Participation in the Quality Assurance Program (QAP) has been optional for members of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) — but that changed on Jan. 1.
In an interview with Mobility Management, NMEDA Executive Director Dave Hubbard indicated that QAP participation has been written into the organization’s bylaws and becomes mandatory as dealers renew their memberships this year.
The new requirement will be one of the key topics discussed at NMEDA’s annual conference, taking place this year in Daytona Beach, Fla., Feb. 2-4.
Saying NMEDA “does need to stand for something,” Hubbard explained that the QAP requirement strengthens dealer standards and therefore strengthens the entire organization.
“When you have some members who are QAP (participants) and some members who are not QAP,” Hubbard said, “a person can come in and say they’re going to abide by the guidelines, because that’s what they do when they join NMEDA.” But, he noted, it was difficult for consumers to determine whether or not the dealer was in fact complying by NMEDA guidelines.
“But with QAP,” Hubbard says, “you are audited to those guidelines at least once a year, and in some cases, twice a year.”
The QAP holds members to a range of standards, including requirements to maintain Product and Completed Operations and Garage Keepers insurance; have certified welders if they perform structural modifications to vehicles; have technicians certified for the equipment they sell, install and service; maintain records of adaptive work; provide 24-hour service to customers; and abide by mediation committee decisions when complaints are lodged.
Describing the guidelines as “pretty much common sense,” Hubbard says, “It takes a little work to keep the records, but beyond that, you’ve got to have the right tools, you’ve got to have training on the products you install. It’s all the stuff that you would normally expect somebody to do, so there’s no reason not to have everybody do it.”
Getting Up to QAP Speed
While the new QAP requirement went into effect at the start of the year, Hubbard said there is a grace period for NMEDA members. “If you are not QAP and you renew (the NMEDA membership), you’ll have 30 days to get your new application in, and of course we will send out your application 30 days in advance of that, so you’ll basically have 60 days.” Members who need to renew by March 30 or earlier will have until May 1 to turn in a new application, he added.
To educate mobility dealers on the benefits of the QAP, NMEDA has three new online training programs. Hubbard describes the first program as “an introduction to QAP, what it’s about…it gives them information on what the value of it is, the benefits. The second one is setting up a quality-control manual and preparing for an audit, and the third one is about the guidelines themselves — we’ve just launched that. We hope all of this combined will eventually lead (a dealer) to a certification.”
Spreading the Word to Consumers
Teaching consumers about the value of working with dealers who specialize in adaptive automotive equipment continues to be a major NMEDA goal, Hubbard said. Therefore, another critical topic for the February conference will be the organization’s Cooperative Awareness Program, an effort involving not only NMEDA members, but also the automotive manufacturers.
“That in essence is our advertising program,” Hubbard says. “We have our manufacturers add a one-half-of-one-percent (fee) on wholesale to an invoice to NMEDA members. They collect the money for us and send it in on a monthly basis. And we’ve been developing advertising budgets, not only to inform consumers, but advocacy groups, the OTs and PTs, on why they should choose NMEDA and the value of QAP.”
As for the near future of the adaptive automotive equipment industry, Hubbard is confident — and pointed to statistics that show anticipated conference attendance to be “quite a bit ahead of this time last year, and the year before.”
While the mainstream automotive industry was rocked by the global recession, Hubbard said the impact wasn’t as profound for adaptive automotive dealers. “We didn’t go down as far as the (mainstream) automotive segment did,” he noted. “When people need our products, they need our products. (Dealers) were down a little bit or fl at during that recession, and then they started to come up a little bit last year.”
Judging from what NMEDA members are saying and how many are expected in Daytona, Hubbard added, this segment’s fortunes are continuing to rise.