Mobility: A market that's evolving rapidly

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Monday, June 25, 2018

A category as deep and wide as mobility is always being influenced by various undulating market dynamics, and those influences are perpetuating an ongoing evolution on several fronts. In 2018, the mobility category is continuing a dramatic self-reshaping in terms of the HME provider’s business model, product manufacturing and technological advancements that benefit patients, market experts say.

For HME providers, the evolution is having profound impact on their sales methodology – whether to stick with Medicare and third-party insurance reimbursement or focus on retail sales. It is a decision that is becoming more prominent in the competitive bidding era, said Charles J. Copley, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies.

“I’m sensing a divide between those committed to reimbursement and those adopting a purely retail model,” he said. “Those looking at retail are evolving and in turn, we are evolving right along with them because we want to bring them the equipment they need to be successful.”

For Golden, that means offering more colors, more options, more accessories and a deeper breadth of products, Copley said.

“It’s not because we want more inventory; it’s because we want to present more options so consumers have the choice of good, better, best,” he said. “Wider choice is important because it could be that one small detail that helps close the sale.”

Color is a great example because under the reimbursement model, he said, “it was red or blue forever.” Now Golden’s LiteRider models are available in bolder tones like orange and pink. Those hues can appeal to the buyer’s emotion, which adheres to the old retail adage that “people buy with emotion and justify with fact,” Copley said.

In contrast to the reimbursement model, retail “follows a more subjective path to the sale,” where reimbursement is more defined and formulaic.” Retail is like “navigating uncharted waters,” he said, because there are a lot more factors to consider, like having the right balance of products to show and carry.

“Not having stock on the floor directly correlates to how much you’ll sell,” he said. “You need some to show and some to go.”

Overall, retail presents a “huge opportunity” for HME providers in the mobility field, Copley said, noting that the cash sales business model is attracting entrepreneurs from other industries. The newcomers are bringing an astute retail acumen to HME, he said, which in turn ups the ante for manufacturers.

“People are coming into the industry with a new frame of mind and we’re getting a lot of requests from these people for sales materials,” Copley said. “This is causing our role to change – we’re learning more about marketing strategies, point of sales materials and creating a memorable experience for consumers.”

Re-thinking Group 2

Another evolutionary path is being forged regarding mobility products in the Group 2 consumer classification in order to give relief to patients with non-neurological impairments. John Wright, executive vice president of sales management and business development for Torrance, Calif.-based Shoprider, says by modifying its Group 2 product line, the company is focused on a new breed of chair that provides the same level of physical benefit for patients who have ambulatory challenges that would qualify them for Group 3 complex rehab classification, but don’t meet the neurological requirement.

“Two years ago we looked at it and started to roll them out last November,” he said, “Group 2 single power complex rehab is a category that is misunderstood. It is a chair that is specific to the needs of patients who have arthritis, decubitus ulcers, muscle deformations and intermittent catheterization, but not a neurological issue.”

Since the rollout, Wright has been promoting the chair as a solution for non-neurological patients because it comes close to meeting Group 3 specifications.

“It’s not a new category, per se – there have been others in the past,” he said. “We want this classification to be an option for mobility patients who don’t qualify for Group 3, but need more than the traditional Group 2 provides.”

Electronic evolution

A third leg of the mobility evolution concerns technological innovations in electronics, controls and performance of chairs and seating systems. These advancements have improved patients’ experience in various ways, said Julie Jackson, marketing director of Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare’s Power Mobility Category.

“We are seeing the most innovative designs in the Group 3 segment,” she said.

Currently, Jackson lists the most significant design innovations as: electronics (new platforms utilizing Bluetooth technology and new avenues to improve connectivity); remote diagnostics (improves serviceability and maximizes chair performance in the field; and new power positioning (enhances clients’ access to their environment). Invacare’s REM 400 touchscreen joystick is the first of its kind in the U.S. market and the design is based on consumer feedback, Jackson said.

“The MyLiNX remote diagnostics tool allows providers to streamline service of their clients and the MyLiNX user app allows consumers the ability to best monitor the charging and battery usage of their chairs,” she said. “Some consumers are willing to pay for items they wish to have as upgrades on their chair, such as the REM 400 on the TDX SP2 power wheelchair.”