Published 8/04, Copyright 2004,

A WheelchairJunkie's Guide to Demo Products
By Mark E. Smith

If you applied the best-known automobile slogan, "Have you driven a Ford lately?" to mobility products, the answer across the board would be, no.  While auto test drives are as easy as visiting the super dealer on the corner of virtually every main avenue in the U.S., mobility test drives are harder to achieve.  The fact is, as individuals, we differ from each other in countless aspects, from body type to lifestyle to taste to disability.  And, as a result, the mobility products we need come in literally millions of combinations, from size to performance to color to seating - far too many aspects for providers to stock sample products in every configuration.  Yet, in order to purchase mobility products as informed consumers, we, ideally, need a physical demonstration of the product.  Then, in an industry with such a vast array of product configurations, and in a world where users have such varied individual needs, how do we trial products?  Welcome the world of "demo" products.

Dealing with Demos
In the light-rehab retail realm - lower-end manual wheelchairs, scooters, and powerchairs - many providers stock demonstration products.  These are showroom samples, purchased by the provider or placed by manufacturers, intended to assist in the sale of typically higher-volume standardized models.  Additionally, larger providers inventory these types of products for prompt trial and delivery.  For consumers, the readily demoed light-rehab genre is especially convenient, as you can have sit-and-go product trials.  But, what if you are a higher-end user, needing a trial of a rehab product, not readily stocked due to its specialized application?

Indeed, it's in the high-end mobility market where demo products become a tad more complicated, as providers usually don't stock very specific configurations like a 14"x15" titanium ultralight, or a an 8.5mph powerchair with a tilt seat, reclining back, and power legrests.   For these types of products, it's not a one-stop-shop, typically requiring the provider to work with the mobility manufacturer to obtain a demo product.  The way the protocol traditionally works is, local manufacturer representatives carry a range of sample products that move from provider to provider as needed.  When you request a demo from your provider, he contacts the local rep, who strives to deliver a demo configuration for your trial.

Now, just as a provider can't stock millions of product combinations, neither can reps.  Reps most often, however, can usually come close to individual needs, delivering exact models, with seating and sizing close to your needs.  Further, in some cases, a rep may order a specific product configuration to meet a single demo request, but this cannot be expected in most instances.  In the mobility industry, reps are financially responsible for their demo products, with revolving accounts that limit the number of demo products that they may possess at any given time.  Top reps can balance their accounts in ways that they have a terrific sampling of products, and replace them every 90 days, keeping up with sales trends in their territories with fresh, in-demand models and configurations.  Unfortunately, others are less successful at managing demo products, resulting in tired products and poor availability.   Put simply, if a provider or rep says that a demo simply isn't possible, you may wish to seek another provider or manufacturer.  Assuming that the product is on the market, and you're a valid customer looking to purchase a product, some form of a demo should be expected (again, don't expect your dead-on color and option choices, but some version should be available).

Seating Clinic Selections
Beyond storefront providers, rehab centers and seating clinics often maintain a fleet of high-end products for trial.   Beyond the benefits of professional fittings, such regional centers offer a product range unmatched by local providers, allowing a one-stop-shop of product demos.  Therefore, even if you feel that you best know your needs, don't hesitate to use the resources of clinics and centers.

Demo Etiquette
Providers and reps may need a week or more to obtain a demo product, so don't assume that they're not capable because they can't produce product on the spot.

Demo products aren't meant for abuse - other consumers will trial the product, and the rep is responsible to ultimately sell the demo unit to bring in fresh demo products on his account, so respect the unit (you don't want to try a chair after someone has abused it, and neither does anyone else, so treat it well).

Other users are waiting to try the demo product, too, so don't keep it longer than you need - an unnecessary extended trial may delay someone else's mobility.

Buying Demo Products
Within the industry, most reps try to move demo units within 90 to 120 days, selling them at discount to providers (the size of the discount varies, based on the manufacturer and condition of the unit).  Providers, then, sell the units to consumers, typically to self-funded customers.  Demo units can be a great way for consumers to save money on essentially new products (a demo powerchair used for in-service presentations with providers, for example, may only have several hours of use).   However, beware that not all products that are labeled demo units actually lived as demo units - returned and reconditioned units are often touted through providers (especially online), as demo units.  A true and well-treated demo product will be exceptionally clean throughout, and may feature the full warranty, so look closely and verify the warranty before you buy.

You might say that while cars are easily stocked on dealer lots like off-the-rack clothes at a department store, mobility products are closer to a custom-made suit at a tailor, where time and details are required for the best result.  If you understand the demo process - and, most importantly, try before you buy - your next mobility purchase may be less about frustration, and more about liberation.

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