|11-21-2002, 02:23 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2001
Bike maker puts color in wheelchairs
Wednesday, November 20, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Bike maker puts color in wheelchairs
By Jane Hodges
Times Snohomish County bureau;
MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Company founders Joel Smith, left, and Greg Bower have plans to diversify their product line, adding wheelchairs to bicycles. E-mail this article
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE - A modern "tango red" wheelchair could triple business at Advanced Transportation Products, a 10-year-old company that makes recumbent
If the company strikes a deal by year-end with the Wheelchair Foundation, a nonprofit founded by former Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring, its designs could also help the needy.
Advanced Transportation's founders, Joel Smith and Greg Bower, former Boeing employees who met at an area bike show, said they launched their company because they shared a passion for biking. But two years ago, the pair became concerned that their business was too seasonal: About 80 percent of the company's Vision-brand bikes are sold between May and August.
Advanced Transportation Products
Owners: Joel Smith, president; Greg Bower, sales manager.
Location: Mountlake Terrace.
Employees: 20 to 25 full time.
2001 revenue: $2.5 million.
Specialty: manufacturing recumbent bikes, which riders pedal in a reclined, rather than upright, position.
Divisions: Vision Bikes, which makes recumbent bikes; Winkel Wheel, acquired in 1999, which makes bike tires.
Strategy: The company plans to diversify by manufacturing a line of brightly colored lightweight wheelchairs that it designed last year.
"When we were a smaller company, this wasn't a problem," Bower said. However, with a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, slower production much of the year meant high overhead costs. So they decided to diversify.
"When we started looking around, we realized wheelchairs fit our core competencies," Smith said.
From a design standpoint, Advanced Transportation already manufactured "sling seats" - seats with a back - for its recumbent bikes. The company also owns a subsidiary, Winkel Wheel, that makes tires. Sling seats and tires, the owners reasoned, could translate to wheelchairs.
An engineer by trade, Smith served as lead designer on two wheelchair prototypes that were completed earlier this year. Both are modern, come in bright colors and have custom seating and steering features, much like the recumbent bikes the company makes. Recumbent bikes have back support and elevated pedals.
The company's Vision recumbent bikes are popular because they can be ordered in up to 156 configurations and are also easy to customize once in the store, according to Rob Stumpf, store manager at Gregg's Aurora Cycle in Seattle.
"Every manufacturer has a different philosophy," Stumpf said. "They're popular with the engineering and techy crowd."
"We're trying to carry that modularity over to the wheelchair market," Smith said. "That industry has talked about how it can borrow innovation from the bike market for a long time."
The first wheelchair model is one that Bower and Smith refer to as the World Chair. It uses a combination of lightweight metals in its frame and has wheels with special treads. A prototype will arrive this week at the Danville, Calif.-based Wheelchair Foundation, which has distributed chairs to the poor in this country and others.
"Their wheelchair would be capable of going on beaches and on difficult types of terrain," said Don Williams, who coordinates domestic distribution programs for the foundation.
The foundation focuses on distributing "basic" wheelchairs for $150 (a lower, subsidized price than the typical $400 cost of most wheelchairs). However, Williams said he is also looking for specialized wheelchairs such as Advanced Transportation's and will decide by year-end whether to strike a deal with the company.
"We buy tens of thousands of wheelchairs each month," he said. "What we have to do here is look at the costs of mass production."
Advanced Transportation's second wheelchair model has more custom features and, at 17 pounds, is lighter than a typical 40-pound wheelchair. It can be custom-built to fit its owner's physical needs for $1,800 to $2,500.
Smith and Bower said they're negotiating a manufacturing partnership with a seat manufacturer that should go into effect by next year. Under terms of the deal, Advanced Transportation will build all parts of the wheelchair except the seat.
If Bower and Smith succeed with the Wheelchair Foundation and the seating partnership, the company will change dramatically: Revenue would triple, and wheelchairs would come to represent 70 percent of revenue by 2006 or 2007. The company would contract manufacturing to an Asian plant.
Despite the economy, Bower said he and Smith are confident.
"We feel it's a good time for us to get in on a new product area," he said.
Jane Hodges: 425-745-7813