Scooter Store debuts custom rehab division

Sunday, January 6, 2008

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas – The Scooter Store may be a giant when it comes to standard power wheelchairs and scooters, but the company has a lot of work to do to succeed in its latest venture, providing high-end wheelchairs, industry sources say.

First and foremost, the Scooter Store must fundamentally change the way it has done business for the past 17 years, industry sources say. That includes hiring more qualified personnel like ATSs and CRTSs.

“They have to change their mindset,” said Rick Perrotta, president of Network Medical Supply, a Charlotte, N.C.-based rehab provider. “They have their system down in terms of providing standard equipment, where, like McDonald’s, they can take an employee who’s not that experienced, give them procedures and protocols, and the burgers still taste the same. High-end equipment isn’t like that.”

The Scooter Store, through a new division called Alliance Seating and Mobility, has been providing custom rehab at four locations in Texas since late last year. It used Adorno Rogers Technology, a Nashville, Tenn.-based rehab provider that closed its doors late last year, as a launching pad for the new division.

To provide high-end wheelchairs, the Scooter Store must also develop relationships with referral sources (rather than rely on direct-to-consumer advertising) and repair “a terrible reputation” for servicing wheelchairs and scooters, industry sources say.

“With high-end equipment, if a tilt-and-recline or a sip-and-puff malfunctions, you have to know how to fix it and you have to be there pretty quick,” said one rehab provider.

Additionally, the Scooter Store must diversify its product offerings, not only for wheelchairs but also for hundreds of different components, industry sources say.

“The Scooter Store typically limits the number of brands they have, which is fine with scooters,” said Mark Schmeler, a director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology. “But with high-end wheelchairs, you need to have different products to meet individual needs and preferences.”

Industry sources weren’t surprised to hear the Scooter Store was expanding into custom rehab. When CMS cut reimbursement for power mobility devices in 2006, standard power wheelchairs, the company’s bread and butter, took the brunt of the blow.

“For Group 2 wheelchairs, the margins are all but gone,” Perrotta said. “From a business standpoint, it makes sense.”

In addition to making up for lost revenue, the Scooter Store seeks to increase its clout in Washington, D.C., industry sources say.

“I think complex rehab is starting to get the recognition that it deserves, as a separate entity, and they want to participate in that recognition,” said Tim Pederson, chair of AAHomecare’s Rehab and Assistive Technology Council (RATC) and CEO of WestMed Rehab in Rapid City, S.D.

Several industry sources declined to comment on the Scooter Store expanding into custom rehab, channeling the phrase, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” One rehab provider did say: “The Scooter Store’s going to dumb down custom rehab and standardize it, which is the antithesis of what it’s supposed to be.”

But other industry sources don’t view the Scooter Store’s move as a negative for the industry.

“With all the new rules and regulations in place, my guess is that they’ll have to do a good job,” said one rehab provider.

Q&A: Alliance Seating and Mobility’s Scott Higley
By Liz Beaulieu Managing Editor
Scott Higley, the former COO of Adorno Rogers and the former vice president of Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Products, heads up Alliance Seating and Mobility. He talked with HME News about why it’s the right time for the 17-year-old Scooter Store to extend its “continuum of care” to include high-end wheelchairs.

HME News: How did you end up at the Scooter Store?
Scott Higley: We had some good people at Adorno Rogers who had committed a lot of years to the industry. I was wondering where I could find a home for these people and myself. Looking at the Scooter Store, I admired the efficiency that they brought to the geriatric marketplace; it’s something that I think is needed in the rehab marketplace. What’s happening—there’s only so much cost that can be taken out of anything, and after a while, it’s the efficiencies that you put in place that make you more successful. This was something I approached them on.

HME: And the Scooter Store was receptive?
Higley: They were very open to it. It’s frustrating when they have a client who has called with a need that they don’t have the expertise to handle and they have to turn that client away. They’re not looking at it as a lost sale; they’re looking at it as a client they couldn’t help. They’ve grown to the size they are because of their commitment to their clients, so it makes sense for them to increase their continuum of care. It’s just an extension of what they already do.

HME: You mentioned the efficiency the Scooter Store has brought to the geriatric marketplace and parlaying that to the rehab marketplace. How much influence will the Scooter Store have over what you do at Alliance Seating and Mobility?
Higley: They were not unrealistic. They realized they couldn’t just say, ‘Ok, our process works for you,’ because they knew right away that it may not work for us. Everyone realizes there are things about their business model that do not fit in with custom rehab. It’s more, we take what will work for us and we add into that.

HME: Providing high-end wheelchairs requires more qualified personnel. What’s the staff like at Alliance Seating and Mobility?
Higley: We’re not going to just abide by the minimum guideline of having one ATS per location; we’re going to do that and more. Anyone who is working with a client at the company has to be an ATS.

HME: Alliance Seating and Mobility is starting out small, with branches in Dallas, Houston, Austin and Corpus Christi. With a company like the Scooter Store behind you, though, you’ve got to have bigger plans.
Higley: I think any time you’re not focused on growing, you’re shrinking. Obviously, we would like to be successful. We want to get a model that works well and is self-sustaining, and expand our reach. But we have a lot of respect for many of the providers out there, whether small or national. Hopefully they understand we understand this is not an easy thing to fall into. We’re not saying, ‘Oh, we can click a switch and we have instant locations across the country.’ We’re taking things slow.