Need a Lift?

Vehicle lifts enhance mobility-device users’ independence.

Manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs and scooters can help people to gain independence inside of the home. Vehicle lifts, however, can take things a step further. A vehicle lift integrates the mobility-device user back into society and enhances a person’s quality of life outside of the home.

“It’s a convenience factor for a caregiver, and it’s a necessity for someone that’s actually in a power chair or scooter,” says Sarah Penix, business development manager at Harmar Mobility. “You really do get to take people from being in their home and not being a part of society to getting their independence back and saying, ‘Yes I can. I can get out and I can enjoy my life.’”

Manufacturers point out what makes their lifts outshine the rest
There are a number of lifts that meet consumers’ unique needs and lifestyle. Harmar offers more than 25 lifts in both a premium and economy line. Some mount into hitches on the outside of the vehicle while others can mount into cargo space in the trunk of a car.
“The premium line is going to do everything for you,” Penix says. “Because if someone has MS or something that (prevents) him from standing for long or do things, our lifts are designed so that you can literally push a button and that’s all you have to do.” There is a little more involvement in the economy lifts.

Penix says Harmar has designed the lightest lifts in the industry. When you’re putting a lift on the back of a vehicle, it all depends on the amount of weight that vehicle can handle. Today’s vehicles manufacturers are making frames lighter to accommodate rising gas prices, which means that the vehicle now holds less weight on the back of it, she says. These light-weight lifts are no wimps. They are durable and have a high-lifting capacity.

Two of Penix’s favorite lifts are the AL-100 and the AL-600. The AL-100 is a universal outside scooter lift made to go into a hitch. Penix says she loves the AL-100 becasuebecause all a person has to do is drive the scooter up on the platform, push a toggle switch, which can be done with one finger, and the lift does everything else. She also lauds the AL-600 as an inside hybrid lift that gives consumers the best of both worlds. There’s inside protection because it’s inside the vehicle and it’s a platform so you have drive up motion.

“As far as compatibility is concerned, it’s very friendly toward vehicles, it’s wonderfully friendly toward consumers and it’s one of their favorites,” she says.
With each of Harmar’s lifts comes a three-year transferrable warranty. If someone purchased a lift and then decided to upgrade to another car and lift a year later, he could sell the lift to another consumer with a two-year warranty still attached to it, Penix says.

Pride Mobility Products offers its consumers 11 different styles of vehicle lifts through its SilverStar line. Two popular modles are the Backpacker Plus and Backpacker MV, which are interior lift platforms compatible with SUVs, cross-over vehicles, minivans, full-size vans, sedans, coups, hatchbacks and pickup trucks. Pride also has two interior bulk-style lifts. All of the lifts operate with a 12-volt motor system, says Cy Corgan, national sales director of retail mobility at Pride.

Pride has designed its exterior lifts via modular system so that providers can stock one style lift and the different accessories for the different type of products used with the lifts. For example, one of the company’s lifts can fit up to 90 percent of the industry’s mobility products, says Brian Mills, lifts products manager at Pride.

What sets Prides vehicle lifts apart from others, Mills says, is its unique design that offers versatility and ease of installation. Mills says Pride’s lifts allow consumers to retain additional passenger space. Pride also offers unique options and accessories, such as the new style dual charger battery pack, which has a battery that operates the lift as well as a secondary output where you can recharge your mobility product while you’re transporting. It runs off the vehicle auxiliary power port so that when the vehicle’s on the charger it will turn on and start charging the battery on your mobility product as well as the lift. It also has some safety features built in, so it won’t drain your vehicle battery, he adds.

“Our current lifts are compatible with more than 60 different vehicles, and they don’t require any vehicle modifications,” Mill says.
Pride, too, offers a three-year transferrable warranty on its lifts.

Bruno Independent Living Aids Inc. offers more than 20 different types of lifts for both the interior and exterior of vehicles. Interior lifts are available in a crane style lift as well as a platform lift. Andrew Bayer, product manager of the automotive division, says Bruno offers lifts for all vehicle platform types: sedans, minivans, pickup trucks, you name it. These interior and exterior lifts are available in semi-automatic, fully-automatic and for all vehicle types. The company also offers extremely light weight lifts.

Bruno matches the warranty of new vehicles, which is typically three years.
A unique feature that Bruno offers for its inside lifts is a custom sub base. Bayer says the reason why the custom sub base is so important is because the dealer doesn’t have to guess where to put the lift in the vehicle.

“What our dealers want to know is if it will fit and if it’ll work,” he says. “They want to know that Bruno did the installation themselves and so we do that.”
Bruno employs a number of application engineers who fit lifts to vehicles. The vehicles’ ton weight rating is also checked to determine whether a vehicle can accept a lift. Each of its lifts includes custom docking devices.

