Retail seen as key to boosting scooter sales

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Scooters fall into a category of their own within the mobility segment--a lifestyle product with a clinical purpose that is available through both insurance and retail channels. Yet while demand has progressively grown in recent years, coverage and funding have slipped, presenting scooter dealers with a dilemma about which sales channel deserves the most focus.

Mobility vendors concede that insurers--both public and private--are increasingly reluctant to cover scooters for beneficiaries and that the funding provided is typically for the most basic models in their portfolios.

"Due to Medicare reimbursement changes, the scooter market has changed in the past six months," observed Jason Davis, vice president of sales for Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies. "This change is due to lower reimbursement and the amount of work to properly qualify an end-user. For this reason, scooters now represent a smaller portion of overall mobility sales. Dealers who choose to bill Medicare for their scooters have found themselves sacrificing quality for pricing."

Dale Nash, business development manager for Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive Medical's wheelchair business, contends that insurance coverage and funding for scooters "is a discussion all its own." While the most utilized Medicare category is the K0800, Nash says other categories have been tagged as not being medically necessary or inappropriate for indoor use due to the size or higher-performing components.

"Qualifying consumers then gets moved to the least costly alternative or denied," he said. "The consumers face the alternative of buying the scooter they want for cash or do without. Larger consumers are the ones left out totally because in order to build an appropriate product that supports additional weight requirements on a stable foundation, the product has to increase in size and component performance. So it's a Catch-22."

Therefore, mobility vendors agree that retail represents the best opportunity for dealers to boost their sales and revenues for scooters.

"This is a very viable, strong market," said Cy Corgan, national sales director for Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility. "What we see is a baby boomer turning 65 every 10 seconds for the next 18 years. The demographics are heavily in our favor."

Corgan has a laundry list of retail strategies that scooter dealers can pursue, such as sales to cruise ships, resorts, casinos, shopping malls and hotels; offering high-end and special models like bariatrics; and carrying a wide selection of accessories for add-on sales.

"Baby boomers have a collective $1 trillion in spending cash," he said. "If they see something they like, they'll buy it."

Thinking retail

Pat O'Brien, Golden's director of marketing, contends that dealers must be retail-minded in order to succeed in the retail environment, which includes sufficient promotion and advertising.

"Consistent advertising to their target demographic is important to draw the customers into their store," she said. "Once the customer is inside, having a friendly, knowledgeable sales staff, along with a clean, well organized, well-lit showroom, keeps the customer there and keeps them interested in shopping, as well as coming back for future purchases."

Nash rounds out dealer retail needs by suggesting promotional posters, informational fliers and literature, consumer financing programs, product training, technical service support and bolstered field and inside sales support. Additionally, he recommends that dealers "show the products--have some samples on the floor for consumers to see and try out. Let people know these products are in stock and ready to go and that the company offers maintenance, service and training."

Corgan adds that while scooters are an important retail sales item, dealers need to play up all elements of their business in order to position themselves in the marketplace as a complete mobility provider.

"Advertising alone may not be effective. Use direct marketing and e-mail to promote yourself as a mobility specialist," he said. "And it is a good idea to carry vertical market products, such as lifts and ramps."

Thinking vertically

Vehicle lifts and residential ramps are perfect examples of the "vertical" diversity Corgan mentions. Customers who buy a scooter are more than likely to need accessibility and transport assistance. Sarasota, Fla.-based Harmar is eager to work with mobility providers on setting up a comprehensive sales program for its vehicles lifts.

"One of the most valuable products a scooter owner should consider purchasing as a complementary item is an outside vehicle lift which allows for the scooter to be safely transported," said Daniel Behnisch, director of marketing for Sarasota, Fla.-based Harmar. "As a convenience to scooter owners, this outside vehicle lift is the ideal add-on product to transport the customer's scooter from place to place providing for the maximum mobile lifestyle."