Dealers Discuss: R. Paige Popovic, Marketing Specialist, Memorial Home Care

You recently built a retail gallery. Describe the project.
It was a project that was about two years in the making. It's part of the home base for a full-service home care agency. The retail gallery really is the area of our business that the community at large sees the most. We really wanted the gallery to be focused on a "wow" experience. There's the bubbling fountain in the seating area to exemplify how we place our customers at the heart of our operations.

Another big thing for us was respecting the privacy of our customers during their shopping experience because they really do come to us at vulnerable times in their lives. For the most part, our customers don't really want to be visiting a home care store. They're there to buy something that they really do need. So, we set up four full-service kiosks that allow customers to speak privately with our service representatives. That way, they can discuss health issues and complete their transaction all in one place so that they can maintain privacy and we can keep up our high level of customer service.

We've had great comments from customers. The kiosks are screened with custom glass slats that have bamboo shoots in them. Really, the whole theme of the store is living well. You'll see a lot of live plants, special touches in the woodwork and the glass. We have custom portraits of real customer of ours to keep them in mind at all times. We have three private fitting rooms now and one of them is dedicated to respiratory product fittings.

I think from the respiratory part of it, with that extra fitting room, it's very important for us because it allows customers to walk in and see the technology that's available. They can touch and they can feel the products. They can try on different masks if they're a CPAP customer. We have a respiratory therapist that's on call for walk-in customers and questions. We have really gone toward the end of retail with extended hours for our therapists, from early morning at 7 all the way past working hours to about 7 p.m.

Retail is a model that a lot of home care providers are moving toward. Do you have any advice?
Generally speaking, the biggest challenge for a home care store is the delicate balance between serving people's medical needs — because that's really why they're coming to you — and still keeping that retail feel. That's a hard balance to maintain because, for example, one of the things that you want to be able to do is serve your customers as quickly as possible. We have a standard that we don't want our customers to leave our store without knowing what they're going to owe for their products. So, of course, that means dealing with insurance companies while they're here and making sure that you have a prescription for the product. Being able to do that in an environment that people are comfortable and waiting in and still keeping their health concerns private is probably the hardest thing you have to do.

What benefits are you seeing from the store?
We've seen an increase in foot traffic in this store vs. the last store. We're in a better location. They say when you're going retail: location, location, location. The other thing that I've seen is that it's a nicer environment for our employees to work in. The happier your employees are, the better service that they give to your customers.

You mentioned that you have RTs on call in the store. Has that changed the way that you're helping patients outside of the home?
No. We have four respiratory therapists on staff so they are responsible for both the store as well as fittings in the home, which is where we do most of our fittings because we still believe that that's the best place … at least for that initial fitting. But we've spread out their schedules so that they're staggered, so that they can cover more of a retail model of time. One of the techs will come in earlier in the morning and leave earlier in the day, and another tech will come in later in the day but stay until 7 at night. We just (adjusted) their schedules to make them fit the extended hours but still to maintain enough coverage for everything else they have to do, which is a lot.

What area of respiratory has your retail store helped with the most?
CPAP fits the retail model best for us and we've definitely seen an increase in rentals of respiratory equipment, both CPAP and oxygen.

This article originally appeared in the Respiratory Management Jan/Feb 2008 issue of HME Business.

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