Different needs require different lifts
Daily life activities differ for each individual and manufacturers have tried to incorporate this thinking when designing lifts. If a consumer doesn’t mind losing a third row seat, you can give that person an interior platform lift. If a person needed to use all of the seating, you’d give her an exterior lift. If someone was an independent driver and couldn’t walk to the back of the vehicle, then you could give him a side-mounted lift. If a person had no walking capability, a personal mobility device would have to be used to transfer into a pickup truck. Then the individual could use the Bruno TAS seat in conjunction with an exterior lift, Bayer says.

There are different lifting needs based on the individual’s level of mobility impairment. Using any type of vehicle lift requires the capability to load and unload the mobility product, Corgan says. The interior lift and exterior lift are easy to use, as they require only the ability to drive the mobility product on to the platform and to secure it using a tie down system, which is provided with each purchase. The boost style lift requires a little more dexterity.
People who use lifts will find that they have the ability to transport the mobility product with little or no assistance depending, of course, on their level of impairment, Corgan says.

The ability to transport a power wheelchair or a scooter enables users to have increased independent access and function in their daily life.
“Lifts are very important for them, not just in the home,” he says. “But so they can maintain their daily lifestyle. It gives them their mobility back on a daily basis.”
The users’ ability to transport the mobility device in virtually any location opens the door to greater independence. Initially scooters were being sold on the ease of disassembly, but even for someone who has full mobility this task can be cumbersome, Penix says. The base of any scooter is going to be about 40 to 50 pounds.

“How easy is it to bend down below your knees to pick something up that’s 40 to 50 pounds and put it into a trunk?” Penix asked. “If you can do that, you’re not in a scooter.” Disassembling a scooter sometimes becomes too much of a hassle for the caregiver. Once it’s taken apart, it has to be reassembled.

A vehicle lift is a convenience that does not require the physical effort to disassemble the scooter and lift it into the trunk, Corgan says. “You still need to have, depending on the individual’s impairment, a fair amount of dexterity, upper body strength and lower body strength to lift those parts and put them in the back of a car. All individuals do not have the capability to dismantle a scooter independently as well as the physical strength required to lift it and store it in the vehicle.”
Bayer agrees. Even a 20-pound wheelchair becomes hard to handle depending on how you have to lift it. The beauty of vehicle lifts is that it allows people to go the distance. “The vehicle lift allows you to go places that you couldn’t go before,” he says.


It’s all about what you know
It’s important to have a trained professional install lifts because each installation requires different skill sets. Some of the basics include mechanical and electrical knowledge and the ability to lift 75 pounds, Mills says. Most of the installation can be completed in an hour, whereas a lot of the other style interior platform lifts range between three to eight hours of work for installation.
Penix says if a dealer has a service individual who services their power chairs and scooters, that person can install lifts with no problem.
“They’re that easy,” she says. “I always recommend to dealers: if you’re new to lifts, start out with an outside lift. They’re so simple and easy to install. I’m not mechanically inclined and I can install an outside lift.” By preassembling products for dealers, Penix says, Harmar cuts the installation time by more than half. So an installation that may have taken four to six hours now takes two to three.
“We usually have installation videos for all of our dealers that will take them step by step showing them what they need, all the way down to how to open the box to demonstrating it to your customer,” Penix says. Harmar also offers customer support five days a week.

Bayer, too, believes a person should have general mechanical or automotive skills before installing a lift. You need to understand the basic principles such as the proper way to drill and seal a hole, have metric tools and know what a torque spec is, he advised. Installation of Bruno’s lifts can lasts from one to three hours, depending on the situation.

Pride has an extensive consumer Web site that offers online information for both the provider and the consumer so they can look at the compatibility options for their lifts, says Mike Zablocky, vice president of engineering at Pride. The Web site is equipped with research tools that allow browsers to choose the year, make and model of their vehicle. The Web site then chooses the lift that will work in the vehicle, as well as the mobility product that will work with that lift, he added.

The site is very thorough, listing more than 5,000 vehicles online, including some of the latest models. Having access to the vehicles allows Pride to build securement kits without having to modify the vehicle and do measurements.
“Nobody wants to buy a brand new vehicle and then have it cut down the middle or drill into the trunk area,” Zablocky says. “We want you to just remove the existing piece, put our securement kit in and then plug our product right in.”

There are many people in the industry, or in the world, who don’t realize that these products are available to them, says Penix. citing the importance of training dealers how to sell lifts. Penix says Harmar does a lot of online training and coaching over the phone. Harmar also offers free training at their facility.
“Our dealers get to work with these consumers every day,” Penix says. “They’re already involved in making sure they get the right scooter or the proper power chair, now they just have to take it to the next level and make sure they get the right lift.”

