Scooter sales: Exploit your competitor's weakness

Monday, February 28, 2005

In the scooter arena, the full-line HME retailer is wrestling with muscular competition from discount mass merchandisers and the Internet. So if they are going to win customers in their marketplace, vendors advise that they establish a unique identity for themselves.

“You can buy a scooter at Pep Boys for $450 and one on e-Bay for $299, so why stop at [an HME] dealer?” asked Jim Ernst, product manager for Kansas City, Kansas-based Leisure-Lift. “The key is to differentiate yourself with products and services. Educate the customer on why he should buy from you.”

Of course there are many reasons why buying a scooter from a reputable HME dealer is a smart choice, added Leisure-Lift President DuWayne Kramer, but the customer isn’t always aware of what those reasons are. Due diligence is a practice all consumers should exercise when shopping for an item as significant as a scooter, he said, but many aren’t aware of the choices available, which model is best for each individual’s situation and the difference in quality between those sold through medical equipment supply channels and those produced for mass consumption.

“There are some local guys here in KC who are frustrated because Wal-Mart is selling scooters,” Kramer said. “But instead of complaining, they should think about how to capitalize on the weaknesses of this competition, such as the lack of durability in the models they offer and the risks that come from making these choices. We get a lot of second-time buyers who had a bad experience the first time around.”

Without a doubt, serviceability is the HME dealer’s primary advantage over other scooter outlets, agreed Cheryl Dudek, group product manager for Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare.

“The service component is by far the biggest selling feature,” she said. “If someone buys from the Internet, where do they get parts and who takes care of it? The Internet may be a good information center for consumers, but when it comes to the buying decision, they want to test out the product. The only place they can do that is at the dealership.”

What’s more, once the customer visits the HME center, the sales rep can offer influential advice about why one product is better than another, she said.

Cy Corgan, national sales manager for retail mobility at Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility, suggests that HME retailers position themselves as the “mobility specialists” of their community – a resource that can help assess customer needs and find the appropriate model based on those needs.

“To capture the market, the dealer needs to be a scooter expert, demonstrating the difference between a quality scooter and an adolescent scooter,” he said. “You need to explain how buying a quality scooter – even though you pay more – is a better value for the customer.”

Pride ardently supports its dealers on parts, service and merchandising for the showroom, providing hang tags, banners and window treatments.

“The showroom needs merchandising,” Corgan said. “For no charge, Pride offers planagram services that help the dealer set up an effective design layout.”

A well-focused advertising campaign is integral to creating the dealership’s image as the best source for scooters and it starts with understanding the audience, said Pieter Leenhouts, vice president of global product management-standard products for Longmont, Colo.-based Sunrise Medical.

“In my experience, dealers have different experiences in what works for them,” he said. “For some, it might by the Yellow Pages, others may find TV, radio or newspaper works best; or it might a combination of all of them. And the Internet, though loathed by dealers, may serve as a useful advertising medium as well. Creativity is important about where you reach your audience and where you get the most for your money.”

One of the most distinctive new venues for advertising is the front of supermarket shopping carts, Ernst added.

To gauge the effectiveness of each medium, Leenhouts suggests experimenting with all of them and tracking the number of responses each one gets. Regardless of medium, however, the dealer needs to give customers a reason to visit the store.

“There are many places where people can buy scooters, so find a unique message that registers with your audience,” he said. “It should convey to the public that you will take care of them, no matter what.”

Getting people in the door is one of the biggest challenges the HME dealer faces, so special events like an annual “Scooter Roundup” can attract people to the premises, Ernst said.

“Offer hot dogs and hamburgers and free maintenance for scooters to get them back in optimum condition,” he said. “It’s a proven sales tool that brings back the money tenfold. It also gives those with older scooters the chance to see the new models.”

Demonstrations at senior living communities are also well worth the effort, Ernst said.

“Retirement centers are always looking for events,” he said. “This is a simple way to show off your products.”

Extended dealer warranties and financing options have been staples of electronics and appliance retailers for years and mobility manufacturers are curious about whether they would work for HME dealers. You’ll never know unless you try, they contend.

“Dealers have traditionally given away service for emergencies and maybe it’s time they started charging for it,” Leenhouts said. “People will pay for value.”

Dudek added that while she hasn’t seen many dealers offer the extended warranty option, “it may be a product that sets them apart from the guy down the street.”

Financial arrangements such as layaway and installment plans could also work to the dealer’s – and user’s – benefit, vendors said.

“A payment plan is perfect because the scooter is costly enough that it’s viable,” Leenhouts said. “The American population is credit rich and cash poor. Sunrise is close to working with a major financial institution on offering such a program, though it’s not set in stone yet.”

An enticement like low interest rates may be just the hook dealers need to inspire participation in financing, Dudek said.

“I’m not sure how many consumers would take advantage of it, but scooter sales are a retail business and it makes sense for dealers to use it,” she said. “It could be a big plus.”
Category: Scooters
Key Marketing Strategies:

- Sell the serviceability advantage that HME dealerships have over other outlets, such as discount mass merchandisers or the Internet.

- Market the scooter as a lifestyle enhancement product, a purchase that is worth the investment. Point out the differences between a well-built scooter and an “adolescent” scooter made for mass consumption.

- Experiment with different advertising media to see which one works best for your marketplace. Track responses carefully and craft a specific message for your audience.

- Host an annual “Scooter Roundup”-type event that brings in new and old customer alike.

- Consider offering extended dealer warranties (for an extra fee) and financing options (with little or no interest).