Problem Solvers

Partnering for Success

Capturing a bigger piece of the bath safety upgrade market through establishing the right relationships.

According to AARP, in 2015, people 50 and older will represent 45% of the U.S. population. The market for major bathroom safety upgrades is massive but this niche demands good relationships with outside partners.

In a recent article, The New York Times declared what experienced HME providers most likely already new: The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. According to the article and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, injuries in bathrooms increase with age, with the most hazardous activities being bathing, showering and getting out of the tub or shower.

With people choosing to age in their homes, there is significant revenue potential for HME providers that offer major upgrade services for bathroom safety. But it’s a specialty most providers cannot offer without the help of professional construction partners. Fortunately, there are a couple of organizations that offer both the education and partnership network necessary to serve a clientele desperate to stay in their homes.

AHIA

Keith Stelzer, CEAC, is manager of home access for Green Bay Medical Equipment, which, along with selling HME equipment, provides major construction services, from installing lifts and safety grab bars to performing major bathroom modifications. Unlike most HME providers, Green Bay Medical Equipment employs a carpenter and electrical mechanical technician on staff, giving them the ability to install anything they sell, including walk-in bathtubs, ramps and lifts. The company will contract an electrician or plumber when necessary.

Stelzer and his on-staff carpenter both hold Certified Environmental Access Consultant (CEAC) credentials from the Accessible Home Improvement of America (AHIA), a nationwide network of independently owned and operated certified providers and contractors dedicated to providing accessible home modifications, independent living solutions and related products and services. The CEAC helps providers to understand and recognize independent living solutions, products and services that will help people to live more independently and support their choice of aging in place. AHIA (accesshomeamerica.com) is a division of The VGM Group.

With two years’ experience in the industry, providers can take the CEAC program and test. The program is online, and based on a person’s learning ability and time, it can take as little as a week or two and as much as several months. The cost is about $300.00. Once certified, CEAC designees become part of a searchable network of independent living solutions professionals.

“AHIA was developed to assist providers currently offering products and services dealing with accessibility and for those looking to expand their scope of services,” says Bill Stelzer, who is Keith’s father, past general manager of Green Bay Medical Equipment and now a consultant for VGM/AHIA. “As a nationwide network of certified providers, we are focused exclusively on providing real solutions for those wishing to live independently. The accessibility market for safe and independent living is proven time after time in recent studies and surveys to be the highest priority on the minds of those wishing to age-in-place. The need for quality products, educated professionals and a high level of customer service is there, opening the door to diversity in sales, revenue and a jump start on market share.”

NAHB

Keith Stelzer says that next on his agenda for furthering himself and his company is obtaining the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist designation from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). Dan Bawden, CGR, GMB, CAPS, CGP, JD, president and CEO of Legal Eagle Contractors, a seniorfocused residential construction and remodeling company in Houston, started the CAPS program in 2001. His goal was to bring together the AARP and the NAHB to produce a new kind of expert with special training to serve the senior and accessible-needs populations.

“The senior market is huge, and growing like crazy due to the ‘graying of America’ — a rapidly increasing glut of seniors who need all kinds of products and services for the homes so they can live at home much longer and avoid going to assisted living and nursing homes,” says Bawden. “Most of times mental) challenges set in, we discover that our homes are full of barriers and safety hazards we never thought about before.”

Bawden certainly agrees with The New York Times article that bath safety is the biggest challenge as people age. He says that many seniors simply become used to the inadequate situations in their homes, and this scares him.

“The CAPS courses give you an overview of the equipment and fixtures that can make life safer and easier for these folks, and technical advice on how to properly install them. There is a brand new NAHB course called Universal Design that delves even further into how to install devices, like elevators, movable sinks and cabinets, and much more.”

Anybody can search the NAHB’s directory of certified contractors and homebuilders at nahb.org.

Finding Contractor Professionals

When looking for construction experts to help with your major bath upgrade project, Keith Stelzer recommends first using the AHAI and NAHB networks to find CEAC and CAPS-certified professionals.

“If you are thinking about getting into this business, join a homebuilders association, and network with members. Find out who is certified and who has done work with different client bases that are in need of home accessibility solutions. We have a homebuilder show in January, so attend something like that to network with some of those builders and get to know some of the companies that are out there. See what they’ve done in the past, and what different builds and modifications they have done for clients.”

Bawden suggest that HME providers can educate the contractors and builders about new products.

“Come to our trade association meetings and bring business cards and brochures,” says Bawden. “Make friends and build relationships there. You’ll probably be the only dealer there so you can easily become the ‘expert specialty supplier’ everybody calls when this type of product need arises. Show us that you can order just about anything in your catalogs. Teach us about the most common products consumers ask for so we can suggest them more in our projects. For example, I have some grab bar lines I really like so I suggest those to every bathroom remodel client I work with, whether they are 25 or 85 years old.”

Although Keith Stelzer calls the major bath safety upgrade portion of his business a source of significant revenue, the best part is quality of life improvement.

“A lot of times people are hesitant up front to spend the money for upgrades but once they have had us in and have installed the equipment and it has increased their mobility within their own home and increased their functionality, maybe got them upstairs or into the shower or bathtub, it’s a huge source of happiness for those clients,” says Keith. “It’s my favorite part of the job — when we have happy customers who can do things now that they couldn’t do previously.”

DME bath safety upgrade market

With the right relationships, a bath upgrade can not only offer safety, but offer a vast improvement in terms of decor as the larger after (left) and smaller before (right) images illustrate.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Joseph Duffy is a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and a regular contributor to HME Business and Respiratory & Sleep Management. He can be reached via e-mail at jduffy@hmemediagroup.com or joe@prooferati.com.

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