Pride, Invacare hope light chair sales soar

Monday, January 31, 2005

EXETER, Pa. - Pride Mobility Products rolled out a new light, power wheelchair last month, the Go Chair, that aims to pick up where the stifled senior mobility markets dropped off.
The Go Chair is Pride Mobility Product’s recent addition to the light power wheelchair market.

Like the $1,000 travel scooter that made a splash in its market two to three years ago, the Go Chair retails for less than half the price of standard products in the category and breaks down handily for transport in cars and vans.

“We believe that only three out of 10 people who call a provider for a power wheelchair actually have the medical necessity and meet Medicare requirements to receive a standard power chair,” said Pride President Dan Meuser. “But we wanted to make affordable mobility for everyone who needs it and wants it.”

The Go Chair is the second entry in a power chair category that Invacare introduced at Medtrade last fall with its At’m Take Along Chair. Like the At’m, the Go Chair breaks down into several pieces for transportability. The heaviest Go piece is 36.5 lbs. The At’m base weighs 34 lbs.

The MSRP on the At’m is $3,295. The Go’s MSRP is $2,595, though Meuser suspects some dealers may retail the Go Chair for $1,995.

Pride is positioning its chair as a pure retail play. Invacare sees retail play for the At’m, but reimbursement possibilities, too, and has submitted an application with Medicare for the At’m as a K0012.

The market for light chairs, especially as Medicare rolls out a vast new suite of codes for wheelchairs, is uncertain.

“You don’t yet know who’s going to go for this,” said Mark Sullivan, vice president of rehab at Invacare. “That’s the neat thing about a product like this.”

Similar uncertainty is in the air at Pride.

“In HME, convenience products are the great unknown, particularly with the baby boomers coming along,” said Meuser.

Manufacturers are hopeful that the same sort of consumer desire that propelled the travel scooter market will infect the portable power chair market, if not to the same degree.

In West Texas, Jeff Day sees potential in the retail market for light power chairs, especially when combined with marketing support like the Pride credit card program that helped boost his scooter sales from two units in 2003 to about 60 units in 2004.

Light power chairs may also salve the wounds of referral sources who don’t take kindly to his disqualification of referrals they believe need a power chair.

“I’ve got a doctor’s office and two physical therapy referral sources who used to be really good to me but who just won’t speak to me anymore because we’re not qualifying their people for wheelchairs,” said Day.

He believes that only half of his referrals qualify for power wheelchairs.

In Milwaukee, Knueppel Healthcare Services Robison believes light power chairs should provide a welcome lure to caregivers. Kneupple’s has been carrying the At’m since early December.

“People look at it, and like it, but they’re turned off when I tell them they can’t live in this chair,” said Robison, Kneupple’s HME manager. “We have to stress that portability is what you are paying for - not for spending eight to 10 hours in it a day.”

Likewise the Go Chair. The Go Chair features two motors. It’s more sophisticated than a scooter but less sophisticated than a Jazzy. It’s not a replacement for a standard power chair but an enhancement or a convenience for people who need help with mobility.

“You got to be careful,” said Meuser. “The last thing we want to do is put a person with a medical necessity in the wrong chair.”