Business Solutions

Senior Retail Categories: The Obvious and the Not-so-Obvious

When looking at senior retail, one of the first things a provider will consider is what product categories are the right fit. The short answer is that there are many. In fact, nearly everything that providers currently offer seniors should be available as a cash sales item.

True, many seniors live on fixed income, but many do not. Some seniors have engaged in retirement planning that has allowed them to enjoy the finer things in life, including retail DME. Moreover, those seniors that are on fixed incomes often have children and other family members who are ready, willing and able to help foot the bill for retail medical equipment and related items.

Once providers integrate those two realities into their retail plans, it becomes glaringly clear that there is a whole world of retail items available to offer seniors. Let’s look at some obvious categories first:

Daily Living Aids. This is the old friend of retail HME. Many providers are well versed in this broad category of items that simply make life easier for patients and help them maintain their independence. The VGM Retail team (Rob Baumhover, general director; Maria Markusen, director of operations and development; Nicole Honzik, director of merchandising and stores; Chris Thompson, creative director; Rachel Harris, account manager; and Staci Langel, customer services) gives several examples of these products:

  • Reachers
  • Magnifiers
  • Talking aids
  • Low vision, hearing impaired phones
  • Large display and bed vibrating alarm clocks
  • Weather alert radios
  • Fashion canes
  • Walker and wheelchair accessories: bags, baskets, cup holders, umbrellas
  • Driving aids: seat belt extenders, swivel seats, support handles, lumbar support cushions
  • Medical ID: jewelry, car visor, seat belt strap
  • Gel grip cooking utensils
  • Cooking mobility helpers: large grip, can opener aids
  • Non-skid dishes, cups, bowls
  • Talking thermometers and timers

Incontinence. Like ADLs, incontinence products are a clear stand-by when it comes to senior retail. Many seniors suffer from incontinence conditions, and feel stigmatized and embarrassed as a result. Providers that can offer a supportive, knowledgeable, and discrete incontinence supply business for them will beat out a big box retail any day — regardless of price.

Compression. Another clearly important senior cash category is compression. Many seniors need compression in order to increase circulation to improve circulation or to prevent or treat wounds. (This is especially true for diabetes patients.) But compression doesn’t just stop at wraps, hosiery and garments. There are special donning and doffing devices to help seniors put on and take off heavier compression items. Also, if a patient is wrapped as part of his or her treatment, cast bags for showering are an excellent item. Given that nearly all compression needs are unfunded, this makes it an important retail offering for seniors.

Lift chairs. Lift chairs are another obvious retail item for senior patients, who often find it difficult to get into and out of chairs. Lift chairs come in a wide variety of styles and fabrics. Many incorporate different ranges of user controls, structural features and levels of support.

Diabetes. This is a key category given that so many seniors suffer from diabetes, and that there are a huge range of products that help seniors, from actual care management products to products aimed at treating comorbidities and related conditions. The VGM Retail team suggests these items:

  • Books and reference materials
  • Diabetes management apps and software
  • Sugar-free candy/foods
  • Protein shakes and bars
  • Food scales, portion control plates
  • Diabetic cook books
  • Weight loss books, apps
  • Wound care
  • Compression
  • Diabetic I.D. Card, car visor, jewelry
  • Digital floor scale
  • Extend body check mirror
  • Blood glucose monitoring system
  • Blood glucose test strips
  • Diabetic carry-all
  • Sterile lancet
  • Inject - assist
  • Insulated diabetic wallet
  • Insulin pocket pouch
  • Preloaded syringe carry case
  • Syringe magnifier
  • Universal PH test strips
  • Deep-healing foot cream
  • Foot pain relief cream
  • Diabetic heel care cream
  • Diabetic nail and finger cream
  • Callus therapy cream
  • Foot therapy soaking salts
  • Diabetes skin calming cream
  • Callus protectors
  • Felt corn protectors
  • Gel-ball-of foot cushion
  • GelStep insoles
  • Seamless socks
  • Bunion cushion
  • Corn protectors
  • Toe protector
  • Toe separators
  • Gel toe spacers
  • Diabetic gel socks

Bath safety. Slips and falls represent a tremendous risk for seniors, and the bathroom is usually the place in the home where this happens. There are a multiplicity of bath safety offerings that providers can offer to reduce this risk, ranging from grab bars, bathing chairs, non-slip surfaces, raised toilet seats, and hand-held showerheads to name a few. Because this is such a critical need, and these items are non-funded, this is a must-carry retail offering.

But don’t stop at the obvious items when considering your senior retail lineup. There are a many out-of-the-box product ideas that provider might not necessarily think of, but that are hands-down retail winners. They leverage HME providers’ existing relationships with senior customers, product knowledge, and market understanding. All they require is a little new thinking and creativity to turn into retail business drivers. Let’s look at them:

Senior Recreation. This is another category that VGM Retail’s experts suggest that providers carry. While recreation might seem far afield from DME, it isn’t. What business is going to have a better idea of the sorts of exercise equipment, related health products and sports items that seniors are going to be able to find beneficial, use and enjoy than HME businesses? Some of these items include:

  • Mini bike, arm exerciser and step machines
  • Free weights
  • Large print playing cards and card holder
  • Large print brain games such as Sudoku or Crossword
  • Body scales
  • Fat loss monitors
  • Pedometers
  • Waist packs with water bottle
  • Insulated hydration bottles
  • Shoe wallets
  • Walking books and gentle fitness DVDs
  • Visibility gear: LED arm bands, shoe spurs, clip lights, reflective tapes
  • Wheelchair accessories: fishing pole holder, cup holder, lights, spoke covers
  • Pain Management
  • Hot and cold therapies
  • Aromatherapy
  • Lumbar support
  • Gentle fitness
  • Hand-held massagers

Power mobility. There are many senior customers who are more than willing to purchase power mobility items, such as scooters, on a retail basis. They might not have the funding for one, or they don’t like the scooter that their insurance will cover. In fact, retail power mobility has become such an important category, that manufactures now make a wide variety of retail power mobility offerings.

Respiratory. The same story is true for oxygen equipment. There are patients that want specific portable oxygen concentrators or home filling systems, and they have the means to pay for them on their own. While manufacturers of these systems have not responded to this retail need in the same way as mobility companies, there are patients more than willing to buy these systems despite the high price tag.

Best Sellers. Last but not least, there are some items that are tried-and-true winners that providers should always stock. Consider them the “impulse buys” of the home medical equipment world. The VGM Retail team says that best items to sell for seniors for an HME retailer should be connected or related to the reimbursable areas of specialty or expertise. However, there are impulse items that sell well in any environment with a high senior traffic population. Customers will pick up these items because it’s convenient.

  • Readers
  • Medical ID jewelry
  • Healthy snacks and drinks
  • Seasonal products: summer safety, light therapies
  • Kits and bundled products: first aid kits, crutch, wheelchair and walker accessory kits

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of HME Business.

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