Going Up

Going Up – lift chair

J. P. Pieratt

Byline: J. P. Pieratt

If 2002 was any indication of where the lifts and transfer devices market is headed, 2003 promises to be a banner year for the mobility niche.

In fact, according to some industry experts, the market could see one of its best years in 2003, particularly in the lift chair segment.

“The lift chair market is doing well,” says Cy Corgan, national sales manager, retail mobility and light rehab, for Pride Mobility Products. “And providers are doing well. We saw their businesses growing in 2002, and even briefly in 2003 we’ve seen a real uptake in the orders for lift chairs.”

Some experts believe it’s not just the lift chair segment that is coming on strong. “I don’t believe there is a particular niche within the market that is out-performing another,” says Chad Williams, president of Harmar Mobility. “The market as a whole is doing very well.”

And the market is only going to get better “[because] the Justice Department is finally going to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act,” says Linda Nolan, president of Aquatic Access. “The ADA was passed 10 years ago, [but] I go into hotels all the time that don’t have any pool lifts, and I see public pools without pool lifts all the time. I believe the market is strong.”

Corgan agrees. “What I see is an increase in the mobility business across the board, and the reason I say that is the baby boomers aren’t really going to start hitting our industry heavily until about 2008,” Corgan says. “That’s when you’re going to have that big piece of the population really start to have an impact on the mobility business. And the more providers can create the awareness that they specialize in mobility, the more they’re going to be able to capitalize on that market when it starts to unfold.”

Creating Awareness

If you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. If you need a mobility item, you go to a mobility specialist. Providers of lifts and transfer devices – and all home medical equipment providers – should encourage this kind of awareness in their communities, so consumers instantly associate mobility needs with a mobility provider, the experts say.

“The biggest obstacle to the market is awareness,” Corgan says. “Is the provider creating awareness in the community that [he or she] specializes in mobility?”

Creating this awareness can be done in a variety of ways, but a strong media campaign often is the quickest, most-effective route.

“If [people] need a lift chair, they’re going to probably go where they saw an ad in the newspaper or on TV for a lift chair maybe a week or so before,” Corgan says. “I know a lot of times with lift chairs it’s print media, but a provider must be out there developing high-quality media campaigns that let everyone in the community know that if [someone] needs mobility products, [the provider] is the one who can supply that for you.”

Making payers aware of the value of lift systems in preventing caregiver injuries – and making businesses aware of the need to comply with the ADA – are additional obstacles, according to some industry players. But the costs associated with safety and compliance make lift and transfer devices a difficult sell to payers and businesses.

“Medicare has set the standard, and that’s a hydraulic, wheeled, mobile lift,” says Tom Herceg, president of SureHands. “I believe that Medicaid understands the needs of the disabled population better. In general, there’s a trend toward better understanding lift systems and [the systems’] benefits to the disabled person and [his or her] entire household.” But payers are slow to learn.

“We’re still seeing the Veterans Administration ordering some lifts, but generally there’s a basic economic issue with the vast majority of people that need a lift,” says DuWayne Kramer, president of Leisure-Lift.

Businesses are a tougher sell, though they are mandated by the federal government to comply with the ADA guidelines.

“Hotels, in particular, seem to be reluctant to install pool lifts,” Nolan says. “Apparently, [the Justice Department] is enforcing ADA guidelines on new construction, not old construction, because new hotels being built in Las Vegas all are equipped with pool lifts,” Nolan says.

Nonetheless, she sees hotels going to great lengths to avoid installing lifts.

“Some I’ve seen even will install the electrical socket for the lift. Then, when the inspector comes around, he sees the socket, and the hotel explains that the lift simply hasn’t arrived yet, even when the hotel has no intention of ever installing a lift.”

2003 and Beyond

The baby boomers are coming. They have cash to spend and aren’t afraid to demand the highest-quality items – and pay for them – which bodes well for a market full of products Medicare deems “luxury” items.

“Providers are buying a lot more luxury chairs, which means that the customers coming in are looking for a high-quality lift chair,” Corgan explains. “You see cases where an individual – maybe it’s a parent – needs a lift chair, and the children are buying it for [the parent]. They come in wanting the best for mom or dad, so they’re buying high-quality, luxury chairs. It is a sign of the times that there is some more disposable income out there.”

But customers aren’t going to want to spend that increasing amount of disposable income on dull, cookie-cutter products, according to Williams.

“The biggest drivers for the market are going to be new, innovative products that are easier to use, lighter, better looking – any number of things,” Williams says. “The lifts and ramps industry is so relatively new and small that there’s still opportunity to bring new solutions to market.”

Imported innovation from sources outside the market, such as auto manufacturers, also will help drive the market.

“The auto manufacturers are getting increasingly involved – not only through their mobility programs but also through their engineering departments, and while I see that [involvement] as a positive, it’s going to be difficult to get everyone on the same page,” Williams says.

However, “in the long run, everyone wins, because the dealers and end-users ultimately will be getting better, safer products.”

And the market could expand rapidly, if federal and state governments begin to understand the value of lifts, and of protecting caregivers’ health. “[Payers] have to see a cost benefit, which is tough to show,” Herceg says. “We must show how a lift can insure a whole family, so caregivers won’t get hurt lifting a patient.”

Despite obstacles to awareness and education, most experts remain positive about the lifts and transfer devices market. “We’ve weathered other cutbacks and seen surpluses, and when you look at your business day-to-day, it’s more important that your product category be understood,” Herceg says. “It’s more difficult to cut funding for something that people feel is imperative.”

Experts Interviewed:

Cy Corgan, national sales manager, retail mobility and light rehab, Pride Mobility Products, Exeter, Pa.; Tom Herceg, president, SureHands, Pine Island, N.Y.; DuWayne Kramer, president, Leisure-Lift, Kansas City, Kan.; Linda Nolan, president, Aquatic Access, Louisville, Ky.; Chad Williams, president, Harmar Mobility

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