A Personal Touch

A woman previously diagnosed with Osteopenie falls and breaks her hip. After total hip replacement surgery and two weeks at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, she finally goes home. Although she is relieved to be back at home, she is nervous about her new hip and she fears falling again. Although she continues with outpatient rehabilitation, her bathroom, once a place of refuge, has now become a place of fear. Slippery surfaces combined with hard porcelain tubs are dangerous. How can this woman feel safe again, especially in the privacy of her own bathroom?

More than 80 percent of home accidents occur in the bathroom, and it's considered to be the most dangerous room in the house, according to the National Safety Council. Reduced physical capability combined with a fear of falling can be daunting obstacles for someone to overcome. Whether it's someone with a new hip or an expectant mother, limitations in range of movement and a fear of slipping can affect confidence and independence. HME providers of bathroom safety equipment can help restore a sense of security by not only providing the right bath safety products, but also providing the personal touch that many consumers need.

Bath safety products are typically a less expensive alternative to expensive home modifications.

HMEs have an advantage over mass retailers in the bath safety market because they can develop a relationship with the customer and they are well versed in the quality products they provide. The HME provider knows the various reasons why a customer is in need of bathroom safety products and more importantly, understands how to make their customer feel safe again.

To effectively market to their customers, HME providers can set up a bathroom setting in their store, displaying a transfer bench, bath safety chair, raised commode or a handheld shower. By showing customers firsthand how a grab bar will make them safer in the bathroom, they are showing that they understand their customer's needs. By using an in-store displays made to look like a bathroom customers will have the ability to try out the products before purchasing them.

Jack Evans, president of Global Media Marketing, Malibu, Calif., said home health care providers have four primary means to differentiate their business from mass retailers: product, service, reliability and information.

1. Product
Bath safety products are typically a less expensive alternative to expensive home modifications. When a consumer goes to an HME store, they can look to the HME provider to show them how a specific product can meet the quality he or she seeks. Quality bath safety products now look less institutional and are often available in a variety of styles and colors for more aesthetic appeal. "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 reduced mobility," Evans said.

2. Service
Most customers appreciate personalized service no matter where they are shopping, but HMEs understand the needs of consumers with common conditions associated with aging and for others with decreased mobility. They can develop a relationship with a customer and assure that customer that they can answer any follow-up questions he or she might have. When a customer receives quality customer service, he or she will most likely become a repeat customer.

3. Reliability
HMEs educate a customer first and then demonstrate how their products will fit the customer's needs. When a customer develops trust in the HME provider, they have more confidence in their purchasing decisions.

4. Information
HME providers specialize in certain product categories and this allows them to have the information and education niche in the bath safety market. HMEs are able to answer customers' questions where employees at a larger chain might not be able to do so since they have no specialty training in the bath safety market. If customers can count on the HME for information, they are more likely to purchase a product from them.

Benefits for End Users
Bath assistive devices, while purchased more reactively than preventively, are becoming more commonplace household items to help users move around and use the bathroom more safely and self-assuredly. These products include bath chairs, transfer benches, elevated toilet seats, grab rails and bars as well as handheld showers. In a Bath Assistive Device study of dozens of men and women 55 and older by Creative Specialties International, there are four main benefits for users of bath assistive devices:

1. Safety
Users of bath assistive devices seek safety from these products, probably the underlying reason why they are alternately known as bath safety products. Customers are looking for products that are "sturdy" and "secure." Because falling and slipping are additional concerns, bath assistive devices that are easy to get on and off that have slip-resistant hand grips -- or sometimes even simple locking mechanisms -- are especially appreciated.

2. Comfort
Since bath assistive products have a reputation as institutional or medical devices, plenty of room for improvement exists in the area of comfort. As these products are part of users' daily lives -- shapes and composition do matter -- more rounded contours and softer, warmer materials are valued.

3. Storage
As with just about anyone, clutter is an issue in the bathroom. Users liked the idea of well-placed storage bins or compartments, especially on a bath chair, to make the right number of frequently used items easily accessible but discreetly stored. Some consumers embrace the idea of bath chairs that fold up for storage when not in use as long as safety of construction was assured and reassembly was a quick, simple procedure.

4. Style
To date, consumer expectations for style in this institutionally focused product category may have been minimized, but the mention of style brought smiles to the faces of study participants. They liked the concept of coordinating colors, contoured shapes and dimensions that work with their bodies as well as within the layout and décor of their bathrooms.

Bath Safety Marketing Tips

  • Build referral sources and relationships

  • Design brochures for referral sources

  • Provide your customer with literature in every customer purchase and available at the register

  • Use in-store displays

  • Develop a relationship with local media and schedule advertising

  • Present your products with a real bathroom design in your store

  • Bring the products to your customers after a referral

  • Use add-on sales - customers who might come in for a grab bar might benefit from a shower chair

  • Use coupons and rebates to reward loyal customers

Customers continue to seek products that facilitate their independence, despite being faced with decreased mobility or conditions related to aging. Customers may think they are shopping for a transfer bench or shower chair, but HMEs know that they are really providing their customers with security and safety.

This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of HME Business.

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