Renting Wheels to Wheelchair Riders

Imagine getting on a flight to Florida, getting off the plane and not being able to rent a car to get from the airport to your next stop. To his dismay, this was Andrew Goodyear’s experience back in the late 1980s.

The problem wasn’t an absence of rental car agencies like Hertz or Avis serving the South Florida area, nor that these agencies were fully booked. It was that Goodyear—being a quadriplegic—needed a wheelchair-accessible van. So, Goodyear took the solution into his own hands.

“In 1990, I decided to start a wheelchair-accessible van rental company, because there was no such animal here in South Florida,” Goodyear says. “Since so many are traveling these days with power chairs and scooters, having access to a wheelchair-accessible van is really important.”

He got wind of the Wheelchair Getaways franchise and—one year later—Wheelchair Getaways of South Florida opened its doors in West Palm Beach, Fla.

While there are no specific skill or experience requirements to become a Wheelchair Getaways franchisee, you do need “a strong desire to help the handicapped,” says Dale Richardson, president of Wheelchair Getaways. Richardson adds that this type of franchise could provide additional revenue for someone who already runs a rental car operation.

Maybe you are considering expanding your rent-a-car business with specialized rentals or pursuing a new franchise opportunity. If so, here is an in-depth look at Wheelchair Getaways and what it takes to make it as a franchisee.

The Accessible Vehicle Market

In 1988, J. Edward Van Artsdalen founded Wheelchair Getaways after seeing the lack of transportation options for disabled wheelchair and scooter users. The company became a national franchise the following year. The current owners, Dale and Jennifer Richardson, purchased the company in 2006.

Wheelchair Getaways has two national competitors: Accessible Vans of America (AVA) and Wheelers Accessible Van Rentals. AVA requires that its members are mobility dealers, or dealers who sell and service wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Wheelers Accessible Van Rentals is not a franchise system.

While mainstream auto rental companies such as Dollar-Thrifty and Avis offer vehicles with hand controls, they do not offer vehicles with wheelchair access. Colorado franchisee John Anderson says the Hertz, Avis and Enterprise operations in his area often refer wheelchair and scooter users to him.

Wheelchair Getaways has 50 franchises covering more than 450 cities across the United States. Still, the marketplace is nowhere near being saturated, according to the company.

“We have some prime metropolitan areas available, like the panhandle of Florida, Texas, California, Oregon and some areas on the East Coast,” says Dale Richardson, who hopes to double the number of franchises soon.

The target client base is also growing. In 2002, approximately 51.2 million people—18 percent of the U.S. population at the time—reported having a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among the disabled population age 15 and older, 2.7 million people reported using a wheelchair. The Census Bureau also found that the likelihood of having a disability increases with age; 72 percent of people 80 years and older had disabilities. The Census Bureau projects that by 2030, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 and older.

“The baby boomers are getting older and they don’t want to hang around the house because they are used to going places,” Richardson says. “So our market is increasing exponentially, and there is a huge growth opportunity.” The company markets to the vacation and business traveler as well as the local replacement market.

CONTINUED:  Renting Wheels to Wheelchair Riders
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