In the Southwestern part of the US, individuals with mobility needs know they can turn to one of the six Ability Centers located in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Claudia Obertreis, president, said what differentiates Ability Center from others in the mobility industry is that each location provides solutions that go beyond a piece of equipment.
“Education is foremost on the agenda for Ability Center to make certain the community at large knows we exist and we’re here to provide a solution,” Obertreis said. “We’re a full-service, one-stop shop for mobility needs, from wheelchairs to driving aids, vehicles, and adaptive equipment.”
With experience in the mobility industry starting in 1978, Darrel Health established Ability Center in 1994. The company operates in the retail industry, but Obertreis and her team view themselves as more than equipment providers.
“Coming to us is more like going to a physician because we make it a point to know your history, understand your medical condition, and assist you along the way as your needs change,” she said.
When an end user comes to an Ability Center, an experienced sales person sits with that individual and does a needs analysis in-take to determine physical and social needs. The initial conversation covers topics including how the end user will use the transportation or piece of equipment, where s/he will be parking the car, and where s/he will be driving.
For adaptive equipment, the conversation focuses on what the end user wants to accomplish and how long the individual has needed the equipment, whether it be hand controls or specialized gas pedals. “We find out if aids have been used in the past or if this will be the person’s first time using the equipment,” Obertreis said. “These details help us establish a starting point for our relationship with the end user.”
Since coming to Ability Center seven years ago, Obertreis has taken note of a few industry trends. Products for the end user have improved, bringing more opportunities to enhance end-user independence. In addition, the number of individuals with conditions requiring mobility equipment has also increased.
Some individuals start out with minor issues that eventually turn into major challenges. Others have a high level of need from the start. By coming to Ability Center when they enter the mobility world, as their situation changes, end users don’t have to find another company to meet their needs.
To stay up to date on each end-user’s requirements from beginning to present day, Ability Center uses a CRM of sorts to record the initial needs analysis and any changes that occur from that point on. “When end users come back to us, we can pull up their information, see the first piece of equipment that was purchased, and understand their progression,” said Obertreis.
To market the level of service and expertise available at each of the six Ability Center locations (the average tenure of an Ability Center employee is 12 years), each store has the autonomy to develop its own marketing plans, including newspaper, TV, and/or Internet advertising. In addition, sales staff is tasked with business development, going out into the community two or three times a week to meet with referral sources such as rehabilitation hospitals, MS or ALS clinics, support groups, CCRCs, and insurers.
“We have a recipe on how to market and be connected in our communities, but each store is in charge of how to execute the plan,” said Obertreis.
At Ability Center, training goes beyond the basic skills needed to sell or install a piece of equipment. On both the sales and technical sides of the employee contingent, training is provided throughout the year.
For the sales staff, training covers not only products and sales, but also what’s going on in the medical community, such as physical conditions and progressive diseases that are impacting the end-user community. Technicians are required to keep up their certification with manufacturers of equipment and to be knowledgeable about the medical conditions they may deal with when installing equipment.
“We want our employees to use compassion and understanding to do their jobs so they do more than sell a product; we want them to find the right solution,” said Obertreis. Ability Center carries a wide range of equipment, and each employee is careful to “marry” end-user situations and expectations when deciding which piece of equipment will be the best fit.
Having such a knowledgeable staff breeds confidence from manufacturers looking for a place to introduce new products. In addition, Obertreis is active with a number of councils and groups that are in constant communication with manufacturers as to what new technologies or products are coming online.
“Manufacturers trust us because we understand what fits the needs of our customers,” said Obertreis. “We’re not selling widgets; we’re selling a solution to provide independence.”