The state of the market

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Thursday, January 31, 2002

Manufacturers are bending over backward trying to find homes for scooters in HME showrooms, knowing the equipment's often considered an orphan of the power wheelchair. The resulting trend: Manufacturers are building dependable scooters with eye-catching price tags that can turn a nice profit for providers. Moreover, they're creating marketing and financing programs for scooters that help providers grow their businesses. We contacted the following manufacturers and polled them on where the scooter market is headed. Here's what each had to say.

Shoprider
Sovereign
Fresh from its reorganization as a manufacturer and distributor of its own products, Shoprider Healthcare plans to roll out the "Cadillac of all scooters," the Sovereign ES, at a price point that guarantees dealers a sweet profit.

Where many manufacturers believe stripped down scooters turn the best profits, Shoprider believes its position as both a manufacturer and distributor will make even the ES, a technologically advanced scooter with amenities such as an electric seat lift and hazards, a money maker.

"Because we're manufacturing and distributing, we can afford to pass savings onto dealers," said Howard Isaacs, marketing manager for Shoprider. "We can offer the technology and the quality - even looks - at the best prices."

Isaacs said scooters in the Sovereign series, which include three- and four-wheel drive models, start at about $850. Shoprider's scooter line also includes the sub-compact Qtie, formerly Scootie, and the heavy-duty Jumbo Three-Wheeler.

Amigo Mobility
Fiesta
With an MSRP of $1,995, Amigo Mobility's new Fiesta scooter gives dealers what they want: a competitive low-priced product with a healthy margin of 50% or more, said Marketing Manager Shirley Beebe. And while much of the scooter is built off shore, Amigo continues to provide the electronics so it can have a three-year limited warranty.

In all, Amigo offers nine scooters, including the Travel Mate, which Beebe calls the "first truly folding scooter on the market." The company's flagship scooter, the RT Express, marries the power needed for a scooter intended for outdoor use with the size and maneuverability (20-inches wide, 32-inch turning radius) of an indoor unit.

"Different dealers want different things," Beebe said. "But all dealers want quality product and support from the manufacturer."

Invacare
LX3
Invacare rolled out one new scooter in 2001, the Zoom-3, with a 29-inch turning radius and a head-turning MSRP of $1,695. The Zoom-3 is Invacare's first play in the trendy, low-priced scooter niche.

While dealers have been reporting brisk sales of the Zoom-3 since its Medtrade debut, Cheryl Gwiazda, Invacare's product manager, says that sales gains in the mid-sized scooter segment, where Invacare does business with the LX3 and LX3-Plus, are similarly impressive. For larger-sized consumers, Invacare offers the MX4 series.

While the low-priced scooter is making the most buzz overall, Invacare is finding that a related trend has also picked up the sales pace. The scooter "is an early, entry kind of product, where you may be thinking about a walker or a wheelchair but find that it's more aesthetically pleasing to use a scooter," says Gwiazda.

Leveraging those trends, Invacare has stuffed their dealers' toolboxes with various sales-driving implements: the MAP program, direct-mail advertising and TV advertising. In March, Invacare is scheduled to debut television commercials featuring Arnold Palmer.

"I don't know whether we'll see Arnie Palmer riding a scooter," said Gwiazda, "but he'll probably be in a commercial with a scooter - and that'll be a whole new way for dealers to reach the consumer."

Pride Mobility
Sundancer

With the best dealers doing only 5% to 10% of their business in scooters, Pride Mobility Products President Dan Meuser knows he's got to do everything possible to help them sell his company's products.

"Dealers cannot live on scooters alone," Meuser said. "They are not going to invest and spend the time to create customized literature and commercials; go out and seek consumer finance programs; be experts in the reimbursement polices on scooters; create visual aids and merchandising materials."

That's Pride's job, and why, in addition to unveiling a line of lower-priced scooters, the company is entering 2002 by expanding its national network of merchandising coordinators. The coordinators help Pride dealers create in-store visual aids such as signage and develop showroom planograms.

Pride's new high-performing, lower-priced scooters - the Sonic, Revo, Rally and Victory - come with dealer price tags between $795 and $1,095. These scooters come with fewer bells and whistles than Pride's Celebrity luxury line, but they do offer what many consumers want: "style, performance and the lowest price possible," Meuser said.

(The Celebrity comes with a dealer price tag of $1,550.)

Meuser expects Pride's lower-cost line and member services to help dealers boost their close rate. At the moment, dealers close 10%-15% of sales leads generated by advertising, even though "anyone responding to an ad for a scooter or power chair needs mobility."

Ranger
Cobra

In an effort to boost its marketshare, Ranger All-Season has released a new scooter priced for the Medicare market, jazzed up an existing model and bolstered its marketing efforts.

The company's new economy-priced Cobra scooter has a dealer price of $995 and is intended to allow Ranger to compete in the Medicare market, where until now it hasn't had a strong presence.

In creating its new Safari Ltd., Ranger dressed up its existing Safari with a new body, head and tail lights.

 

Golden
Companion

After extensive research with its dealer base, Golden Technologies realized it was steering dealers down the road less traveled.

Dealers didn't want the scooter that could do it all but cost a lot. They wanted the stripped down version that could do a lot, and turn a nice profit.

Hence the Companion, the Companion II and the Companion II (4-wheel drive) - a family of scooters that can handle 300-350 pounds, features a finger-adjustable tiller, headlights, tail-lights and upgraded seating.

Where the Companion's predecessor, the Eagle, rolled onto showroom floors at about $1,495 (dealer cost), the Companion costs about $500 less.

"We've been able to simplify the line for the dealer and the consumer with a quality, value-added scooter," said Bob Smith, Golden's national sales manager. "It was exactly what they'd been looking for."

Dealers were looking for something else too - help growing their business. So a year ago, Golden launched a business development section, staffed by three people who work with dealers to grow mobility sales.
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Burno
Typhoon

After having its economy, three-wheeler, the Typhoon, manufactured successfully overseas, Bruno Independent Living Aids is now arranging to have the remainder of its full scooter line built there, too.

"We recognize the market's moving toward imports," said Jack Sheehan, Bruno's director of sales and marketing. "We couldn't ignore the cost savings."

But where any company can bring in an imported scooter, Bruno works with the manufacturer, taking a specific scooter design and showing them how to make it. That way, the company ensures quality.

Unlike many others in the scooter industry, however, don't expect new bells and whistles with Bruno's scooter lines. Sheehan said the company plans to push the basics - adjustable seating and durability.

"They fit, and they won't quit," he said.

 

Leisure-Lift
Passport

Leisure-Lift hopes the resurgence in buying American made products since the events of Sept. 11 will give the company a boost going into 2002.

"People are making that a priority again," said President DuWayne Kramer. "Especially seniors and the VA."

Leisure-Lift is focusing on pushing the improved looks of its Passport, Espree and Eclipse scooter lines this year. The biggest of those improvements is a new technology in plastics the company is calling "mirror glaze."

"It's through and through color," Kramer said. "It's a clear coat acrylic over ABS, not paint, so it has an automotive shine that doesn't peel or scratch like paint."

To making buying scooters easier, Leisure-Lift also introduced a new consumer-financing program at Medtrade in October that boasts a 12.99% interest rate.

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