Getting From Here to There
Safety. For manufacturers of patient lift and transfer devices, it is the impetus that drives their efforts. These efforts, say experts, are producing a strong interest in the products and the benefits they provide.
The market for patient lifts is growing, says Bill Stacy, product manager, Graham-Field Health Products. “It probably will have a growth rate over the next few years of 3 to 8 percent per year,” he says. “If you look at the aging of the population, you’ve got a built in growth factor right there.”
Safety, says Jim Ankoviak, Invacare Corp.’s product manager for patient lifts, is the crucial piece of the puzzle. “A lot of (the growth) is attributed to the effort to reduce accidents in long-term facilities with no lift and injury prevention programs,” he says.
Ankoviak is not alone in his outlook. “From a design perspective, lift products that emphasize ergonomically correct features, which benefit both user and caregiver from a safety standpoint, will continue to be the driving force in the market,” says Brian McReavy, North American product manager for patient handling products, Sunrise Medical.
Ted Hensley, president of Barrier Free Lifts, also believes that attendant and caregiver safety is increasing interest in lifts, especially since it can help lower operational costs. “Facilities are starting to wake up and recognize that this is great equipment and that it will decrease injuries,” he says. “Sometimes the insurance companies have been the driving force behind (utilizing patient lifts) because the rates of injury have been high.”
Although most of the growth is materializing in the long-term care industry, the emphasis on safety presents an opportunity for HME providers, say experts. “The opportunity for HME providers is being able to work with institutions and nursing homes and developing relationships with them,” says Ankoviak. He recommends providers become the local resource for the facilities by providing in-service programs that demonstrate how to reduce costly injuries and worker’s compensation claims.
Not only can this benefit providers financially, but it can also establish a referral base for future sales of in-home lifts. When the referral sources start becoming more aware of patient lifting needs and the variety of different types of patient lifting equipment that are available, then they will start recommending those that are appropriate for use in the home,” Hensley says,
The hydraulic lifts that have traditionally been used in the home are making an important difference, particularly for caregivers, when compared to the old manual patient handling methodology. Yet, there are other types of lifts, such as electric and ceiling lifts, that are often under-utilized. Some industry experts are concerned that the most appropriate lift is not always available, due to reimbursement limitations.
“I always encourage people to look at the entire spectrum of products available,” says McReavy. “Considerations should include: manuveurability, base clearance, spatial considerations and installation costs if applicable. The objective is to find the right assistive device to enhance the quality of their lives, so they can get the freedom and mobility they deserve.”
Ramps and Vehicle Lifts are the Final Step in the Mobility Solution
Manufacturers of ramps and vehicle lifts – necessities for many power wheelchair and scooter users – are also enjoying a growing interest in their products from consumers.
About one in four home medical equipment providers are active in the vehicle lift business, says Jack Sheehan, director of sales and marketing for Bruno Independent Living Aids. However, Sheehan and other experts agree more should participate since mobility products and vehicle lifts go together.
“They are really not helping their clients if they only provide a mobility solution,” he says. “If they provide a mobility solution, they owe it to their clients to also provide a transportability solution.”
Today, these transportability solutions are offering more options and features. “We used to be a chair-specific manufacturer and now we have a lift with a universal mount,” says Judson Branch, Harmar Auto Lift’s director of marketing.
Bruno also has produced some new lifts that address different needs. “We had to change some of the actual structure, including the belt,” says Sheehan, speaking of Bruno’s newest series of lifts that will accommodate heavier equipment. Because of difference in weight capacity, engineers also had to inspect a variety of vehicles to ensure they could hold the weight.
Portable ramps are an appropriate add-on sale for purchasers of mobility equipment and even vehicle lifts, says Don Everard, director of marketing for Homecare Products. The market for ramps is growing, he explains, as more consumers learn of their options in sizes, capacities and materials. “Even if you have a lift in your van, you still have a very big need for a portable ramp,” he says.
A Gentle Push: Lift Chair Manufacturers Say Merchandising is Key
THE CUSTOMER FOR assistive devices is changing. Baby boomers who have disposable income and strong opinions are reaching the age in which they see opportunities to make their lives – or their parents’ lives – simpler. One product category that is gaining a lot of notice from this demographic is lift chairs.
The market for lift chairs is growing at approximately 15 percent per year, says Dan Smeltzer, president of ALC, who thinks opportunity abounds in this market for home medical equipment providers. “For the most part, it is a cash sales market,” he says.
Paul Rising, who is vice president of western sales for Pride Mobility Products, says excitement is building for these products. “We have seen continued growth, specifically in the high-end chair market, and we attribute some of the growth to a well-informed buying public,” he says.
Manufacturers are prepared to produce these chairs, acknowledging that aesthetics are crucial. “Fabric is key,” says Rising. “You have several different fabrics, leather or leather alternatives. Customers can even use their own fabrics if they would like,” he says.
A non-medical look is what consumers want, says Dave Tasselmyer, sales and marketing manager for Golden Technologies. “They want to see the same selection in options and fabrics that they see in the retail recliners,” he says. To them, it is a piece of furniture and it has to match their other chairs and couches.”
With all of the excitement about the lift chair market, how can HME providers assure success? Variety, educated sales people, and, most importantly, floor space, say experts.
“If you have one chair on the floor, you sell one a month, but if you have 12 to 20 chairs on the floor, you sell between 12 and 20 a month,” says Smeltzer. “It’s a very interesting statistic, but it has been proven over and over again.”
Rising agrees. “I can go into any place and increase its lift chair business by 20 to 70 percent just by increasing the stock level,” he says.
Marketing plans that work in the lift chair business include holiday promotions, local advertising and merchandising efforts such as hanging banners on chairs and point-of-sale displays. Perhaps the most overlooked strategy, says Rising and Smeltzer, is pushing the high-end chairs.
“A lot of dealers are afraid to ask people for money, so they show them the least expensive thing that they have available,” says Smeltzer.
It is also good to remember that many purchases are gifts for aging parents or grandparents, says Rising. “It’s not always the end user who is purchasing the chair,” he says. “Throw bows on chairs and put a banner across them that reads ‘Happy Mother’s Day.”
Experts Interviewed: Jim Ankoviak, product manager for patient lifts, Invacare, Elyria, Ohio; Judson Branch, director of marketing, Harmar Auto Lift, Sarasota, Fla.; Don Everard, director of marketing, Homecare Products, Kent, Wash.; Ted Hensley, president, Barrier Free Lifts, Manassas, Va.; Tom Herceg, president, SureHands Lift and Care Systems, Pine Island, N.Y.; Brian McReavy, North American product manager for patient handling products, Sunrise Medical, Carlsbad, Calif.; Paul Rising, vice president of western sales, Pride Mobility Products, Exeter, Pa.; Jack Sheehan, director of sales and marketing, Bruno Independent Living Aids, Oconomowoc, Wis.; Dan Smeltzer, president, ALC Inc., Richfield, Wis.; Bill Stacy, product manager, Graham-Field Health Products, Atlanta; Dave Tasselmyer, sales and marketing manager, Golden Technologies, Old Forge, Pa.
To follow up with these companies, check out the complete listing in HomeCare’s annual Buyers’ Guide.
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