TALLMAN, N.Y. – Attendees at this year’s Medtrade couldn’t help but notice the heavy presence of Feather Mobility, a four-year-old New York-based company looking to make an impact in the highly competitive wheelchair business. Joseph Piekarski, founder and CEO, invested in large signs and a sizable booth, but it’s the actual product that garnered attention.
“We decided to build what we like to call the world’s lightest wheelchair for seniors,” said Piekarski, a veteran of the mobility business who started 1-800 Wheelchair back in 1997. “Our first product [with Feather] was a manual wheelchair that weighed 19 pounds.”
Feather is making a return to Medtrade when the show convenes again from March 26-28, 2024 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. Medtrade Monday sat down with Piekarski to learn more about the company and what drives the Feather brand.
Medtrade Monday: What was the motivation for starting Feather?
Piekarski: After selling wheelchair mobility equipment for 22 years, I just realized that a lot of the wheelchairs, especially around the senior demographic, were kind of heavy and ugly. I thought there was a missing feature which was beauty and light weight. If I could cut the weight in half or by a third, that would be a win for caregivers, because wheelchairs, especially in the senior demographic, are very hard to take out of a car. Weighing around 35-plus pounds was a hindrance to their movement.
Medtrade Monday: When did the company start to become a reality?
Piekarski: I came across a factory that was experimenting with different kinds of metals and making things very light. We partnered up with a factory in Asia and we decided to build what we liked to call the world’s lightest wheelchair for seniors. We were able to do that. With our own proprietary blend of different metals, our first product was a manual wheelchair that all-in weighed 19 pounds. We had this idea that you could pop off the wheels and it would weigh 13 pounds. We also folded the back so it had an extra fold and it was compact.
Medtrade Monday: What’s the inspiration behind the design?
Piekarski: We wanted to model it similar to Italian Vespas to give it a luxurious look and elevated design. The magic of the chair is when you fold it and lift it into a car. At 13 (without wheels) or 19 pounds, it was almost a third of the weight of any other chair. Ever since then we’ve been off to the races.
Medtrade Monday: What’s your brand philosophy?
Piekarski: I’m a big believer in having a very focused brand. We decided to go through most of the products in the mobility space and reinvent them, make them really light.
Medtrade Monday: What are some of your other products?
Piekarski: Our second product was an electric wheelchair that weighs around 33 pounds. We got a lot of requests for a heavy duty wheelchair, so we have a wheelchair for heavier people that is wider. We launched that and it was extremely successful. We have a wheelchair that can carry someone who is 350 pounds. Usually those wheelchairs weigh 40 to 45 pounds, and ours weighed all-in at 22 pounds—and when the wheels popped off, like 15 to 16 pounds. So that was the origin story of this brand.
Medtrade Monday: Why did you decide to exhibit at Medtrade?
Piekarski: I used to go to Medtrade. I’ve been going to Medtrade literally since 1997. I used to go with my dad actually. I think I’ve gone every single year for 27 years. I remember when it was in New Orleans and Atlanta. Now that the brand was going so quickly, we really wanted to grow into the business to business space, so we went to Medtrade. We wanted to build a booth that was both elevated. We wanted to make a bit of a splash because we are a newish brand. All the established brands are Medtrade.
Medtrade Monday: Were you concerned about that competition?
Piekarski: Sometimes people have a little wheelchair fatigue because there are so many wheelchairs out there. You want to make it pop. One of the ideas we had was that big beautiful sign hanging from the roof so you could see us from anywhere in the hall. That got attention, but we were also giving out free ice cream.
Medtrade Monday: How did your first Medtrade go?
Piekarski: We have collected hundreds of leads, and it has really exploded our business. It’s a chance for us to introduce ourselves to the industry, which I think we did. Everybody knows us. In fact, I was just at a similar show in Germany with a lot of the European brands who knew us as well. I’m sure it had to do with the fact that we showcased at Medtrade two years in a row.
It was an opportunity for us to introduce our brand and meet new clients. It also gives us a level of legitimacy if we’re showcasing at the show, and the size of the booth as well. The way the booth looked was very important. We hired a famous art photographer to take images for us in an art studio. Medtrade also gives us a chance to meet existing customers and talk with them as well. Medtrade really helped us to create this brand that has been very successful. We almost can’t make enough wheelchairs fast enough. We have a lot of new products coming out as well.
Medtrade Monday: Were people understanding your brand at Medtrade?
Piekarski: My design is very minimalist. I’ve always believed in anything you do, if you’re selling something, or if you want to convey something, you should be able to say it in five or six words, or one sentence. It must be simply understood.
Medtrade Monday: How do you approach attendees at Medtrade?
Piekarski: At all the shows we did in America and abroad, we have just one wheelchair highlighted. We approach people with a simple question. Can I interest you in the world’s lightest wheelchair? People get startled for a second, but it is a medical show. When they lift it, they have an aha moment, and that interaction is magic. That’s the whole product. It’s the world’s lightest wheelchair, and by giving them the opportunity to lift it, this is where they light up.
Medtrade Monday: How difficult was it to make it so light?
Piekarski: It’s a simple concept, but it’s very hard to do. It’s very difficult to make it light, yet strong, and look good. We’re obsessed with figuring out how to make these products lighter every year. That’s the magic. Giving attendees the chair, having them lift it—that converts them really quickly. We have one message and one name—Feather. All we want to do is give you something light. It really made an impact on the floor. It was elegant.