Building a Home Accessibility Business
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Jun 01, 2008
If it’s true that all dark clouds — even those caused by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — have silver linings, then home accessibility just may be the blue-sky opportunity that HME suppliers are looking for.
For years, manufacturers of ramps, vertical/porch lifts, stairlifts and bath safety equipment have been urging mobility/rehab suppliers to improve their bottom lines by expanding into home access. After all, mobility/rehab suppliers already have viable customer bases, and it’s a fact that most mobility equipment users could also benefit from home accessibility products.
And now that competitive bidding is threatening to cut funding even further, more suppliers are actively seeking ways to diversify their sales models.
So how feasible is it to expand into the home accessibility market? Mobility Management spoke to several home access manufacturers to ask what investments — of time and money — are truly involved, and what common characteristics they noticed in their dealer success stories.Finding #1: It Doesn’t Cost Much to Get Started
Overall, the manufacturers we spoke to agreed that getting started in the home access market is a relatively inexpensive venture, with dealers largely being able to choose their level of involvement.
“I think the overall investment to get started in home access is rather nominal, considering the return,” said Frank Westby of EZ-ACCESS. He indicated that the “estimated investment for a ramp display rack, with a variety of portable ramps to offer, would be less than $1,000.”
Said Chuck Bright of Prairie View Industries (PVI), “With us, there’s no minimum/maximum requirements when it comes to the modular home ramps, so there’s not a great outpouring of cash required.”
Manufacturers added that dealers accustomed to servicing wheelchairs and scooters shouldn’t have to worry about having to purchase special tools, either.
“All that’s really required would be some simple hand tools, and there might be some tools that would be required if site preparation is needed in which the ramp was going to be placed,” Bright said.
Said Harmar Access’ Sarah Penix: “I would say that your basic toolbox has what you need.”
Bottom Line: You can ease into the home access niche, and the overhead for additional tools should be slim or none.
Finding #2: It Shouldn’t Take Long to Get Started
How long will it take you to get ramped up, no pun intended, if you’re not currently selling accessibility equipment?
Good news here, too: Manufacturers indicated they offer education and technical support to ease the transition. Penix says Harmar offers free training to dealers who come to their Sarasota, Fla., offices, and “Our technicians are here and they will literally stay on the phone with you when you do your first install. They’ll be right there for you so you can ask any questions….We’ll make sure that installation goes perfect, and that your client is happy.”
Westby says, “The required knowledge to be able to safely recommend the right access solution can be obtained at no cost through the Business Development Department of EZ-ACCESS.”
PVI makes an installation DVD available to dealers, and Bright says of getting acquainted with the product line, “The PVI modular ramp system is very easy to assemble. There will be a learning curve with it, but there’s going to be a learning curve with any product…PVI does provide training materials and has customer service representatives available for answering any questions.”
If you’re concerned about the installation part of the process — perhaps you don’t have available staff, for instance — there are alternatives. Penix suggests partnering with a sub-contractor (see “Partners” sidebar). “For example,” she says, “find a sub-contractor who has an elevator license — those people who spent a lot of time and money getting those licenses love those referrals.There’s plenty of money in the profitability of just the product, so if (dealers) didn’t get the profitability of the installation, they’re still making a lot of money.
“Find somebody in your area that you’re comfortable with, that you’ve run a background check on or checked with the Better Business Bureau. Ultimately, if something goes wrong, your customer is going to come to you, so you need to make sure you’re partnering up with somebody who is a good business partner.”
Finding #3: Follow-Through Can Improve Your Chances of Success
Westby believes dealers can boost their chances of success by presenting themselves as home access experts. For instance, he highly recommends dealers invest in a ramp display rack “not only for marketing portable ramps, but also (to let) the customer know that the dealer is a ramp supplier.”
Bright suggests dealers invest in a PVI 4.0' demo ramp: “It has been our experience that when people have an opportunity to feel, see and experience the product, sales increase significantly. We have had dealers tell us they have increased their portable ramp sales by 50 percent just by placing the display stand we offer in their showrooms.”
Another success tip: Follow through with your mobility/rehab customers. Westby says EZ-ACCESS’ most successful dealers “are the ones who are willing to get out and do some home assessments. Home access is not a product that can be sold from a showroom.” He adds that successful dealers also “realize that no one can truly use their mobility equipment without a ramp, and the customer is going to get their ramp from somewhere — it may as well be from them.”
The good news for smaller dealers: Bright points out that when it comes to home access success, dealership size doesn’t matter nearly as much as customer service and follow-through.
“Successful dealers are the ones that are marketing their business, provide quality service and follow up with the customer after the sale,” he says. “They’re growing their business because they’re using all kinds of resources to fulfill all the needs that are out there.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.