Harrison: “I’ve Always Wanted to Learn More” About Rehab

The Scooter Store’s Founder on His New Rehab Company, New Clients to Be Served & How the Industry Is Reacting

Doug Harrison, founder of The Scooter Store, cited frustration over turning away would-be customers and a desire to learn more about rehab as two of the reasons for creating Alliance Seating & Mobility (ASM), the new rehab company headed by rehab industry veteran Scott Higley and owned by The Scooter Store.

“In 17 years with the Scooter Store, we’ve been very good about figuring out who we could and could not help,” Harrison said in an interview with Mobility Management. “Of people who call us, of the new leads we get, we only help about 15 percent of those, and we turn 85 percent away, whether it’s a funding reason or a fit reason. We refer a lot of people, and have for 17 years, to very complex, high-end rehab companies.”

ASM will reduce — but not eliminate — the need to turn potential clients away, Harrison added. “We’ve always turned a lot of business away to somebody else,” he said. “What we’re starting with Alliance Seating & Mobility, there are going to be some things that we can do, which means there are some people that we can help, and some products and things we can’t do, which means there are going to be some people we can’t help. We’ll do the same thing we’ve done for the first 17 years, which is if we can help them, we will. If we can’t, we’re going to refer them to somebody else.”

Harrison said he’s excited about being able to help more customers who call on The Scooter Store: “It’s been a frustrating position to be in when somebody calls and says, ‘Can you help me? I’ve heard about you, a friend of mine recommended you.’ And they tell us what they need, and we say, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t help you.’ That hurts. I know the people we refer them to do a great job of taking care of them, but it still hurts to tell somebody, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t help you.’
“Absolutely, it’s exciting. We’re excited to be able to help more people.”

Setting Up a Rehab Business

It didn’t take long for ASM to generate controversy. When Invacare Corp. announced in January that it would no longer sell new power chairs and POVs to The Scooter Store, the manufacturing giant said the ban would include ASM and extend to Invacare’s rehab divisions.

Notably, that means Invacare-owned Adaptive Switch Labs and Motion Concepts, both known for highly customized electronics and positioning systems, will not sell to ASM. As Adaptive Switch Labs and Motion Concepts are among the very few companies in the industry to do such specialized work, Harrison admits the situation is cause for concern.
“That clearly causes a problem for us,” he said.

But Harrison expresses full confidence in other aspects of ASM, including the staff led by Higley, formerly the VP of sales for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Products.

“All of our RTS’s that are here are fully trained, fully credentialed, top-notch RTS’s that are doing the fitting,” Harrison said. They are people — as all RTS’s are, in my opinion — that are somewhat on the borderline of being obsessed with doing the right thing for the patient at all times, and in that regard I have no doubt that our RTS’s will make the right choices for those beneficiaries. If we can help them, we will; if we can’t, we won’t.”

Harrison added that he’s been interested in the rehab portion of seating & mobility for some time.
“I’m an avid fan of learning,” he said. “There’s so much I don’t know about the rehab business, but that’s why we went and brought somebody like Scott Higley in, that’s why we’re bringing in top-notch RTS’s to do the right job for the patients we’re going to take care of on that side. It’s a great business, something I’ve always wanted to learn more of.”

Scooter Store Similarities

Harrison already has plenty of experience in running The Scooter Store, the New Braunfels, Texas-based “geriatric mobility” business, so what business parallels will there be between the two companies?

“What I bring to the table is I can help Scott and his team run the business aspect of it, because I’ve gotten pretty good at that, and he will bring the product and patient expertise to help run that side of the business,” Harrison explained. “So in that regard, I think it’s going to be a very dynamic partnership that we’ve created for Scott and I, and I expect it to do very well.”

Harrison acknowledged that some rehab insiders are concerned over The Scooter Store’s historical way of doing business, and how those practices may now impact rehab.
“Honestly, how you’d market and grow a rehab business has pretty close to nothing to do with how we’ve marketed and grown our basic mobility business,” he said. “So I know there are lots of people terrified that we’re going to be running direct-response ads for complex rehab equipment, and we are a little smarter than that.

“(Rehab has) a very different model of how you take it to market. You’ve got to have great RTS’s that give great patient care, have great product knowledge, and it’s all about the fit. It’s very much referral driven; if you mess it up once, you’re not going to get any more referrals. We get that. So we’ll grow the marketing side of the business the way that everybody else markets their complex rehab side.”

Harrison said he does expect to be able to apply The Scooter Store’s operational success to the ASM launch.
“Everything else back office, we know there is no other mobility company in the United States right now that runs the back office part, the business part of running a business, as well as we do,” he said. “People are worried we’re going to dumb-down the industry. I’m an engineer by background. We will bring a science and process to the industry, in that we dumb it all the way down to the point where it’s a repeatable scientific process that we can make a reasonable business model out of. I think that may be smartening it up instead of dumbing it down.”

In the end, Harrison believes the way to rehab success is relatively straightforward:
“You create best practices, find people that can implement the best practices, and then you have to celebrate those people all day long as hard as you can.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Mobility Management.

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