MobilityWorks Acquisition Case Study
Making the world more accessible
By: Brooklyn Bates
How MobilityWorks grew into the nation’s largest provider of wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
A disabling accident or illness can change someone’s life forever, making it more difficult to move around or even to leave the house. In this situation, some people shut down, resigned to being stuck at home because of limited mobility. Bill Koeblitz and his team at MobilityWorks want these individuals to know they’re not trapped — they just haven’t found the right transportation yet.
“We want to make the world accessible,” says Koeblitz, MobilityWorks’ founder and CEO. “It’s always been our focus to enable people who use wheelchairs to go where they want to go and do what they want to do.”
MobilityWorks helps individuals using wheelchairs regain their freedom and stay active by offering a wide selection of wheelchair-accessible vehicles for both consumer and commercial use.
“A lot of people are trapped in their own homes and they don’t even know it, so we try to show them that it can be so much easier to get around if you have a vehicle that’s been adapted,” Koeblitz says.
As challenging as this mission can be — both financially and emotionally — he says MobilityWorks’ exponential growth is the result of a simple focus: taking care of customers. Now in its 20th year, the Akron-based company has grown from one location with 10 employees into the largest adaptive vehicle provider in the United States. Its operations include 950 employees at 67 consumer showroom locations in 23 states, and a commercial division called TransitWorks that serves customers nationwide.
“It takes a whole lot of work by a whole lot of people, but it’s really simple,” Koeblitz says. “The key is understanding where needs aren’t being met well, how to come up with solutions and how to pull together a team that can keep solving those needs better than before.”
Offering better options
After selling his previous business (a network of urgent care centers), Koeblitz wanted to start another company that would have a positive impact on people’s lives. Seeing the lack of options for wheelchair-accessible vehicles inspired him to make a big difference, and in doing so, tap into a big growth opportunity.
“When we started, someone in a wheelchair would’ve had to buy a vehicle from a car dealer and then take it to a place like ours that would modify it,” he says. “They’d have to pay full cash for that modification, and they wouldn’t know if that modification was safe or if it would even work properly for them. Everything was so inconvenient — the financing, the vehicle selection, the safety of the modification — and we saw an opportunity to make it a lot better.”
“We want to make the world accessible. It’s always been our focus to enable people who use wheelchairs to go where they want to go and do what they want to do.”
– Bill Koeblitz, Founder & CEO, MobilityWorks
MobilityWorks began converting a variety of vehicles on its own, incorporating wheelchair and scooter lifts and other adaptive equipment for customers. The unique business model allows consumers to shop a wider selection of pre-modified vehicles (more than 900 across all the company’s showrooms), and to get in and out of the vehicles before making a purchase to see how the modifications fit their specific needs.
“We have the largest inventory of adapted vehicles to choose from in the industry,” Koeblitz says. “That’s really key because each person’s needs and circumstances are different, both physically for the vehicle they’re looking at and economically for what they can afford.”
Taking cues from traditional auto dealerships, MobilityWorks offers financing, leasing, extended warranties and rental vehicles to make the buying process more convenient. The company also operates a 24-hour emergency help line and offers mechanical services with certified technicians to install, repair and maintain handicap-accessible equipment.
Although a large inventory is important, Koeblitz says it’s the company culture that really differentiates MobilityWorks. Maintaining that culture is an ongoing challenge, especially because most of the company’s growth comes through acquisitions.
In 2015, MobilityWorks completed a merger with its biggest competitor to become the largest adaptive vehicle provider in the country.
“When you’re doing acquisitions, your culture is constantly challenged because you’re bringing in new groups of people,” Koeblitz says. “We spend a lot of energy and time making sure our culture gets assimilated.”
To oversee each new acquisition, an existing team member takes a “leave of absence” from his or her current position for about six months to head up the integration. Integration leaders have access to more than 200 training programs developed by MobilityWorks, ranging from one-on-one coaching to online modules tailored to each position, to help new employees understand the company’s software systems, services and, most important, its customers.
MobilityWorks’ leaders talk about customers a lot, not just in training but through daily and weekly communications, says Koeblitz. Employee communication is focused on empowering people to utilize the tools, training and capabilities they have to solve customers’ needs without a lot of rules or red tape.
All showroom locations begin the morning with a 10- to 12-minute team huddle, during which each employee gets a turn to report a quick, one-minute rundown of the previous day and discuss the focus for that day. Daily huddles are an opportunity for employees to regroup, share victories and raise challenges, whereas weekly meetings are a time to examine performance more in depth. For one hour each week, teams meet to track weekly metrics against quarterly objectives and discuss any corrections that need to be made, problems that need to be solved or wins that deserve to be celebrated. Customer feedback is often shared to remind employees how they’re improving customers’ lives.
“There’s a whole lot of communication to keep the culture alive and vibrant,” says Koeblitz.
MobilityWorks’ process of training and empowering employees, while constantly communicating, has helped assimilate companies into its culture more smoothly. In fact, it’s a primary reason competitors choose to merge with MobilityWorks — and why their sales typically double after being acquired.
“The companies we acquire care about the customers they’re serving, but they don’t always have the skills and capabilities to do it really well,” Koeblitz says. “We’re able to give them the right tools, good processes and a customer-focused culture, which enables our acquisitions to serve more people in the community with better solutions.”
Listening to customers
To stay in touch with customer needs, MobilityWorks regularly measures its performance against its mission. The company surveys every customer who purchases a vehicle from one of its showrooms, as well as a sampling of the many customers using its services.
Surveys ask how likely someone would be to recommend MobilityWorks to a friend or family member on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most likely). With positive points for ratings of 9 or 10 and deductions for responses of 6 or lower, the company’s current net promoter score is 83 percent — “higher than companies like Apple, Ritz-Carlton or Lexus,” Koeblitz says.
Company leaders pay close attention to these surveys and other forms of customer feedback, using weekly meetings to discuss survey results and to share customer feedback about the difference that a modified vehicle has made in their lives. MobilityWorks employees also stay connected to customers’ needs through community involvement. Many are active in nonprofits that support people with disabilities, including the ALS Association and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. They participate in fundraising events and walks, and attend association meetings to help build awareness and understanding of these disabilities.
“When you’re doing acquisitions, your culture is constantly challenged because you’re bringing in new groups of people. We spend a lot of energy and time making sure our culture gets assimilated.”
– Bill Koeblitz, Founder & CEO, MobilityWorks
“Our team is really focused on treating customers like family and trying to understand their situation, needs and desires, and then coming up with good solutions for them,” says Koeblitz. “It’s a very personal relationship. To create a culture like that, you have to give your team the ability, the tools and the time to be out in the community working with people who don’t have accessible transportation.”
To extend its mission further, the company launched The MobilityWorks Foundation in 2011. The nonprofit foundation raises funds to help people and organizations with a significant transportation need and limited financing. For example, the foundation partnered with Los Angeles-based West Coast Customs (famous for its reality TV car show) to create several custom vehicles that were auctioned off to raise funds to help disabled veterans obtain mobility. The MobilityWorks Foundation has distributed more than $200,000 to date.
As MobilityWorks forecasts continued growth, Koeblitz says the company remains committed to developing solutions that help people in wheelchairs regain their independence — and realize that their world doesn’t have to get smaller just because of a disability.
“There still are so many people that don’t have accessible vehicles, so we’re working on ways to make modified vehicles more affordable and to come up with solutions for more people who are confined to their homes so we can help them lead more fulfilling lives,” Koeblitz says.
For more information, visit www.mobilityworks.com.