Observation Deck

The Changing Nature of 'Seniors'

HME providers and manufacturers alike are learning how to reach Baby Boomers.

The nature of “senior” DME users and purchasers is changing. That’s a reality that is being felt not only by HME providers, but manufacturers, as well. For instance, since Harmar was founded in 1998, we have focused throughout our brief but active history on helping seniors and others who are facing mobility challenges. We started with a mobility lift designed to carry scooters and wheelchairs inside or onto vehicles for people with limited physical mobility. Since then, we’ve come to manufacture and offer more than 400 products and accessories.

And, while many of Harmar’s products are sought by seniors, it is quite self-evident to many of us Boomers (those of us who were born between 1946 and 1964) that as we approach that category, we’re aging differently than our parents. Sure, the gray hair and reading glasses haven’t changed, yet we’re more committed to, and expect a healthy middle and senior aging experience. Also, we’re more comfortable with technology and more pointedly the Internet. While my 86-year-old mother wouldn’t think of perusing the ‘Net for her health needs, send my Mom a catalog, and you’re “in the game!”

Personally, I regularly employ the Internet as a resource with a few apps that I use daily. However, when it comes to a significant purchase, such as a stair lift or platform lift for my home, I want to see it, touch it, ride it and talk to a dealer. The only tool belt in my house is if a Bob Vila ‘This Old Home’ rerun is on. Yet, similarly, the Amazon Prime constituency among us (my wife) may not want to go into the local dealership and will take installation claims at face value. For her, the Internet is less about price shopping than the means to look for pictures, features and reviews, plus a desire to understand the array of quality alternatives available.

Supporting the Customer

And we cannot forget that these products still have a long way to go to reach general awareness status. They even face a little resistance from potential users who are holding on to their pride that needs to be overcome. Stair lifts, vehicle lifts, and pool lifts are starting to appear in pop-culture on mainstream television shows, in non-related commercials and even some focused product placement.

Thus, in my family unit, we have an array of buying patterns. Of interest is that in the cash-pay (non third-party reimbursement) side of the market where Harmar operates, each of these channels (dealer, mail-order, internet, mass-market direct) has seen a rise in revenue as the demographics of America continue to support the burgeoning mobility and accessibility segment. Though each channel eyes the alternative warily, Harmar has chosen to support the consumer in the fashion they want to buy.

In recognition of the consumer’s interest in quality, service and technology, Harmar is investing in capabilities to help the consumer view which independent dealer has a Harmar products in stock. We’re providing the consumer instant installation verification, allowing our dealer and installer partners (as well as Harmar) to get paid more rapidly, plus systems that also allow us to assure the consumer that our installation partners are en-route, with a picture of the installer such that our Moms and Dads know when and who will be at their door with a valued product and service.

It’s about providing an “easy-to-do-business: customer experience for both the distribution channel and the end-user. We think so strongly about this responsibility that we’ve repurposed several key managers and executives with the implementation of this mission.

Driven by the dual impetus of rising demand and demographics favoring seniors, Harmar will double capacity between today and the end of 2016. Our dealers are less interested in buying ten lifts for a meaningful discount and carrying them in inventory than Harmar shipping lifts the day of order (Mobility) or next day (Access). Though we’re close on Mobility and expect same day shipments to be the norm in 2015, Access will require additional capacity, which is underway shortly.

The Price of Entry

Harmar’s dealers install more than 2,500 lifts a month for seniors and veterans, and we work diligently to improve our products’ installability. We get reports all the time related to this. My favorite was the gentlemen, a one-man dealership, who had three hours until his wife arrived at the airport when he received an urgent request for an immediate install. He was able to pick up a lift from his shop, install it at the customer’s location and still make it to the airport to pick up his wife. Quick and easy installation, personal attention and short lead times at affordable prices is the customer charter for Harmar.

At our facility in Sarasota, our training center educates more than 300 dealers annually who are intent upon staying up with industry standards and credentialing. Our course is an investment in their knowledge and helps them propose the right product for the right scenario; helps them learn how to install and troubleshoot efficiently and effectively, and gives them confidence with Harmar products. Many of our employees, including inside and outside salespeople are Certified Aging in Place Specialist. With our sales teams deployed in the market, coupled with our in-house training, we learn from our dealers as much as they learn from us.

None of this is cutting edge, yet is now the “price of entry” for a company seeking to meet the needs of Boomers, the wealthiest generation in the history of mankind, 10,000 of whom are retiring every day, a trend that will persist every day for the next 17 years! Today there are 12 million seniors between the ages of 74 and 85; that number is projected to double to 24 million by 2030.

As Steve Jobs stated, “People don’t know what they want until you show them.” We see our mandate at Harmar to partner with our dealers to educate the consumer, allowing them to make informed and appropriate decisions around products that will enrich their lives.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Drew McCartney is president and CEO of Sarasota, Fla.-based Harmar (www.harmar.com), which manufacturers a range of auto lifts, stair lifts, platform lifts, pool lifts and related accessories for a variety of uses ranging from mobility patients to seniors.

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