Incontinence supplies offer providers an area of expertise and promote
one-stop shopping for consumers.

With impending Medicare cuts and competitive bidding, DME dealers are going to have to set themselves apart from the pack. One way to accomplish that is by finding a niche, and serving incontinence needs could be the way to go.

Incontinence is an issue that exceeds the aging population, says Natasha Pietramala, division manager of Home Healthcare at incontinence products manufacturer Priva. Other conditions that might cause incontinence include diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, prostate problems and spinal cord injury, she adds.

“Now is the time for HME dealers to reinvent themselves,” Pietramala says. “Why not use this category to grow their business?”
Selling incontinence supplies attracts repeat customers, she adds. “The attention and product knowledge that the customer will get is something they won’t find at their local drugstore or mass retailer,” Pietramala explains.

Specializing in incontinence supplies also is an effective way to attract patients from food, drug and mass merchandisers into a provider’s very capable hands. Daniel Lafferty, home care marketing director for SCA Personal Care, says providers can differentiate themselves from traditional retailers by carrying a large selection of incontinence supplies not offered in retail. By doing this, providers can develop a niche and serve patients that are often confused about which products to use to manage incontinence.

“The combination of a wider selection of products with great customer service will position providers nicely in the minds of their consumers,” he says.
There’s a big opportunity for providers to grow their businesses if they can work with their local home care agencies, hospice providers and assisted living communities. Approach urologists and urology clinics with educational, treatment and reimbursement information as well, Pietramala says. Incontinence affects millions of individuals worldwide, which translates into big business for HME providers.

To get started, bring in the basics, such as absorbent products, protective underwear and light pads, says Al Ercol, vice president of home care sales at SCA Personal Care. Then consider line extension products, such as wash creams and washcloths, that bring in high margins, Lafferty suggests.
Pietramala agrees that providers should start out with the basics, such as disposable briefs, shields and bed pads, but don’t forget about the reusable market. Reusables are a viable alternative to disposables for these key reasons: They incorporate stronger material that doesn’t break up into lumps or tear easily and are economical for people with occasional incontinence.

“Simply put, this is an opportunity to drive foot traffic to your physical store, catalog or Web site by letting your existing customer base know that you are offering a product that they are more than likely already buying,” Ercol says.
“The customer that comes in to rent a hospital bed may also pick up some hospital bed linens, but why make them head over to their local Wal-Mart to pick up a bed pad or package of diapers?” Pietramala asks. “Wouldn’t you rather have that sale?”

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of HME Business.

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