DME Pharmacy

Getting the Right Product Mix

The 'musts' of home medical equipment merchandising in a pharmacy setting.

Like an experienced chef testing an unfamiliar recipe, pharmacies adding DME products to their retail mix might not have the same degree of familiarity with DME items as they do with typical pharmacy products. Furthermore, many DME products are complex and serve patient niches that may be unfamiliar to the pharmacy staff. To help pharmacies with their DME retail sales, industry experts sound off regarding the differences between typical pharmacy and DME sales and offer tips for increasing your DME business.

Renae Favata-Storie, Director of Pride Field Sales and Strategic Accounts

Renae Favata-Storie“More and more, DMEs and pharmacies that sell DME have the same opportunities for retail success,” said Favata-Storie. “Gone are the days where consumers are simply looking to fill a prescription. Retail DME consumers are just that — consumers — and while they may enter a pharmacy for a specific item, an inviting showroom that displays retail DME products in an inviting way can introduce customers to products that they may not have thought of and encourage browsing and purchasing.”

The goal of an DME retail showroom is four-fold: display product, encourage browsing, create comfort, achieve a sale. An effective pharmacy DME retail space encourages customers to interact with products in an intuitive way — and having a product floor-plan inventory is key. A lift chair displayed in cozy décor, with accompanying fabrics and educational kiosk, for example, encourages a customer to first touch the plush lift chair, then sit in it, and then move to the kiosk. It’s an initially tactile impulse that leads to further exploration, followed by a conversation with a salesperson. Therefore, whether a lift chair, scooter or power chair, having well-positioned product displays with reinforcing educational and point-of-sales resources is essential.

To enhance the DME retail product display and demonstration experience, pharmacies should use advertising techniques, ranging from hang tags to posters and banners, to videos and point-of-sale accessory selections. The more ways that a pharmacy can demonstrate an HME retail product’s features and benefits, the better.

Todd Carter, Director of Sales for Pharmacy/HME, Apex Foot Health

Todd Carter“In most cases, retail product offerings are very similar in both DME and pharmacy settings,” said Carter. “Pharmacies have the advantage of a large volume walk-in business where DME businesses must beat the bushes, so to speak, and rely more heavily on referrals. A minor difference is that DMEs carry larger DME items like power chairs and beds. They are similar in that they usually carry the same smaller DME items such as lift chairs, manual wheels chairs, shoes, compression, OTC bracing and off-the-shelf cash items.”

Patient education is the key to the kingdom. At Apex, we provide pharmacies with signage to hang and display throughout the store. These collateral pieces are designed to prompt those customers with diabetes to ask their pharmacist about diabetic shoes.

Pharmacists should make the best possible use of prescription bags. Placing stickers on the outside of the bag with big and bold calls to action can be very useful. For instance, stickers that ask the question, “Are you Diabetic? You may qualify for a pair of diabetic shoes!” can both educate the consumer and drive them to have a conversation with their pharmacist for more information.

Todd Blockinger, Senior Director of Sales, The MED Group

Todd Blockinger“DME retail is different due to the fact that customers are coming in because they have a need for a supply or piece of equipment,” said Blockinger. “Often times, they come in for one thing and, if the people working the retail floor do a proper job, utilizing their expertise and delivering on the obligation of keeping people living safely and independently in their own homes for as long as possible, they leave with much more than that. Pharmacy retail differs in that the majority of customers walking through the door are coming in for a refill on their prescriptions. The challenge for the pharmacy is how to engage with that customer and see if there are any products in the store that might be needed. Also, impulsive sale products can play a large role in increasing your sales-per-customer ratio.”

Understand your products. It is extremely difficult to be successful in selling DME without knowing how the products will benefit the customer once they get them home, so educate and train all of your staff on the products you keep on your shelves within the store. Host a “lunch and learn” training session with the manufacturers who have inventory in your store — most manufacturers will jump at the opportunity to train your staff on their products. They can cover details such as adjustability and why it is important, weight capacity, where products should and should not be used, and, ultimately, why their product would be helpful to a customer. They will also be able to provide suggestions on proper product staging, offer planograms, and help with easy selling tips. These are all vital pieces of information to covey to the customer in order to have successful selling. Once your staff has a comprehensive understanding of the products you sell, they will be better at cross-selling and up-selling, which will help increase your sales-per-customer ratio.

Establish a customer e-mail list if you are not already doing so.
Some very successful companies have been utilizing their e-mail lists to help their customers stay safe and independent by informing them of sales on particular products, health fairs offering blood pressure and glucose tests, cleaning and checking CPAP machines, etc. This is a great way to attract customers to your stores, as well as keep current customers engaged. It is very easy for pharmacies to become yet another “faceless entity” in the homecare world; engaging your customers, even at a very basic level, helps you to stand out and creates loyal customers. Once you have created your customer e-mail list, decide on an e-mail schedule (do not flood their inboxes) and decide on the kind of content you want to send (make it relevant). You can spend some time once a week scheduling your e-mails to send automatically, which will help take the work out of remembering to send at the same time and on the same day every week, or there are companies that specialize in e-mail customer contact management.

Cy Corgan, National Sales Manager, EZ-ACCESS

Cy Corgan“The challenge for pharmacies has been two-fold: the first is the Internet,” said Corgan. “E-commerce has impacted the pharmacy business, primarily the smaller to mid-size, independent owners. Typically, when caregivers are told they need a ramp for their home, they are going to go home and start searching for products online. Second, pharmacies can’t compete with the selection that is online, so it comes down to how do they handle their special orders? Pharmacies don’t traditionally buy direct from the manufacturer; they usually go through a distribution partner. How they handle those special orders can make it challenging for the pharmacy.”

Have the products readily available in the store. Having the product on the shelves and in the showroom will help increase sales. EZ-ACCESS is working with pharmacies across the Midwest to place their ramp products within the store, complete with signage and educational materials.

Have a solution for special orders. Because of the confined space, pharmacies closely look at their sales per square foot. So pharmacies will certainly use the products that sell the best to occupy the space within the store. In addition, they may not be able to carry the full assortment and styles of a particular product. Therefore, they need to be able to immediately address special ordering with the product company. For example, EZ-ACCESS provides the pharmacy a card with the special order information printed on it. The special order items are already loaded into the pharmacies POS system. That way the customer knows right away that the item will be available and shipped to the store within a couple of days. Pharmacies should work with manufactures and distributers that can create special ordering with pharmacies.

Brandon Noble, CO, LO, Director of Medical Sales and Marketing, Vionic Group

Brandon Noble“In the footwear world where I am from, there really isn’t a big difference between DME and pharmacy retail,” said Noble. “It’s still the same message and still the same patient but it is a different setting. So if you embrace good retailing habits, you are going to get consistent results across all channels.”

Categorize your merchandising. For example, make sure that if you have an area for pain relief that you are combining all your pain relief items into one category. Don’t spread them around. Don’t put topicals in one spot and taping in another. Bring them into one space so when the patient comes in looking for pain relief, there’s a multiple sales opportunity in one selection area. Categorize by condition or type of treatment versus by product. It appeals to the senses of the consumer more. There is a specific reason (condition or treatment) why customers come into the store, which means they are likely not looking for a specific product.

Make sure your retail space is stocked and inventory is full. Don’t create an environment in which you are apologizing for your retail because you are out of an item a customer needs. When you have empty spaces on shelves or displays, it makes the customer feel you don’t care about your retail environment. Check your shelves once a day, either at the end of the day or first thing in the morning.

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy December 2016 issue of HME Business.