Marketing Mobility

Manufacturer Partnerships: A Blueprint for Helping Out Providers?

You’ve heard of a power chair being custom built to meet the needs of a particular client. So maybe it was only a matter of time before a vehicle lift was built especially to fit a particular power chair.

Proof positive: the IVCLIFT10 and IVCLIFT14 outside-vehicle platform lifts by Harmar.

Harmar created the IVCLIFT 10 specifically for Invacare Pronto M41, M51 and M61 models with 10" drive wheels. IVCLIFT14 is made for Invacare’s TDX SI, SP and SR (with standard seat) chairs with 14" drive wheels.

Conor Sullivan and John Koster

At Medtrade in November, Conor Sullivan (left), Harmar marketing director, and John Koster, associate product manager for Invacare Corp., showed off a lift line designed specifically for Invacare product.

Custom-Built Advantages

Conor Sullivan, marketing director at Harmar, says the project started more than a year ago.

“We started working with Invacare in the rehab department to design lifts for their chairs to see what we could come up with,” he says. “Once we actually designed the lifts, they ended up being different than anything else out there because they were designed just for these two chairs.”

John Koster, Invacare associate product manager, notes significant advantages “to a lift that’s designed specifically to work with one certain model of power chairs. What Harmar’s done with these is minimize the actual metal and material on the loading platform that the power chair sits on and specifically accommodate certain Pronto and TDX models of chairs. So it’s allowed us to get away with a minimally sized loading platform. It’s very lightweight, very unobtrusive on the back of a vehicle.”

Compare that profile with the profile of a “universal” lift. “Most lifts are designed to accommodate a power chair with anysize footprint, or a scooter,” Koster notes. “A universal lift has a much bigger and kind of a clunkier platform, whereas this is very customized and streamlined, and just to hold these specific products, which makes them much more compact and lightweight.”

The overall impact, Sullivan says, is significant: “With cars being smaller, every pound matters. The more weight we can cut out of the lift, the more applications that lift will be compatible with. So it broadens the range of compatibility for both Invacare and Harmar.”

Taking advantage of a purpose-built lift also eliminates the question of which lifts would fit a particular chair. The two Harmar/Invacare lifts have “different footprints as far as where the wheels set up,” Sullivan says, “so the loading platform is designed specifically to accommodate those chairs. It takes the compatibility issue out of it. If you have this chair, you know the lift fits perfectly, as long as the hitch supports it.”

A Partnership Prototype?

While Harmar is manufacturing the lifts — as well as handling any needed service calls, technical support and installer certification — Sullivan says the lift is “an Invacare-exclusive product,” with ordering to be done through Invacare.

“We’re going to purchase them from Harmar and stock them in our distribution centers,” Koster says. “So we plan to have them in stock and ready to ship on Feb. 1 to anyone with an Invacare account.”

In this economic climate, Koster says the ability to order a power chair and its companion lift from a single source can be a big help to providers.

“With competitive bidding coming, and the elimination of the first-month purchase option for power chairs, it’s critical for dealers to look for ways to run their businesses as efficiently as possible,” he notes. “Streamlining orders, single-sourcing from one manufacturer wherever possible just to eliminate any sort of redundant administrative activities, and being able to get complementary products like this from one place definitely will help providers.”

“You’re not contacting two manufacturers,” Sullivan confirms. “You’re not getting two invoices, you’re not paying two people. From the ordering to the administration to the shipping, it’s a one-stop shop.”

Koster also hopes providers will take advantage of the chance to ring up an accompanying retail sale when they sell a Pronto or TDX.

“Providers really need to look for those opportunities to sell products that are cash sales and that are going to add incremental revenue right up front with the sale of any wheelchair,” he says. “A lift is a noncoded product; they don’t have to deal with the billing and the waiting for payment. And they can add significant incremental revenue and profit to the sale of every power chair.”

Providers aren’t required to do transportation assessments, but Koster says, “We would strongly recommend to every dealer that for every customer they provide a power chair to, they try to upsell them on the advantages of buying a lift at the same time. The consumer will have the ability to transport the chair very easily; the provider will add some incremental value to the sale.”

And while Koster and Sullivan wouldn’t commit to future plans to expand their agreement, Koster says, “We’re definitely keeping the door open.” Providers should probably expect to see more relationships between manufacturers, as the industry looks for new ways to survive and thrive.

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Mobility Management.

Mobility Management Podcast