Even when Ability Center was first seen in the Hot 100 in 1997, the idea of the superstore was definetely not new. We've all shopped at Wal-Mart or Price Club-but one demographic the megamarts don't cater to is perhaps the one that should be most accessible. Darrell Heath planned to change all that by offering a one-stop shop for merchandise for the disabled-from wheelchairs to converted vans-and in his sixth year of business, nothing stands in his way.
"I really don't see any limitations to what we are capable of doing," says Heath, 37, who currently offers both new and used converted vans, wheelchairs, scooters, and commercial and home improvements at his company, Ability Center, located in San Diego. "I have a vision to have a place where a disabled person can come and get everything they need, instead of going one place for medical supplies, another to get wheelchairs, one more to buy vans and even one more place to get the house all fixed up."
Since 1994, Heath has been building the retail van conversion operation he was able to buy for $15,000 (from a hand-control manufacturer he'd been working for since he was just a teenager) into the superstore he imagines, offering new services to his clientele and also increasing sales of the vans from 26 in '94 to about 180 last year. The company landed on our Hot 100 in 1997 at No. 41 with $1.4 million in sales in its third year of business, and Heath isn't anywhere near slowing down. "I've just [always] been driven by these kinds of ideas that I feel I need to bring to fruition," he says.
"With all these vans in stock, customers can say, 'I'll take the blue one.' It makes it more mainstream. As opposed to having their van for umpteen years, they're able to go out and get a new car and drive it for three or four years and trade it in and get something new," explains Heath, who estimates Ability Center will bring in $7 million this year, after reaching $5.1 million last year.