Reaching Baby Boomers
The Baby Boom is not like previous generations of HME customers. Are your products, marketing and sales efforts connecting in the way that they should?
- By Joseph Duffy
- Dec 01, 2017
Acting as both customer and caretaker, baby boomers are a prime demographic for HME providers, but they’re not like their parents in terms of lifestyle, overall health and buying habits. What do you need to do in order to ensure you are truly reaching this choice group of decision makers?
The baby boomer market is just that – booming. Baby boomers and their parents (the Silent Generation) own 80 percent of American household wealth, according to the The Motley Fool. This puts baby boomers in the position of having discretionary income for their own health-related needs while in many cases acting as caregivers to their elderly relatives.
With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, this massive market is facing health issues that HME providers must address. According to Scripps, some of the health-related issues baby boomers are or likely will be facing in their lifetime include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Eye issues
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Arthritis and joint replacement
Although the competition for their business is fierce, baby boomers’ desire to remain independent and live out their lives at home are significant selling points that the HME industry should capitalize on. So to help you better connect with this prime demographic, HME Business magazine talked with HME industry experts to help you find the right formula for connecting with the baby boomer generation.
Bianca Araújo-Méndez, retail marketing manager fo Compass Health Brands, says that baby boomer wealth is part of the reason baby boomers are changing today’s shopping trends. And knowing how they shop better prepares you to meet their expectations.
“This is important because not only do boomers have discretionary income for their own health-related issues, but many of them are making HME health-related decisions for their parents and other elderly relatives,” she explains. “And they have a lot of time of their hands, due to transitioning from full time employment to retirement. This allows them to take the time to do research on concise purchase decisions. More than half of baby boomers shop online, and as their mobility tends to diminish, the frequency of in-store shopping may decline. With that, we know perks like free shipping and product reviews play an important role in their purchase decisions.”
For Tim Rutti, president of Vally Medical Supplies, when boomers visit his store, having a wide selection is key and having fully-loaded merchandise (all accessories included) on the salesroom floor get the attention and sales from baby boomers. He also says baby boomers expect a warranty on products and services, a fair return policy, and an accessible list of product specs.
Jeff Rukas, vice president of sales and marketing for provider Blackburn’s, explains that his company’s focus is on baby boomers as caretakers for elderly parents and loved ones.
“Baby boomers are generally the individuals calling, searching online, stopping at our showrooms and making appointments at our Accessibility Center,” he notes. “We have all the standard items available for them, including hospital beds, stair lifts, lift chairs, grab bars, and bathroom aids. But with that being said we are more focused, from a private pay standpoint, on higher-end items that might be needed to make the home accessible. These include curved stairlifts, modular ramps, vertical platform lifts and overhead lifts.”
Consultant Ty Bello, RCC, president and founder of sales and marketing coaching firm Team@Work, says he believes that baby boomers will continue the need to address health issues surrounding incontinence, wound care, and bathing and bed supplies.
“With 25 percent to 35 percent of men and women in the U.S. having urinary incontinence, this sector is estimated by Ad Age to be a $1.6 billion business,” he says. “With baby boomers staying in their homes and not transitioning to long-term care facilities, wound care will continue to rise for the HME retail provider. The percentage of adults age 65 and older staying in their homes is estimated to be 87 percent. This will also lend to the increase of bathing and bed supply sales for the HME retail provider.”
Products That Meet Baby Boomer Needs
McKesson, a large medical supplies company, considers that the consequences from diabetes, obesity and hypertension are the top ailments facing baby boomers today. They carry products that cover these categories, including urinary incontinence, which has been linked to obesity, prostate issues and aging.
“It’s never been a very well publicized medical condition,” says Cheryl L. Hutton, BSN, RN, CWON, clinical director at McKesson Medical-Surgical. “Even though we’ve known that it’s been an issue for years, the message that the healthcare community wants to get out right now is that incontinence is not a normal part of aging. The majority of sufferers are most likely not even talking to their doctors about it, and, instead, are out there trying to find a solution in the retail environment.”
According to her counterpart, Susan Wood, RN, BSN, PhD, WCC, FAPWCA, LLE, clinical educator and consultant with McKesson Medical-Surgical, products that HME retailers should carry include pull-ups, diapers and liners. And carrying several brands and sizes is important, because each product will have different levels of comfort and absorbency for patients.
“One of the biggest challenges that we even see in long-term care facilities and hospitals is that the staff doesn’t understand how to properly size the incontinence products for the patients,” Hutton says. “That’s very important so that they don’t have a failure. Wipes are also an important product to carry. They come in handy for baby boomers, who are on the run, very busy and in the workforce.”
As mentioned previously, boomers are savvy Internet shoppers. As some may find the incontinence product category embarrassing to buy in-store, Hutton suggests making sure boomers can purchase these items from your website.
When it comes to wound care, Hutton explains that the three biggest baby boomer disease states that cause wounds are diabetes mellitus, peripheral artery disease and chronic venous insufficiency.
“DME providers need to know what those disease processes mean,” Hutton notes. “For example, the type of wound that a diabetic might have would be very different than someone who had a venous insufficiency wound. There has to be some clinical education on the part of the customer service people who would know what type of products would be most commonly requested in those specific chronic disease processes. In diabetes, the big issue is that people can’t feel their feet. There is neuropathy.”
Wood said that advanced wound care patients typically purchase roll gauze, saline, tape, cotton swabs, tubular elastic gauze, topical antibiotics and gloves.
