Product & Technology
The Fast Track to Retail
A look at some product categories that offer easy on-ramps into cash sales.
- By David Kopf
- Dec 01, 2011
In trying to pick the best pathway to retail revenue, many providers are simply stuck at trying to find a trailhead; some starting place that will let them start their journey. That starts with picking the right product categories. Fortunately, there are a number of retail-ready product offerings that offer providers a firm foothold.
Some retail product categories offer a smoother journey, where not much specialized knowledge or capabilities are required, but the margins might smaller. Some other types of retail products look more intimidating than they actually are, and can give providers the ability to ramp up into highermargin sales.
Let’s take a look at some product categories that offer providers some solid tracks for entering retails sales:
Compression represents a key opportunity for HMEs to serve a wide range new and existing patients while driving new retail revenue. Compression garments, such as compression hosiery, are used to treat a variety of conditions, including foot swelling, mild edema, varicose veins, thrombosis, varicosities of varying severities, and diabetes. While Medicare covers some compression patients, most are not funded.
Suffice it to say, the number of potential compression clients is substantial. This is where providers can help, by offering a range of compression solutions and ensuring staff can knowledgeably assist a wide range of patients.
Essentially, compression garments help provide support and increase circulation for the limbs and areas of the body suffering one condition or another. Compression is measured in millimeters of mercury and can range from 15-50 mmHg.
The ranges of compression target numerous patient needs: Lighter compression products start out at 15-20 mmHg, which are for tired, achy legs, mild edema, varicose veins and foot swelling. Levels of pressure such as 20-30 mmHg are for severe varicosities, for open face ulcers, moderate edema and post surgery. This level of compression also helps to prevent the recurrence of venous ulcers, moderate to severe varicosities during pregnancy and thrombosis. For people who have ulcers, lymphatic edema and varicosities, they typically need 30-40 mmHg. Anything beyond 40 mmHg, represents customized solutions.
This means that providers can reach out to numerous types of patients and referral partners with multiple solutions, and position themselves as an expert resource in their market. The key to having that expertise is training. Key staff need to become certified compression fitters by going to different classes and seminars that are typically put on by the manufacturers of compression products.
Aids to Daily Living
One cash sales category that nearly any HME provider can add to its lineup with little specialized expertise is aids to daily living (ADLs). Most ADLs are relatively simple devices that don’t require the same level of expertise as some of the more complex types of DME.
Also, they are the sort of items that can solve real problems for just about any kind of patient, which increases their retail appeal all the more. ADLs range from devices to help patients raise and lower themselves in and out of chairs, grabbing tools so they don’t have to bends and strain themselves, bags to hang from walkers and rollators, and similar items.
The 76 million-member Baby Boom generation and their parents represent two key market opportunities for retail ADL sales. Baby Boomers have the cash to get their parents the ADL items they need, and, as those Boomers enter retirement, they will remember the providers they worked with to help their parents when the time comes for them to acquire those very same ADLs for themselves. In fact, those Boomers might already be interested in some of the ADL items you have to offer.
More than 13 million Americans are affected by incontinence, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Most, if not all, suffer from embarrassment over their condition. Despite the large incidence of incontinence, the condition carries a stigma that makes it hard for providers to help those patients.
And these patients want help. Providers that specialize in incontinence supplies can rescue shy or embarrassed patients who have been trying to take care of themselves by shopping at food, drug and mass merchandisers. Those patients are that are often confused about which products they should use to manage their incontinence but too self conscious about their condition to ask at a traditional retailer. But an experienced provider well versed in various incontinence solutions can differentiate themselves from traditional retailers by carrying a large selection of incontinence supplies not offered in retail.
The key is to make it comfortable, accessible and above all private for the patient to come into the place of business. In order to get incontinence patients to come into your business and openly answer questions about their condition so that you can help them, you must create a comfortable, private space — a sort of “consultation room” — that provides a venue for such a discussion to take place.
But that’s half the battle. To truly establish a level of expertise that will generate the sorts of referrals you need to support retail volume, a provider must deploy professional, well-trained, professional staff members to the task of working with incontinence patients. To get them well versed in which solutions work for different types of patients, research what education is available from your state association or member service organization/buying group, if you are a member. Alternatively, consider hiring a registered nurse to meet with staff to review basic concepts and treatment steps for incontinence.
