Merits joins the club

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Editor’s note: Next week HME News looks at why the complex rehab market is attracting new entrants like Merits Health Products and Shoprider.

CAPE CORAL, Fla. – Merits Health Products is vying for a spot in the increasingly competitive complex rehab market.

The manufacturer, which makes and sells a complex rehab wheelchair for the overseas market but is best known for its consumer mobility products, plans to launch its first complex rehab wheelchair for the U.S. market in July.

“The previous management for the U.S. market had no interest in getting into complex rehab,” said Chris Blackmore, director of business and product development, who has been with Merits since February 2015, and before that, with Handicare and Pride Mobility Products. “When I came onboard, we re-evaluated. It’s a huge market—$600 million.”

Merits will offer the complex rehab wheelchair under a new division named Avid Rehab, which Blackmore will head up.

Merits joins another recent entrant into the complex rehab market: Shoprider. Shoprider created a complex rehab division named ROVI Mobility Products in 2013 and began shipping its X3 power base with Motion Concepts power positioning in 2015.

“That definitely paved the way for Merits—the fact that Shoprider was willing to enter the market and is looking to be successful with a good product,” Blackmore said.

Merits spent much of 2015 rebuilding its existing complex rehab wheelchair, with feedback from clinicians at trade shows and conferences like the International Seating Symposium and Medtrade.

“I’ve been in the industry for 19 years and I wanted to get the opinions of therapists,” Blackmore said. “It got torn apart, as I knew it would be.”

The complex rehab wheelchair that Merits plans to hit the U.S. market with in 2016 features a footprint that’s narrower (25 inches vs. 27 inches), center-mount footplates with seven inches of articulation, 55 degrees of tilt and a power recline with sheer reduction.

“We cleaned up the whole chair with all of these changes,” Blackmore said.

Merits has also “changed the entire company” to make sure the complex rehab wheelchair succeeds.

“We have a new GM, Kevin Liu, and controller,” Blackmore said. “We have new inside and outside sales managers. We went from one rep in the field to 24.”

Merits hopes to carve a niche for itself in the complex rehab market by offering a quality but economical product. Threats like CMS’s plan to tie reimbursement for accessories for complex rehab wheelchairs to competitive bidding pricing demand it.

“We hope that doesn’t happen, but we’re planning for the worst,” Blackmore said. “We want to bring a product to market that meets the patient’s needs but is economically sound.”