“Baby boomers have a strong desire to live independently in their own homes and remain a part of their communities,” Araújo-Méndez says. “For most seniors, their homes lack the necessary structural features and support systems they need to live independently. When it comes to categories, bath safety products are a top category, along with personal care products as a close second. However, baby boomers don’t want the standard bath bench that they saw their parents use. They want innovative products that blend nicely into their homes and look less institutional while providing them with the same functionality.”
Araújo-Méndez adds that baby boomers who suffer from limited mobility due to aging, diseases, or rehabilitation would benefit the most from bath safety products, homecare bedroom products and personal care products.
“Popular bathing products to carry in an HME showroom include seats, benches, grab bars, hand-held showers, non-slip bath mats, foot scrubbers and long-handled sponges,” she explains. “It’s important and crucial to think of the consumer’s day to day and provide solutions to help facilitate ease, which allows them to continue to be independent. For the bedroom, products to carry in your showroom should include handles, rails that assist getting in and out of bed, transfer products, any kind of table or bed tray, bed pads, sleep covers, and orthopedic pillows.”
Display these products where customers can see and touch them and provide at-shelf education that visually shows the benefits of the category to the shopper, she advises. Consider displaying bathing products by the bed products because they go hand-in-hand.
Carex Health Brands offers its ‘endless isle technology,’ which is an application that displays at-shelf education and all the products available so the dealer can offer the entire Carex line without taking up valuable showroom space.
“Based on our learnings, it’s really about providing a holistic journey for someone, to allow the customer to feel empowered and assured with their purchase decision,” she says. “The endless isle application we developed helps with all of this.”
Rutti recommends carrying compression, with best and better options. He also says nice retail packaging can help make the sale and suggested that Nova had great looking packaging for their bathroom products, while Incrediwear has attractive packaging for its recovery products.
Some of the top marketing strategies Rutti employs to hit the boomer market include:
- Radio ads — We run radio ads on both a local news station and the main local sports station. The ads run on the sports station are focused on baby boomers in the role of caretaker. The news ads are focused on the consumer themselves.
- Traditional print ads — clipper magazine, senior newsletters, direct mail
- Education — extensive focus on both internal and external education
- Product Display — We have products displayed in showrooms and also in our Home Accessibility Center, which is in a nearby shopping mall
- Digital — Website (including links to manufacturers website), social media (Facebook and Twitter), Google.
Rutti recommends to re-merchandise often to keep things fresh and give customers a new experience each time they come to the store.
“And if products don’t sell, swallow your pride, clear it out and make room for something new or expand on what’s working,” he says. “Finally, be an educator not a salesperson. We’ve had the best results with spending time and being empathetic to gain customer trust and loyalty.”
More on Caregivers
“Caregivers are the thriving force in assisting the quality of life for baby boomers,” Araújo-Méndez says. “It’s important to also include them in the equation from a sales and marketing perspective. If an elderly person can’t go to the store and purchase a urinal, who will do it for them? Most likely a loved one. That is why it’s important to not forget about caregivers, as they will go out of their way to care for their loved ones.”
She also points out that it’s not just baby boomers whom HME providers should be catering to. Often, a son or daughter is the one coming in to ask questions and look at products. And likely they will want the transaction to be completed that day and as quickly as possible. Having demonstration areas in a showroom can help educate seniors and their family members on all the product options that are available to them to help make them safer and feel more secure. So, it’s important that you can communicate what product will work best and that you are able to deliver the items on the spot.
Rukas, who notes his company’s marketing strategy includes targeting caregivers, says his company tries to position itself as a trusted resource to baby boomers.
“We truly try to educate both referral sources and potential customers anytime we get the opportunity,” he says. “Also, many of the items that are purchased by baby boomers are add-ons to what is our core business, for example, a private pay purchase of a modular ramp by an existing rehab customer. This is where we are able to provide the greatest value for our current customers.”
Future Trends for Baby Boomers
So what will happen in the future in terms of HME and boomers? Bello says that, “HME Retailers must remember that they are competing directly with the home improvement stores for some of these supplies and the continued eruption of on-line sales for medical supplies will always be a competitor.
“HME retailers, aside from their digital footprint, need to become the supplier of choice,” he continues. “They must not just engage the consumers they will ultimately supply the product for, but also their families. After all, their families are typically their children, who today order their groceries on-line and have them delivered to their home. HME retailer are competing not just with the home improvement stores and online purchasing — they are competing with ease of use and access.”
“Baby boomers will continue to shop traditionally and digitally,” Araújo-Méndez adds. “They love Facebook and online reviews, but they also love roaming the aisles. HME providers should consider becoming product experts. They should be an extension of the baby boomer’s life. As Medicare coverage declines, lots of these products are transitioning into cash sales. With that, for traditional retail, I suggest displaying products out of the box, hanging up engaging signage, and creating flash promos and discounts. Become a one-stop shop and provide solutions to set their home up for success.”
Yet, HME providers must continue to concentrate on service, which will keep boomers coming in the store, according to Bello.
“HME providers must make the community, consumer, and caregivers aware of the services and value they offer,” he advises. “They need to be diligent in demonstrating that while supplies may be purchased online, the services and value we add as a local provider is far greater. The mantra for the HME retailer needs to be ‘There Ain’t No App for Service and Care.’ The relational side of selling must be a powerful tool in the capturing of this market. This goes beyond being the corner pharmacy or grocery like in the old days. The HME retailer must not only have a brand identity, but also the training, education, empathy, and service that the consumer and caregiver cannot get in an app.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of HME Business.