With any product line, there is a level of commitment from the dealer in training and service, Mills says. One of the things Pride offers with its SilverStar site is online training that takes about two hours to complete. It familiarizes the service personnel with the installation service requirement for its lifts and ramps. A full-time technical support staff is also available for additional service if required.

“We feel it’s extremely important for providers to align themselves with manufacturers that provide high quality application support and training programs.”
Pride also offers hands-on training classes available through its national seminar tour.

Bruno has training seminars that teaches dealers how each of the different models of lifts apply to a consumer’s life. It’s important to understand where the lift plays a role in the circle of everyday living, Bayer believes.
“If someone doesn’t use a lift and he relies on a caregiver,” Bayer says, “we show you how to sell the best lift for a caregiver who uses only a lift once in a while. Bruno offers a two-day school for vehicle lifts that is held once every four months. At the training, dealers are taught how to install and sell lifts. Once the training is complete, the individual gets a certificate, which can be used as a sales tool.

Give Yourself a Boost
Providers can call attention to the fact that they offer vehicle lifts by putting them on display. Corgan suggests displaying a personal mobility device with a lift as a package so that when the consumer walks in for either a scooter or power wheel chair purchase, they’ve got the mobility product displayed on the lift. Doing so “paints the picture in the individual’s mind that once they have the mobility product, here’s how you can transport that outside of the home to further increase your independence,” he suggests.

It’s also important to demonstrate the products’ ease of use by having a lift installed on the vehicle that is used to transport products back and forth, he adds.
“The individual can see just how easy these lifts are to use and that it’s nonintrusive to their vehicle.”
Bayer agrees that putting a vehicle lift in a company van can boost the visibility of lifts. He also believes that products should be on display in the dealer’s showroom. “Demo stands are small and don’t take up a lot of room and it’s very easy for a showroom salesperson to show a consumer what it looks like, what it feels like and what it’s like to handle.”

If a dealership is going to a clinic or rehab center on a regular basis, Bayer suggests leaving a demo stand at the clinic if possible so the occupational therapist or rehab coordinator can show their patients what a lift looks like. It becomes an off-site sales tool. And if you’re leaving a brochure behind for a personal mobility device, go ahead and drop off a lift brochure, too.

The No. 1 thing to do is enhance your display unit, Penix says. Lifts are not expensive, but then they’re not inexpensive either. An average lift for a pickup truck could cost about $2,500. Consumers don’t know too much about lifts so if you show them a little picture it doesn’t help them to understand what they’re buying.

“If you show them the product and give them a demonstration, they get it,” she says.
It is for this reason that Penix believes that dealers should have at least one lift in their showroom. If you can display a couple, that’s even better. Consumers can actually search Harmar’s Web site to locate dealers that are showcasing the lifts they want to see. All they have to do is plug in their zip codes and the site generates the dealer’s location and what they’re showing at the time.

Providers can promote lifts by digging in their databases and using some old-fashioned customer service skills. They should call up all the customers who’ve purchased power chairs or scooters in the past, and let them know that they’re now selling lifts. But it shouldn’t stop there. Dealers should also reach out to their referral sources.

Dealers need to stop in and say hello to all of their referral sources and drop off literature, Penix says. This way you’re creating a partnership and the referral sources will send people back to you. It would also be wise to consider doing an in-service. When you stop by to say hello, remember to take with you a lift that will give them the wow factor, Penix adds.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to education. The more you know about the product, the more capable you are of explaining its benefits.
“Educate your clients, let them know that these things are available to them,” she says. “Put it in front of them so they can see it, get educated about it, and make the proper decision for themselves. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t realize that these things are available to them. And, it will just make their lives so much easier.”

Points to Take Away
•    Lifts make it easier for mobility device users to transport scooters, power chairs or manual wheelchairs.
•    Being able to transport various mobility devices means greater independence for the consumer.
•    It takes basic mechanical skills to install lifts; therefore, they should be installed by trained professionals.
•    Dealers should seek training about lifts and how to sell them.
•    Through their Web sites, many manufacturers offer online training and information that will help dealers and consumers.
•    It’s important that dealers understand how each of the different models of lifts apply to different individuals’ lives.
•    Put lifts on display in your showroom so consumers can see their value.
•    When delivering another mobility product to a consumer, be sure that the transport vehicle being driven markets a lift.
•    Be sure to let your referral sources know that you’re selling lifts and leave them with literature about the product.
•    Educate yourself so you can, in turn, educate your clients on what owning a lift will do for their lives.

Learn more
Get educated on the right lifts available for you through checking out these manufacturer’s Web sites and also find information on training.
•    http://www.pridesilverstar.com/
•    http://www.harmarmobility.com/liftCompare/
•    http://www.bruno.com/my-vehicle.html
•    http://www.hme-business.com/mcv/sc/autoaccess — check out a variety of articles in our Auto Access Solutions Center, which is located in our sites Resources Section.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of HME Business.

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