Off-roading with GRIT

Company focuses on online, DTC sales for outdoor wheelchair
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Friday, October 21, 2016

BOSTON – GRIT is trailblazing a new market for outdoor wheelchairs with its Freedom Chair, a lightweight but rugged chair that’s pushed using levers.

The company, started by graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sells the chair on its website, www.gogrit.us, for $2,995—about half the price of competitors, it says. 

“People are buying,” said Tish Scolnik, CEO of GRIT, which recently announced plans to donate 10% of each sale of its Freedom Chair Forward, a higher-end model that features SoftWheels in-wheel suspension, toward helping low-income users “move beyond the payment.”

GRIT’s business model of selling the chairs online and direct-to-consumer will raise eyebrows in the HME industry, but company officials say they’re doing it responsibly.

For example, to make up for a user’s inability to try the chair, GRIT has a 30-day refund policy.

“That way, everyone can try it at home, at the park, at the beach—wherever they plan on using it—and if it doesn’t work out, they can get a refund,” Scolnik said. “There’s no risk to trying this at home.”

Scolnik says GRIT also offers easy-to-understand customization options (16-, 18-, 20-inch seat widths and adjustable height footrest, to name a few) and top-notch customer service (callers talk to engineers), putting most users at ease.

“We definitely encourage people who need more complex seating to consult with a specialist—this is not a product that’s recommended for people with complex seating needs,” she said. “That being said, we’ve been surprised at the breadth of different types of people using the chair.”

Scolnik estimates about half of users are full-time manual wheelchair users—such as low-level paraplegics—and about half may use crutches or walkers but they want to be more active outdoors—such as individuals with early progression MS and arthritis.

GRIT’s business model may be a rarity in HME, but company officials say they had little choice, due to the in-the-home rule and other Medicare regulations.

“We knew insurance wasn’t going to cover it,” Scolnik said.

Company officials also knew to make the chair affordable they needed to cut out “the middleman.”

“If people were going to pay out-of-pocket, we wanted to make sure it was a good value and it was something they could maintain,” Scolnik said.