HERMON, Maine — Less than two years after striking out on her own and starting a business, Gina Bennett not only has expanded her commercial space, she also has brought in a partner and expanded into new markets.
Bennett’s business, Advanced Modifications, was launched in April of last year. After being involved in a family enterprise for several years, she decided she wanted to start a business that focused on mobility for people with a range of disabilities, including wheelchair-accessible vehicles, driving aids, specialized seating systems and other custom modifications.
“I had a bit of a different view, different dreams. So this is what we came up with,” she said.
Bennett initially moved in with Maine Accessibility Corp., an existing business located at 2 Printer’s Drive in Hermon’s Coldbrook Business Park that specializes in stair lifts, chair lifts, elevators, ramps, automatic door openers and other products designed to remove obstacles and barriers in homes and businesses.
“They were on the road all the time, so that left nobody here to answer the phones,” she said. While serving as an in-office presence for that business, she began building her own clientele.
“I had people who would be coming in and waiting so I was kind of like, ‘Let’s do a little test.’ I started buying power chair covers and bags for their chairs and I had that hanging out front,” she said. “I noticed people were buying, so I thought, ‘You know what? Let’s try the home health care stuff. It all kind of goes hand in hand.’” And another market was born.
The mobility part of her business focuses on the sales and servicing of handicapped accessible vehicles, as well as specialized equipment like wheelchair lifts and hand controls. The company offers 24-hour road service, serving individuals and institutions from Van Buren to Scarborough, as well as bumper-to-bumper vehicle maintenance and repair. She also has customers from Canada.
“That’s kind of how it started and then I added one thing at a time,” Bennett said during an interview last week at Advanced Modifications’ offices, showroom and maintenance garage.
As that was happening, Bennett met Leroy Worden Jr., a customer who frequently handled ambulance transports for people in wheelchairs while with County Ambulance in Ellsworth, which his father ran for three decades. In February of this year, she brought Worden in as a business partner and hired a service manager, Matt Nesin.
With Worden came a new element of the business, handicapped accessible ambulances, as well as some products from the American Fire Equipment line of gear for public safety personnel, including firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical professionals and those in the field of public works.
The business soon outgrew the shared space at 2 Printer’s Drive, prompting Bennett to expand to the point where her side of the business now occupies five suites. The number of employees also has grown, from a workforce of one to six, most of them full-time.
“And we’re looking to add,” she said.
Among the aspects of the business that Bennett takes pride in is the personal touch.
“We do do some custom work,” she said. “It depends on the need.” The addition of mobility features can get a client to 95 percent of where they want to be, she said. “But with missing fingers and parts and pieces, you sometimes have got to get creative. You can get to 95 percent but if you don’t get that last 5 percent, they’re not going to be happy and be able to use their equipment like they should.”
To that end, Bennett and her crew work with customers on the final modifications.
Another thing that sets Bennett apart is that she’s the only female business owner of this type in the state, if not the country.
“As far as I know, I’m the only woman business owner in this line of work,” she said. “I have a solid background in this industry and I believe in surrounding myself with an exceptionally knowledgeable and reputable staff.”
But it’s the fulfillment that comes with helping customers improve their quality of life that is one of the main reasons Bennett is moving ahead with her business.
“It’s a great feeling. There’s nothing like giving mobility, independence, freedom to somebody,” she said.
“I’ve had people leave here crying just because they were so happy. They knew that they could get out of the house. They could get where they wanted to go. They didn’t have to ask anybody to bring them. It’s just their mobility. There’s no price tag on that,” she said.
For more information about the products and services available at Advanced Modifications, contact Bennett at 848-8226 or gina@AdvancedModifications.com.