for tremendous growth, manufacturers say. Demand for scooters and other mobility aids will only escalate over the next few decades as the baby boomers age and seek out assistive devices that allow them to maintain their active lifestyles.
Not only will boomers be shopping for the most suitable products, market forecasters are convinced they will be much more inclined to open their wallets for the items they want. HME providers who have reached the proverbial final straw with Medicare would do well to look at setting up a retail scooter business, advised Rick Davis, vice president of marketing and product innovation for St. Louis-based Access Point Medical.
"Favorable demographics are creating strong demand for scooters and mobility products," he said. "This is an opportunity for homecare providers to increase their cash sales as a way to offset declining third-party reimbursement revenues."
Scooter manufacturers say interest in setting up HME retail shops has consistently been on the upswing for some time. Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility, for example, is buzzing with provider inquiries.
"Yes, we are definitely seeing more interest," said Cy Corgan, Pride's national sales manager for retail mobility. "Our reps are seeing it and our marketing department is getting more requests for advertising support materials. Providers are seeking our assistance on advertising and marketing for retail mobility sales."
For no charge, Pride furnishes marketing and merchandising kits to its provider representatives. The materials include retail marketing and merchandising strategies.
Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based Bladez is a relative newcomer to the mobility manufacturing world, entering the marketplace three years ago. National sales manager Mike Erbstoesser said the company moved into senior mobility because it sensed a climate change was coming.
"Even though Medicare has been so predominant in this market, we saw HME as a classic candidate for retail sales," he said. "We've gone after it and so far it looks like we made the right move."
With its roots in fitness equipment and storage systems, Bladez's strategy is to sell mobility products in a "pure" retail environment, Erbstoesser said. Independent HME providers are perfectly positioned to capture this business, he said, because they are service-oriented companies.
"Unlike the mass merchandiser who puts a product out on the floor and leaves the buying decision up to the consumer, the independent HME dealer has a sales staff to find the right product for the customer and to back up the sale with service and repair," he said. "There is a quotient to the consumer mentality--scooters are not impulse buys. They want as much information about the product as possible and this is where the independent dealer has a huge advantage."
An attentive consumer sales approach also presents the opportunity to introduce "orbit" or related products to the prospective customer--a strategy that industry observers contend has to date gone largely unfulfilled by HME retailers. Davis expressed confidence that this will change over time, however.
"This is more due to the nature of their current business operations than from a lack of merchandising knowledge," he said. "As HME providers shift their business plans to growing their cash sales, they will naturally shift their thinking toward the retail mindset."
Ben Kingery, group product manager of power products for Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare, agrees that auxiliary sales should become a cornerstone of any successful retail strategy.
"As we transition to a larger cash sale market, it's going to become a bigger business to merchandise and offer these related products," he said.
Kingery concedes that "there's no magic bullet" for getting customers to buy ancillary products but said tried-and-true merchandising techniques like attractive displays and signage can serve as enticements.
"The first thing you have to do is attract people to the product," he said. "Draw them in with a nice display and then guide them to where you want them to go."
Even if a display doesn't immediately yield higher sales, Kingery advises retailers to be patient. Clandestinely osbserve customers' reactions to the display to get a sense of how it is being received, he said.
"There is a lot of trial and error that goes into merchandising," he said. "It doesn't happen overnight, so give it a chance to succeed."
Pride encourages cross selling for scooters and the Silver Star line of lifts and ramps it acquired last year gives retailers a natural complement of mobility products, Corgan said.
"Properly educating your sales staff goes a long way toward increasing cross-selling opportunities," he said. "The sales rep should ask the customer a series of questions, such as how they will transport the scooter and how they will use it at home. This opens the door for discussing lifts and ramps."
There are limitless possibilities for product bundling, Corgan said. Besides the lifts and ramps, there are other mobility aids such as walkers and canes; decorative add-on items like baskets, flag holders and shrouds; and functional accessories like mirrors and covers. Lift chairs--though not directly compatible--should be mentioned as a product the customer may want in the future, he said.