Retail Trends

Americans are aging. Seniors are becoming less mobile. Their adult children are becoming their caregivers. We know these basic demographic facts.

How can home healthcare (HHC) providers take advantage of this growing need for their products and services? Several core competencies have evolved in retailing that differentiate successful businesses from their competition. These are positioning, merchandising and marketing.

Position Your Business
The one fundamental difference between HHC providers and mass market retailers is that HHC providers strive to improve the quality of their customer's (or patient's) life. Mass market retailers simply sell basic (good) commodity products at discount prices. The knowledgeable providers who sell HHC products are professionals such as pharmacists, nurses, therapists, trained technicians and fitters. They educate customers first, then demonstrate how specific quality (better and best) HHC products meet their needs. Finally, they sell in response to fulfilling these needs.

There are four primary means to differentiate retail businesses in the HHC market: product, service, reliability and information. Many HHC providers specialize in market niches in which they sell products or provide educational and support services as the result of their professional staff's specific training and/or skills, such as rehab, respiratory, IV infusion, mobility, diabetes, compression or women's health.

Home health care is primarily an information business, because patients and consumers do not necessarily know what products or services are available that will meet their needs and improve the quality of their lives. The niche marketing goal of HHC providers is to become the primary source of information and education for their respective category of HHC products and services. Statistically, once a retail business accomplishes this marketing goal, then 75 percent of the customers who depend upon them for information will also buy related product when the need arises.

Merchandise to Touch, Try & Buy
The HHC market is literally a "hands-on" business, because patients and customers need to try out these products before they buy them. Often a product's direct personal benefits are not easily visible or understandable and must be explained by a professional salesperson.

Other products must be used to appreciate. For example, walkers and canes will not sell when hung from a wall or placed upon a pedestal, because customers must walk around using them first before they buy. Back cushions don't sell by sitting on shelves, but from being tried by customers who are seated in the pharmacy's waiting area chairs.

The best educational tools that HHC providers use are retail displays that demonstrate products in their respective settings. Bedroom, bathroom and kitchen room settings visually show customers how numerous related and impulse products will meet their similar needs. Cross-selling related products displayed in these settings produces the highest product turns in the HHC market. For example, a customer requesting an elevated toilet seat would first find a related grab bar to also be helpful, and then see how a bath bench meets a similar need due to their reduced mobility.

These products are only part of the retail packages provided by their suppliers to increase sales. Marketing and merchandising aids that help sell-through products include:

  • Point-of-purchase (POP) displays to both attract and educate consumers.
  • Shelf signage and literature to direct and inform customers.
  • Retail packaging that is eye-catching and personal-benefit oriented.
  • Coupons and rebates to reward loyal customers.
  • Co-op advertising programs to help increase the retailer's ad frequency and retail traffic.

Demographic Merchandising
Although there are core HHC categories such as mobility (i.e., canes, walkers and scooters), bath safety, incontinence/urologicals, rehab and respiratory, no one product mix works for every HHC provider. Successful HHC providers use customer demographics to merchandise their showrooms for increased turns and higher returns-on-investment (ROI). By knowing who the customers are in regard to age and sex, HHC providers can merchandise basic demand products and then stock and cross-sell related and impulse items.

Three basic groups of customers exist in HHC:

  • Seniors who are buying for themselves.
  • Caregivers who are buying for these senior patients or family members.
  • Baby boomers who are buying self-care products.

Seniors are usually repeat customers for disposable (demand) products such as those for incontinence and wound care. Top selling add-on (related) and impulse products that appeal to their similar needs or values include bath safety, mobility and aids to daily living (ADLs).

Caregivers buy personal products that relate to their respective age and sex: senior females buy incontinence products and ADLs, while middle-aged professionals buy self-diagnostics and soft goods. The average caregiver is a 55+-year-old female caring for her spouse or aged parent.

Baby boomers are also 50-year-old customers, except that they represent both sexes. These boomers usually are loyal shoppers who return to buy self-diagnostic kits, diabetes supplies, orthopedic supports and creature comforts such as soft goods, hot/cold therapy and compression stockings.

Marketing on a Daily Basis
Before customers will even think of shopping at a specific drug store or HME provider to buy HHC products, that retailer must generate interest and an increased level of understanding about home health care. Begin this educational process by marketing generic information on HHC categories, disease state management and health and wellness education at every point of contact with customers: in-store sales, delivery, support groups, community events, inservices, open houses, health fairs, direct mail and advertising.

Develop a marketing program to highlight and sell specific categories on a seasonal or quarterly basis, such as mobility in the spring, sports rehab in the summer and respiratory in the fall/winter. Then build momentum with a marketing plan:

  • Select the respective products in coordination with available co-op programs, merchandising aids and collateral marketing literature.
  • Use generic literature stuffers in every customer purchase, handouts at each register, and stuffers in every statement.
  • Schedule advertising to spotlight the category and products.
  • Hold a seminar or community event such as a "Diabetes Awareness Day."
  • Target appropriate referral sources with inservices on the diagnosis, not to sell product but to demonstrate how they can better care for these patients at home.
  • Advertise related products frequently with continuity, i.e., weekly in newspapers for three out of four weeks and three or four days per week for two or three weeks on radio or cable TV.

Marketing on a coordinated and continuous schedule will help to create the consumer's perception of an HHC provider as the primary community supplier of HHC products and services. Advertising with frequency and repetition will reinforce their store choice and remind them repeatedly that they made the right decision.

Developing a successful HHC business is no different from other retail concerns.

Sell customers HHC products that meet their needs and expectations. Then these loyal customers will keep returning to buy more, generating more sales per customer and higher profit margins for years to come.

Evans, president of Global Media Marketing, is a home health care marketing specialist who creates advertising and marketing programs for home health suppliers, pharmacists, manufacturers, distributors, managed care organizations and third-party payers. Evans also presents seminars on retailing, marketing and sales training. Global Media Marketing, 5703 Calpine, Malibu, CA 90265; (310) 457-7333; fax: (310) 589-5733; email:

This article originally appeared in the October 2000 issue of HME Business.

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