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Wheelchair Profiteering, Part VII: Here is How I Would Do it (If I had No Ethics) – Erik Kondo

a hand holding a fan of $100 bills.
Let' make some money!

Let’s imagine I own a large and influential wheelchair manufacturing company. And my goal is to make the most amount of money possible regardless of ethical considerations, here is how I would do it. Remember, in this example, my goal is strictly profit maximization without concern for creating harm.

For wheelchair manufacturing, I will use the strategy of Ultra-Customization as previously described in Part III in order to maximize profit margins.

For maximizing sales, I will use the time tested practice using fear marketing. First, I will widely promote the idea that propelling a wheelchair directly leads to shoulder injury. To bolster this viewpoint, I will cherry pick research studies that appear to confirm this view and ignore/minimize/discredit and any research that disagrees or points to other causations. My goal is for all manual wheelchair users to become so concerned about incurring an “overuse” injury from propelling their wheelchair that they are willing to buy and spend whatever it takes to lower this “inevitable” shoulder damage. I will offer the solution to “overuse” via the purchase of my products. One product will be my superlight wheelchair which I will claim (without evidence) will reduce shoulder injury due to its incredible lightness and responsiveness.

Next, I will promote my power assist products as a “must have” for everyone from children to paralympic athletes to “save their shoulders”. Unlike a wheelchair frame which could conceivably last for a decade or more, electronic devices have a limited lifespan and will need to be continually replaced. Their components will also require regular replacement and upgrades. My goal is to create lifelong customers (cash cows) that are hooked on my expensive power assist products.

I will design my wheelchair to be difficult to service and repair such that replacement is emphasized over repair. I will reduce adjustability and increase fixed configurations to lower the risk of “wheelchair recycling” and the need for replacement as the wheelchair user’s needs change over time. High cost carbon fiber is a great choice for creating “single use/user” wheelchairs that require entire frame replacement due to damage (or adjustment) to any part of the frame.

I will heavily market my wheelchair to Assistive Technology Professionals (ATPs) and medical professionals so that it will be seen as the only option. This part is important. The ATPS and medical professionals are key to my strategy for dominating the market. By getting them to promote my wheelchair as the “best” option, they will funnel sales directly to me.

The key is to follow the playbook created by the widely profitable drug industry. For example, if you can convince doctors to primarily prescribe your drug to their patients, rather than some other drug from a different manufacturer, you have created a pipeline of customers. Many of them will literally get hooked on your drug for life. The patients will naturally follow the recommendation of their doctor since they are unable to evaluate the differences between the drugs on their own.

Instead of selling drugs, I am selling wheelchairs. The majority of people who require wheelchairs know little about them. And why would they? Most have never used a wheelchair before. Those who are currently wheelchair users, likely have only used one type of wheelchair in the past. Thus, they too, have limited knowledge about wheelchairs choices, setups and optimizations. They are depending on their ATP, wheelchair sale representative, and medical professionals to guide them to a decision. Therefore, I will focus my powerful marketing budget on controlling this process by getting the “buy in” from these industry professionals.

It is important to remember that most of the professionals in the wheelchair industry are not wheelchairs themselves. Therefore, they don’t have any personal experience to dispute my marketing claims. They will follow the path I will create for them with my influential campaigns and handpicked research papers. In fact, I will fund a few research projects to increase the likelihood that the conclusions of industry research are to my advantage. Getting testimonials from actual wheelchair users will also not be hard. Money talks. Providing free products pretty much guarantees that I will find a few wheelchair users who will declare their “love” my products.

The use of Ultra-Customization combined with insurance reimbursement will put a floor on the price of wheelchairs of many thousands of dollars as I have previously outlined. Any upstart company that tries to manufacture and sell a lower cost wheelchair will not have the marketing and lobbying power to break my hold on the wheelchair industry professionals who ultimately determine what the consumer “choses” and buys. My high profit margins means that my marketing war chest will always be greater than a competing upstart (more reasonably priced) wheelchair company.

In the able-bodied world, there are budget brands that compete with established and more expensive brands based on price. There are low cost airlines and car rental companies. There are budget hotels, discount clothing stores, dollar stores, saver grocery stores, etc. These companies are able to compete because they can market their low prices directly to brand knowledgeable and price conscious consumers who weigh their options and make their own decisions.

I don’t need to worry about this type of competition due to my industry controlling strategy that I have outlined above. My powerful marketing methods will ensure that these pesky upstarts never get sufficient momentum to threaten me and will eventually die out. If one or two appear to be making an inroad into the wheelchair industry, I will acquire them. Thereby solving my competition problem. Selling high margin wheelchairs is a winner take all industry. Yes. It sounds like I am engaging in outlawed monopoly practices. But, not to worry, I am not alone, there are a few other large wheelchair companies that are doing the same thing.

And let’s not forget the potential size of the market. The end game is to get all wheelchair users into power wheelchairs. Every single manual wheelchair user could be turned into a power wheelchair user (whether they need one or not). Think of this opportunity in terms of increasing the market value of the wheelchair industry. The strategy of Ultra-Customization can be applied to power wheelchairs too. Just like a car, there is no practical limit on the amount of upselling that can be applied to a power wheelchair.

A manual wheelchair is like a bicycle, but a power wheelchair is like a car. The market value of the United States bicycle industry is projected at 8.6 billion dollars for 2023. The 2023 market value of the automobile industry is estimated to be 104 billion and it keeps growing. That is why I am working to rebrand wheelchair users as “wheelchair drivers”. The drug and automobile industry have shown the way to profitability. I am just following their example.

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