Vendors call seat-lift chairs the perfect retail item

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

In the HME retail realm, the seat lift chair stands out as the ideal cash sale product, vendors say, and here’s why: They are being increasingly favored by a growing senior population; they are easy to display; they fit perfectly into the mobility product category; the margins are respectable; and the products practically sell themselves when merchandised correctly.

Patterned after the standard reclining lounge chair – the seat lift chair offers enhanced function for people who have difficulty sitting and getting up due to hip surgery, chronic back problems, arthritis or any other condition that limits mobility. Internal mechanisms are designed to lift and lower the user simply by pressing a button.

Given the swelling potential customer base and an upbeat forecast for future sales, HME providers looking to shift away from Medicare’s declining reimbursement are in a prime market entry position, said Cy Corgan, national sales manager for retail mobility at Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility.

“This is an exciting time for lift chair sales,” he said. “Retail sales were very strong last year and should increase again this year. A lot of providers who never sold retail before are getting into it, and it is becoming an integral part of their business.”

One commonly expressed reservation HME companies have traditionally had about selling big-ticket items for cash is how they can compete against the deep discount retail chains. And while some national outlets may sell lift chairs at lower prices, the HME retailer can still be a formidable competitor in this arena, Corgan said.

“General retailers are not mobility experts,” he said. “The HME provider must get that message out through advertising. They must communicate that they are the place people can go to for mobility solutions.”

Lift chairs have various attributes that make them desirable cash sale items and chief among them is that they fit squarely within the mobility product category.

“They are the perfect accompaniment to scooters and walkers,” Corgan said. “They are a great way to round out an entire sale.”

To help consumers defray the economic impact of purchasing a lift chair, HME retailers should offer financing options. Some manufacturers, like Pride, provide assistance to dealers with special programs.

“If a chair is $1,500, it can really help if payments are broken down to $30 or $35 a month,” Corgan said. “This is another way HME companies can compete in the marketplace.”

Although the chairs have evolved to become more stylish, comfortable and durable, the primary selling feature remains the lift mechanism itself, said C.J. Copley, director of marketing for Old Forge, Pennsylvania-based Golden Technologies.

“The important thing is that the chair lifts consistently and brings the person down softly and quietly,” he said. “The person has to have the confidence that the chair will support them in the lift and lowering actions.”

With functionality being the top sales point, retailers need to display the product in a way that effectively conveys how the chair works. Setting the chair in full lift or recline position is a guaranteed attention-getter, Copley said.

“Otherwise it looks like an ordinary chair,” he said. “You want customers to notice it as they shop for other items. Set it up so that they aspire to have the product.”

Because the clientele most inclined to buy a lift chair may have another reason for visiting the store, dealers should place conspicuous signs around the showroom floor calling attention to the chairs and that they are readily available.

“It is important to always have them in stock, said Tom Baldwin, director of advertising and public relations for Dubuque, Iowa’s Flexsteel. “This type of consumer usually just came from the hospital and needs the chair today,” he said. “They can’t wait three or four weeks.”

To minimize the inventory challenges that come with big box items, lift chair selection should be limited to three styles – one color in each, Baldwin said.

On the off chance a chair is out of stock, Pride offers a just-in-time option that promises delivery in one to two days.

“We have five distribution centers across the country and can provide on demand,” Corgan said. “That way if a customer wants a chair in admiral blue and the dealer only has cappuccino, we can get them what they need quickly.”

Setting up lift chairs as part of a living room-style vignette helps shoppers envision how they would look in their own homes, vendors said. For instance, draping an afghan over the chair and arranging it in front of a television set creates the type of atmosphere that takes people out of the showroom.

“You want your customers to be reminded of home,” Copley said. “Lighting is an essential part of that display. You want it to be bright enough so that it shows off the chair’s fabric, but soft enough so that it looks warm and inviting.”

Fabric is a critical component of the chair’s comfort factor, so dealers should emphasize that aspect when demonstrating the product for consumers, vendors said.

“How it feels is crucial – the fabric must be plush and soft but durable,” Copley said. “It should say ‘touch me.’”

Informing the consumer on how to operate the chair safely is an essential part of any demonstration, Baldwin added. For instance, blankets should be kept clear of the mechanism so it doesn’t get entangled.

“You also should talk to them about getting a battery-operated backup,” he said. “They don’t want to get stuck in the recline position if there’s a power outage.”

While seniors are the principle demographic for lift chairs, dealers may also get a younger audience.

“These are comfortable products and we’re seeing people buying whom you wouldn’t expect,” Corgan said. “They’re not just for grandma and grandpa anymore.”
Category: Seat Lift Chairs

Effective merchandising techniques:

- Because prime lift chair customers may be in the store for another reason (such as shopping for a scooter or walker), create conspicuous signs and banners announcing their availability.

- Display the chairs in the recline or lift positions in order to attract attention.

- Create living room vignettes with lamps, TV and other furnishings to give customers an idea of what the chair will look like at home.

- Work with the manufacturer to offer consumer financing.

- Offer holiday specials for mother’s and father’s day.