In fact, patients get embarrassed enough, that you might actually be working with intermediaries. It is not uncommon for caregivers and families to come into provider retail locations and start shopping on the patient’s behalf. Rather than try to carry out the process via an intermediary, explain to the go-between why face-to-face consultation will yield the most successful outcome, as well as the various steps you have taken to secure the patient’s privacy.
Patients of all sorts need to use the bathroom throughout the day, which gives providers a good retail route for reaching markets such as bariatric, geriatric and mobility patients, for whom bathing can pose both frustration and safety hazards. Stepping into a shower stall or tub poses the risk of falls for geriatric and bariatric patients, and for mobility patients, bathing comes with even more complications due to their mobility limitations. Moreover, if bathing complications result in reduced frequency of bathing, this can mean that a patient risks hygiene issues that can cause sores and infections.
Fortunately, HME providers are in a position to help. There is a multiplicity of bath safety offerings available to help them ensure their patients are able to bathe safely. For geriatric and bariatric patients, a primary concern is falls. Older and overweight patients can suffer severe injuries from a fall; bariatric patients because of their weight and geriatric patients because of their age. So strategically placed grab bars and rails are important, as well as bathing benches or chairs and non-skid surfaces for the shower or tub.
Bariatric patients also run additional risks from average bathroom fixtures failing on them, since those standard fixtures cannot support a bariatric patient’s weight. Products such as sinks and toilets that are built to support bariatric patients’ weight are excellent cash sales opportunities.
For patients with mobility limitations, when it comes to bathing, patients might require special shower chairs or transfer chairs that let them transition from their regular wheelchair into the shower. However it is the sorts of more detailed bath safety needs required by customer groups such as mobility patients where greater needs might be able to give a provider an opportunity to offer even more specialized retail expertise.
For instance, mobility patients might be fully capable of performing all their bathroom tasks on their own, as long as they have freedom of movement. But if they don’t the provider might want to partner up with a contractors who specialize in bathroom remodels. Look for is contractors with the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist designation from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB), or Certified Environmental Access Consultant (CEAC) credentials from the VGM Group’s Accessible Home Improvement of America (AHIA) network.
Home access is very similar to bath safety in that it offers some easier entry points into a key retail need, but also has a growth track into more complex and more lucrative offerings. A provider needn’t have to start with major remodels of a home to be a competent home access provider. In fact, a good place to start is access ramps and patient lifts for simply getting into and out of the house. Even simpler? Start with threshold ramps for simply getting through the door, as well moving from room to room.
But the smart play is to go into home access with a plan. In the same way as providing bath safety, start working with local experts such as CEAC or Aging in Place contractors who offer whole remodels. Then you can start thinking about the retail products that best complement their offerings so that you can help draw an entire “home access picture” for the patient. Otherwise, if you offer just some odds and ends, you risk providing a piecemeal solution with components that do not necessarily function well with other offerings being used in your marketplace.
One of the most attractive retail sales items from a revenue standpoint is auto access. That said, auto access can also represents a major learning curve and capital outlay — if you want to do it all. The higher-end solutions require special tools, workspace, additional equipment, and deep level of product, automotive and mechanical expertise. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Auto access solutions cover a whole range of solutions for patients, and some offer very easy entry points for providers interested in helping patients take things on the road. One of the best places to start is with ramps, which offer perhaps the easiest way to break into providing auto access.
Usually ramps are used for patients that are traveling with a caregiver who can help them get in and out of the vehicle and that take care of getting the mobility device in and out of the vehicle. Or they can be used for patients with only limited mobility that can be ambulatory for short durations of time and that are capability of setting up the ramp and loading and unloading the device on their own.
As providers travel further down the road, and pick up some additional experience and expertise, they can start offering vehicle ramps. These are devices that attach to a vehicle and allow a power mobility device user or caregiver to roll the device onto the lift, secure it and hit the road.
Unlike a vehicle conversion, attaching a lift doesn’t require the provider to make vehicle modifications. Often all that is required is a trailer hitch and power. From there, installation can be relatively simple and many attach via a class two or three hitch. In terms of power, some lifts carry their own rechargeable battery, so that they don’t have to be connected to the car’s electrical system.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of HME Business.