Riding High for HME
The invasive tentacles of competitive bidding do not stretch to the realm of vehicle lifts, but that doesn’t mean the effects of the reviled government program are not being felt. In fact, the absence of competitive bidding entanglements has served to attract providers to the cash-based world of lifts and accessories.
Driving Cash Sales
These days a steady number of HME providers are calling lift manufacturers every month, a sure sign that the market is searching for alternatives. “The calls are an indicator that they’re scrambling,” says Mike Krawczyk, marketing manager at Bruno Independent Living Aids (www.bruno.com), which is located in Oconomowoc, Wis. “They’re afraid that all of their products will have to go through the bidding process.”
Call it scrambling or the much-hyped Baby Boom generation, but it added up to record sales in 2010 for Bruno. The following year was even better, and 2012 is shaping up to be another record breaker. Krawczyk attributes the success to a basic formula of quality products, high demand and consumers who are willing and able to spend money.
People in their 60s and 70s are experiencing knee and hip problems, and Krawczyk believes Bruno products tend to appeal to this crowd. “Our products fill that market niche nicely—especially units such as our Valet Signature seating,” he says. “Those are seats that rotate out of a vehicle and then down, making it easier for people to get into and out of high-riding vehicles. The market for these remains very strong.”
The Right Mindset Matters
During an unprecedented push toward retail in the HME business, it’s tempting to view vehicle lifts as just another safe haven from competitive bidding. In some ways, that is true, but it’s not that simple.
Cy Corgan, director of retail mobility at Pride Mobility, Lifts and Ramps (www.pridemobility.com), cautions “this is not a category for just anybody who wants to do more retail business.” Unlike the latest pain management device, vehicle lifts require a lot of training, space and an understanding of the market.
Fortunately, gaining these attributes is not impossible with the right mindset. “This market requires a shop where you can pull vehicles in and out of the weather,” says Corgan, who now devotes most of his time to the Lifts and Ramps division at Pride. “You need skilled technicians who have gone through certification such as our Pride Vehicle Lift certification program. Installation, troubleshooting, service after the sale—it’s an involved category, and it’s not for every provider.”
Certification training usually encompasses a full day of installing, uninstalling and electronics education. Pride may soon be hosting a new certification course at its headquarters in Exeter, Pa. The first will likely take place before the end of the year, with three or four courses per year after that.
Like so many other specialized markets, success requires a dedicated employee to explore advertising and partnerships. In this case, auto dealerships, occupational therapists (OTs) and physical therapists (PTs) are good starting points. “You must have a vehicle lift champion at your location,” says Corgan. “It’s not easy. You must promote the category so people know about it.”
“The biggest reality is that no matter how big the vehicle lifts niche becomes, it is always going to be comparatively small,” adds Krawczyk, who was an advertising executive prior to arriving at Bruno seven years ago. “It is unrealistic to get an average American to have any concept of what a vehicle lift is. I can’t advertise Bruno products nationally so that everyone knows what they are. I don’t have that budget.”