I have been involved in the HME/DME business from the
manufacturer’s perspective going on three years as vice president of marketing
for Harmar. I have worked with a variety of our distributors, retailers and
strategic partners that are each trying to position themselves in the market to
grow their home access sales and enter this lucrative, cash sales market. We
frequently discuss pricing incentives, promotional strategies, networking and
lead generation challenges. In my role, I use my education and experience to
offer up strategies to assist and guide our customers. And while (hopefully)
some of that has been beneficial to our customers, it wasn’t until recently that
I got my real life lesson.
You see, my 80-year-old father was hit by a car while walking across a
parking lot. After a long wait in the Emergency Room, we thought he was just
bruised and banged up. But after his follow-up appointment the next day, we
learned he has a hairline ankle fracture, injured hip and potentially strained
rotator cuff. He had gone from being 100 percent self-sufficient to significantly,
but hopefully temporarily, immobile. Dad just became a customer in
my industry. (Gulp.)
I live 3,000 miles away from Dad which is painful and I have to rely on my
sister and our extended family to help out. (Thanks, sis!) The next step was to
find the right resources to take care of his needs. So, off they went to a local
HME/DME dealer that was recommended by a relative who had a very positive
experience. (It was nice to know this dealer carried Harmar products, too.)
Creating a Relationship
First off, we needed to get him the right equipment. Dad needs a device that
enables him to keep the weight off of his leg. Lots of expensive options here,
right? Powered chairs, scooters, etc. Nope. The dealer went for the best, least
expensive option, a knee-scooter. Did he sell it to him? Nope, he rented it to
Dad for a month. More importantly, he took the time to ask my family questions
and assess their other needs. He worked with Dad to ensure he was
comfortable and capable with the knee-scooter and was able to transfer in and
out of the car with my sister’s help to minimize a chance of falling. He spent
over an hour and a half with them and through additional Q&A, they also
purchased some aids for the bathroom.
What the sales consultant did was build trust. Now, due to the relationship
he has built with Dad, they are now considering a lift chair. Dad saw
some floor models at the dealership and was educated about them by the
sales consultant. Dad’s doctor, in a follow up visit, says he is a candidate for a
power chair for getting throughout the house and while out and about. That,
of course, leads to a potential vehicle lift — now we are really close to home.
This dealer has the right variety of products on display, both new and used.
This dealer now has a potentially loyal customer who is willing to consider a
broader range of products.
Back to Basics
So, we put away our fancy marketing tools, marketing practices on how to
enchant the customer, and the old trusted brochures, and we get back to
basics. How did this dealer win the business and create a significant future
- Endorsement from a trusted friend, based on a positive previous experience.
- Having a focused expertise as evidenced by associations with trusted
- Providing the right customized solution; they didn’t over-prescribe or overwhelm
The power of endorsements. The quality of service you provide makes a
lasting impression. More valuable than any postcard campaign or billboard.
Positive word-of-mouth is the ultimate state of good marketing to which any
business should aspire. So how can you capitalize on this? Implement a “tell
a friend program” for your current customers. Reward them for sharing their
experiences. Stay in touch.
Carry a strategic variety of products and have samples on hand. The
company who gets in the home first will likely win future business. They
are the incumbent. Oftentimes, it starts with a mobility device and products
for the bathroom and extends to house entry, living room, stairs and
vehicle. Demo products and/or a showroom are critical components for many
customers. Customers (like my Dad) may do some internet research, but ultimately
want to touch and feel a product before they buy it. The trusted HME/DME dealer builds the relationship with each product. How to capitalize on
that? Create a frequent buyer program or volume rewards type incentive.
Prescribe the “just right” solution. Asking your clients about their needs
before “selling” a product is critical in gaining their trust. No matter what
product or service they are there to buy – ask about their needs in the home.
And not just their needs, but others living with them too. In this case, rental
was a great call. Rental isb a cash business for you and helps people stretch
their limited funds. It gives them the comfort that they can change their mind
if the product does not meet their needs. It is very hard to know exactly what
product they need when they have to make instant decisions and aren’t sure
what level of insurance or funding will provide. They are dipping into their
own pocket. In my Dad’s case, this $45 rental will likely lead up to $5,000 in
additional business within a month and potentially double that later. And,
Dad will go back to the dealer that took care of him.
So, what does it take to add big ticket, cash sales home access equipment
to your portfolio? Stairlifts, dumbwaiters, vertical platform lifts, ramps and
personnel lifts? The most important aspect of this is people. Your people.
Having an installer, whether on the payroll or contracted is key. The manufacturers
will provide training on the technical aspects of the product. Your
company already knows the “bedside manner” aspect of the job. As an HME/DME business, your built-in advantage of getting the customers along with
having personnel for prescribing the right in-home solutions and completing
installations and training in a way that builds trust with clients, caregivers and
family is a strong recipe for success.
Hats off to Randy and the team at Ray Fisher Pharmacy for taking care of
Dad. It makes a son happy to know that he found a trustworthy provider.
Next up: Dad’s journey with in-home care. Agencies and caretakers have the
potential to be a trusted influence for home access purchases. Is this the next
untapped industry synergy opportunity? To be continued.