Scooter prices slip far, fast

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

YARMOUTH, Maine — Asian mobility manufacturers began dropping the dealer price-points on scooters and power chairs earlier this year to levels that some rivals call predatory, that some say have precipitated a scooter war and that some dealers call great.

"I was paying $1,600 for power chairs from Shoprider, but that price-point fell to $1,200 right after the first of the year," said Bob Clay, president of Clay Medical in Fresno, Calif. "It looks to me as if companies are really starting to sharpen their pencils, and that's good."

At the Scooter Mart in Corpus Christi, Texas, Randy Songer said he has seen the price of import power chairs fall from $2,000 to $1,400 since January. "I was paying $1,100 for a scooter that I'm now getting for $800," he said.

Shoprider has lowered the dealer price of its low-end Scootie scooter to $625. (Pride Mobility sells a comparable scooter, the Sonic, to dealers for $795.) And Merits Health Products is coming onto the market at the end of April with its comparable Pioneer Five scooter priced even lower.

"On the price point, we're going to give them all a run for their money," said Doug Strayer, Merit's national sales manager.

One reason behind the downward pricing pressure was Shoprider's decision, announced at Medtrade last fall, to cut the middle-man distributor and begin selling direct to mobility providers. Shoprider Healthcare said its decision to cut the distributor out of the picture has enabled the company to save money; accordingly, they say they're passing on those savings to dealers, and at the same time exceeding all sales expectations.

"By going direct, we're definitely taking market share away from the big boys," said Shoprider spokesman Howard Issacs.

Merit's is another Asian-based manufacturer-distributor that believes selling direct to dealers has enabled it to compete heavily on price.

"Our stance is to be competitive," said Strayer. "Instead of giving a rebate on the back-end, we're giving one on the front–end."

So far, it looks as though Pride and Invacare are holding the line against the deep price cuts. Invacare said it intends to keep holding that line, believing that ultimately, customer service and marketing support that the company extends to dealers will win the day over pricing pressures.

"If everybody bought everything on price, everyone would be driving a Chevy or Hyundai," said Lou Slangen, Invacare's senior v.p. of sales and marketing. "Last time I checked, they weren't quite doing that."

DuWayne Kramer, president of Leisure-Lift, characterized the volatility in the scooter market as a serious price war. Like Invacare, he said Leisure-Lift has decided not to get in the middle. Instead, Kramer touts the fact that his company's scooters and power chairs are built in the United States.

"I build right here, and I have several million parts right here," he said.

At the same time Shoprider and Merit's are driving pricing pressures, they are also taking the temperature of the U.S. based vendors they serve as original equipment manufacturers.

"Every week, someone is sparking a new fire," said Strayer, whose company is a much bigger player on the OEM side than the direct-to-dealer side. "The big issue is always who is OEMing for who." HME