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Helping others find independence

Wheelchair Dynamics opens in FD

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Tim Haupert, co-owner of Wheelchair Dynamics, right, along with Tyler Ebaugh, sales technician; and Ed Leffler, store manager, pose outside of the recently opened Fort Dodge special needs store.

Whether it’s a wheelchair, a lift chair or something as simple as a grab bar, the goal of Wheelchair Dynamics is to help people with special needs become more independent.

“We are just trying to keep them independent and improve life as best we can,” said Tim Haupert, co-owner of the Sheldon-based company.

Wheelchair Dynamics, 1406 A St. West, opened its Fort Dodge store in June.

Rollators, wheelchairs, lift chairs, stair lifts and wheelchair accessible vehicles are sold there.

“We just try try to give your freedom back,” said Ed Leffler, store manager. “Whatever is most convenient for you to move around.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Tim Haupert, co-owner of Wheelchair Dynamics, shows the ramp on a wheelchair accessible vehicle. In addition to selling power wheelchairs, lift chairs, stair lifts and rollators, the business is also a dealership for wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Haupert, a former store manager at Hy-Vee, said the company prides itself on finding the right fit for customers while servicing and installing any products that are sold.

“We service and install anything we sell,” Haupert said. “It could be as simple as in their bathroom they need grab bars for stability or a toilet riser or a sliding bench. We do those all the time.”

Haupert said he makes sure the products are what the customers need.

“(With walkers or rollators) we adjust them,” Haupert said. “We fit them, we measure them. A rollator should be fit a certain way to be used properly. When you are standing at the handle the handle should be at wrist.

“We are here to give them knowledge about the products. There’s access to 100 variety of lift chairs. We want to look at measurements so when you are in a lift chair your feet are flat on the ground. We want to look at the depth it. I see it all the time, they bought a cheap lift chair and nobody sizes them properly. I can sell anyone a lift chair but if it doesn’t fit them right, they won’t be satisfied.”

Haupert said when the company was founded in 1996, the focus was on wheelchairs and power chairs. It has since expanded to include the variety of other products designed to improve the lives of those with special needs.

But even with wheelchairs, Haupert said the customer’s body type is a factor.

“When the business first started we focused on wheel chairs and power chairs,” Haupert said. “We had to measure every part of the person’s body to make sure it was the right chair for them.”

Haupert said things like hip and leg width are measured.

“If you’re going to be in it for a while, you want to make sure that it’s comfortable,” Haupert said. “We do that for all of our products. The thing I love about our business — we are in sales, yes. But my goal is to hopefully educate and give the person all the information they need to make the best decision they can make. If we do that and they are happy, they come back.”

Haupert said the top selling product six years ago would have been power wheel chairs. Today, wheel chair accessible vehicles and stair lifts have entered the number one category.

“When I started (about six years ago) people didn’t even know we sold stair lifts,” Haupert said. “Today it’s one of our largest categories.”

In terms of wheel chair accessible vehicles, the business sells ones that have already been converted or will covert a vehicle for customers.

The conversions are done through either Vantage Mobility International, headquartered in Phoenix; and Freedom Motors, headquartered in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Haupert said it takes between six and eight weeks to covert the vehicles.

“They cut the entire floor out and lower that van and reweld a new floor in, rerouting gas lines, AC lines,” Haupert said. “All this now becomes customized.”

Wheelchair Dynamics has opened three dealerships at all three of its locations in the last nine months.

Haupert considers that the business’s biggest success. The dealerships are located in Sioux City, Sheldon and Fort Dodge.

Fort Dodge is the smallest retail store of the three. But Haupert said the company liked the location.

“With the main traffic here we can display our wheelchairs really well,” Haupert said. “We liked this location. And the fact that it wasn’t being served very well. We were hearing from customers they couldn’t find service here.We were over here this winter and saw this empty building and the rest is history.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in how Wheelchair Dynamics can serve customers. But it hasn’t taken away the need.

“Early on in March and April, we saw a slowdown, which is odd because it wasn’t that prevalent here in the Midwest,” Haupert said. “But May on after has been pretty busy.

“The biggest thing now is it affects our ability to help people in assisted living or care centers.We wear masks and PPE wherever needed or working with someone at a higher risk, we just automatically do it. It’s affected a lot of things we do. We used to shake hands all the time and we just don’t do that right now.”

Leffler added, “We used to sit down at the dinner table and talk to them (customers).”

In terms of his own background, Haupert said his management experience at a grocery store was beneficial to him.

“This is just a whole other level of assisting people,” Haupert said. “Helping people stay independent and stay mobile. People don’t want to rely on others if they don’t have to. Whether it’s a stair lift to get up to their bedroom or a ramp system or a home elevator, home vertical platform lifts, or a wheel chair accessible vehicle. We supply the equipment, power chairs, wheel chairs, lift chairs but also the home accessibility side.”

Wheelchair Dynamics will typically serve customers within an 80 to 100 mile radius

“We don’t want to get so far out that we can’t service a customer quickly,” Haupert said.

Haupert said he’s continually challenged by learning new products

“The population is continuing to age and as it has done that, there are new products,” Haupert said. “Three or four years ago you couldn’t buy a lift chair that wasn’t three position. Now you’ve got four motors in these chairs, you can adjust leg rest, they stand you up, recline. With swelling issues, your legs can be elevated above your heart to lessen swelling. Products are getting better.”

Playing a role in helping someone find a product that will change their life is fulfilling, Haupert said.

“When you’ve given someone something that allows them to be more independent and the feeling you get from that,” Haupert said. “Because you can tell it from the look on their face.”

A little bit of history

Wheelchair Dynamics was founded in Sheldon by Jon Ruehle and Ed Getting in 1996.

Ruehle had been working for a pharmacy in Hartley. There he worked on the home medical side of the business. Eventually, he expanded on that service and formed his own business.

Haupert worked at Hy-Vee for 32 years. He and Ruehle would often take fishing or hunting trips together.

“It just happened that Jon worked for me at Hy-Vee and we were good friends,” Haupert said.

After retiring from Hy-Vee in April of 2015, Ruehle’s wife suggested Haupert come to work for Wheelchair Dynamics.

“I said I appreciate that, but I don’t know anything about his business,” Haupert recalled. “But then he (Jon Ruehle) called the next day and said, ‘I’m serious, come and learn the business.”

Three years ago, Haupert bought ownership of part of the company.

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