Retailers eye seat-lift market with envy

Sunday, April 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - A recent article in the Washington Post showed how the once lowly "eject-o-chair" has morphed into a stylish piece of mainstream furniture with gigantic growth potential.
The January article also pointed out that while HMEs have owned the seat-lift market, furniture stores have begun eyeing it with envy.
"I believe furniture stores are trying to take business from dealers, but a lift chair is different from furniture and sizing someone properly is different than sizing them for a piece of furniture," said C.J. Copley, vice president of marketing for Golden Technologies. "Nobody knows a lift chair like the homecare dealer, and it is up the homecare dealer to let people know that."
It's easy to see why furniture stores have begun to take notice of lift chairs. According to the Post:
Lift chairs--or, as the butt of jokes, eject-o-chairs--have been around for more than 20 years. Early on, they were typically clunky, institutional-looking behemoths often covered in low-grade vinyl. But in the past 10 years sales have doubled, according to industry sources, to a total of more than 200,000 a year, as the chair has morphed into a more stylish mode with new technology that provides a smooth ride. Company executives are targeting the designs to appeal to the 82 million Americans over age 50, with sleeker models available in buttery leather, textured microfiber or custom-order fabrics.
Pride Mobility, for example, sells 22 models of lift-chairs, some with heaters and massagers. Chairs with computer ports, phone jacks and refrigerators built into the arms are on the drawing board, according to Pride Mobility's national sales manager, Cy Corgan.
To compete in this market nowadays, providers must advertise, offer a variety of fabrics and colors, display chairs prominently and, importantly, think like a retailer, said Ron Harville, vice president of sales for Med Lift & Mobility, which manufactures lift chairs.
"Furniture dealers are in the retail business--when someone walks in, they want to sell them something," Harville said. "A DME needs to become more of a salesman and less an order-taker."
Added Copely: "You've got to have product on the floor if you are going to sell lift chairs. If you want to sell 20 a month, you've got to have 30 chairs. If you want to sell 10 a month, you've got to have 20 chairs. True merchandising is knowing what your (customers) want and having it available to them when they want it."