Get the Show on the Road

How to steer consumers in the right direction when they need advice on vehicle modifications.

Marcus Smith, president of Access Vans of Louisiana in Grosse Tete, has been in the adaptive automotive business for 25 years. The key to running a successful business, he believes, is the service provided to all customers after the sale has been made. Here are some highlights from his experience:

Service is the key ingredient. If a dealer walks consumers through all the steps that go into purchasing an adaptive automotive vehicle, properly educates that person, and provides service, then “it’s a win-win situation,” he says. At Access Vans of Louisiana, Smith describes himself and employees as being there for customers at all times, even providing 24/7 emergency services.

Have Information at the Ready
A huge component toward helping patients identify the best auto access resources is education. Smith, who’s also the secretary for the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, says it’s important to educate salesmen at car dealerships, but due to the large turnover rates in dealerships, this can be a rather challenging task.

To get around that churn, Smith says that providers should contact the fleet manager, typically the person who’s been there the longest; educate him or her on the process; and ensure he or she becomes the go-to person when someone has a specialty need. The fleet manager then gathers enough information needed and gives it to the sales staff so that a right fit is made.

“Just because someone comes in and likes a vehicle doesn’t mean that it’s going to fit the person’s disability,” Smith says. “That’s one thing that we have to tell the salesman off the bat — to be prepared for us to tell you that that’s not the right vehicle for that person.”

 Always make sure you know who is behind the wheel. Determining whether a person is a driver or passenger is also important. If the person is a driver, then he or she will need to be evaluated by a driver trainer. “It’s not fair for anybody to guess at the kind of equipment that the person needs,” Smith says. “If someone comes in my front door and says, ‘I want to buy a van,’ the very first question out of my mouth is ‘Are you a driver or are you a passenger?’ If he’s a passenger, that’s no problem. But if he’s a driver and has never been evaluated, we hook him up with a driver evaluator.”

Consumers Should Have Evaluations

Many mobility dealers insist on a certified driver rehabilitation specialist writing the prescription for an accessible vehicle, says Lori Benner, president of The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (ADED). Certified rehabilitation specialists evaluate a person’s functional status: muscle strength, range of motion, coordination and physical attributes.

Other skills evaluated include cognition, attention, ability to divide attention between multiple tasks, anticipatory thinking, vision cognition, and thinking perception. It is equally important to have a driver assessed before the purchase of each new vehicle.

The certified rehabilitation specialist and the mobility dealer’s relationship go hand in hand. The CDRS is the expert on the medical condition while the dealer is the expert on the type of equipment needed.

Benner says that reputable programs have vehicles equipped with the adaptive features that consumers will need to try out, which helps purchasers determine if the equipment is the best fit for them. If a person is going to be driving, Benner says, that person should be evaluated and trained in the adaptive equipment before it’s sold to them.

If a person is aided and attended, he or she will usually buy a manually operated vehicle as the primary driver will have to operate the vehicle. Those driving themselves need an automatic one

Mobility Devices

Mark DiRosa, vice president and owner of MC Mobility System Inc. in Mentor, Ohio, has been in the mobility business since 1985. The full-line mobility dealer handles both new and used vehicles and lifts.

Many new power wheel chair and scooter purchasers need lifts for transporting purposes. So it’s important to ask the right questions: What type of scooter or power chair are they getting and what are the dimensions? What’s the make and model of the vehicle? Then, provide the right answers.

“We pull up all the dimensions from the manufacturer and then look at the existing vehicle to determine ‘Will this mobility device fit into that vehicle?’” DiRosa says.

If the answer to that is no, DiRosa explains, it is then time to figure out which vehicle is going to accommodate the patient’s needs.

Keep the Questions Coming

“There’s no such thing as a dumb question in this industry,” DiRosa says. “Because the more you know going in, the better recommendation you can make. We always tell people if you’re in the market for a vehicle, don’t buy one until you call someone and ask: ‘Will this thing work in the vehicle?’”

DiRosa says he hears stories all the time about people who go to car dealerships, buy vehicles, and find out after the purchase that a lift won’t work on a particular car.

“When customers drop off their vehicles and the loading devices, there should be no surprises — whether it’s on the part of the consumer or the DME retail dealer — because then it gets to be a huge problem,” Di Rosa adds.

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

About the Author

Lunzeta Brackens is a contributing editor for Mobility Management.


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