Showcasing DME's Retail Superstars

There are some categories of DME products that have proven themselves to be top performers when it comes to retail sales. How can DME pharmacies showcase them so that they're sure to boost the bottom line?

DME retailRetail DME items give pharmacies a solid opportunity to bolster their cash flow and grow revenue. Just like their dedicated HME/DME provider cousins, DME pharmacies can streamline the transaction between patient and provider by removing Medicare, private payor insurance carriers or any other third-party payor. By offering HME products that fall outside of Medicare-funded items, pharmacies are able to provide higher-quality, custom-fit and style-forward products that better suit individual customers.

Overall, integrating a retail DME strategy benefits both the provider and patient: The pharmacy can increase its margins by offering patients a broader range of HME products that are not funded by Medicare or a private insurance. But in order for pharmacies to make a return on a retail model, they must invest in strategies that build rapport with customers and cultivate an environment where the customers feel that their health care needs are being met — all of which begins with investigating and identifying customers’ core needs.

Rob Baumhover, VGM’s director of retail programs, says he believes that “this investigation starts with the right products carried in-store, the correct messaging on marketing materials and a long-lasting impressionable store experience. Do all these components and providers can expect increased store traffic, returning loyal customers alongside rising earnings.”

To help pharmacies start their own investigation, DME Pharmacy asked several vendors and DME pharmacies and providers to offer their best retail practices across multiple HME product categories. From engaging and educational signage to visually inviting product displays, these suppliers and providers familiar with the retail market serve up some of their best retail practices to improve the look of your front-end and move your business forward.

Incontinence

DME pharmacies understand that incontinence is a common issue. In fact, the National Association for Incontinence estimates that 25 million adults experience some form of urinary incontinence. Despite the large number of people that deal with incontinence, stigma surrounding the issue remains, leaving consumers of incontinence products feeling embarrassed when looking for a product that best suits them. The way that HME pharmacies showcase their incontinence products can go a long way in helping these consumers find what they need.

David Krieger, home health care sales manager for incontinence product maker Tranquility, says, “Most customers only know about the leading national brands.” These include brands like Depend and Poise, but just because they are well-known, doesn’t necessarily mean they will be right for every customer. It’s important to offer the best solutions based on an individual’s needs, not just what is most well-recognized.

In a survey conducted by ParentGiving.com, an online organization and resource dedicated to caregiver support, incontinence consumers noted lack of products as being top concern when attempting to manage incontinence. When customers can find the right products for them, they feel more confident to avoid accidents.

“Customers shop at DME pharmacies because of the expertise and personalized service that is provided,” Krieger explains. “Offering high-performing superabsorbent incontinence products supports customer expectations to find ‘prescription strength’ solutions at DME stores.”

Pharmacies use signage to make it easier for customers to know that incontinence solutions are available and where they are located in the store. Customers who prefer discretion when shopping for incontinence products will appreciate a clearly marked store where they can navigate to the products without asking a lot of questions.

“These are consumable products that will turn one-time purchasers into loyal reoccurring customers, so don’t hide the product in the stockroom,” Krieger notes. In addition to displaying the products on a shelf with signage, Krieger suggests offering free samples to customers, placing them clearly throughout the store or at the check-out.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that incontinence is not an isolated medical issue; it can be related to diabetes or limited mobility, among other things. In this case, Krieger recommends cross-selling. For example, “if they are buying diabetic supplies,” Krieger suggests asking, “do they need incontinence products?” Additionally, pharmacies should insert information about incontinence with other medical equipment supplies to let customers know what products are available.

Compression

From seniors to diabetic customers to those undergoing cancer treatment or wound care, compression products are essential, but few insurance providers, either private or otherwise, fund compression items. Because of the coverage gap, compression presents an important cash category for DME pharmacies. But in order to take full advantage this position, pharmacies should be strategic about how they merchandise their products.

For Ryan Summers, medical product manager for compression product vendor SIGVARIS, engaging the senses is a key strategy for retailing compression.

“Merchandise fun, bright colors at eye level to bring attention to the compression set. Displaying eye-catching colors can also encourage the purchase of additional pairs beyond the basic black and beige,” he says.

To create visually engaging displays, Summers suggests the “Rule of Three.” By arranging products, especially different-sized items, in groups of three, pharmacies create a dynamic display that calls customers’ attention. “We often put a thigh high on a mannequin leg with shorter calf height legs on each side to create a pyramid shape,” Summers offers as an example.

One of the things that elevates shopping for compression in-store above shopping online is a tactile, hands-on experience with the product, an experience that is particularly relevant to compression products. Summers notes that “this is especially true for hosiery because sheerer products look different on different skin tones.” Having fabric swatches close by will help customers choose which products work best for them and their skin tone.

While most of these strategies emphasize the fashion element of compression products, it is also important not to lose sight of their main purpose — medical. At Oswald’s Pharmacy in Naperville, Ill., pharmacy general manager Alex Anderson says that they have a hosiery specialist available to customers and all their DME staff and managers have been trained to measure customers for compression. Measuring customers prior to purchase cuts down on later returns.

Having knowledgeable staff on hand is ideal, but it’s not realistic for a staff member to be available every time. In place of a staff person, “Adding signage with medical education to a display helps reinforce the products’ benefits, differentiate them from other products and justify their price points,” Summers explains.

Compression doesn’t stop with socks and hosiery; it also includes special donning and doffing devices that help customers, particularly seniors, put on and remove heavy hosiery, socks and sleeves. Customers might not know that these helpful accessories exist, so pharmacies should stock them close to the core product with staff available to demonstrate how to use them.

Bath Safety

Bath safety is another product category that is not funded, despite the critical role that bath safety products play in keeping seniors, among others, safe and independent. There are a number of bath safety products that pharmacies can offer their customers, such as chairs and benches, toilet seats and rails, grab bars and tub rails.

Dave Stewart, an independent rehab product specialist working with Healthline Medical Equipment Inc., notes that online sales of bath safety products has been increasing. So, it’s important for pharmacies to provide a service and experience in-store that customers cannot get online, which means having as many products as possible available for customers to touch and try out.
If the pharmacy has enough room, Stewart suggests having a non-working toilet and bathtub. “The toilet would be used to display raised toilet seats and safety frames and to demonstrate commodes that are used over the toilet. The bathtub can be used to demonstrate transfer benches, bath seats, bath lifts, tub grab bars and the wall,” he explains.

For a customer to justify purchasing in-store and not online, they need to be able to take their products home from the store with them. “Having stock is probably the most important thing,” Stewart says. “If they have to wait for a product to be brought in they might as well buy it online themselves and have it shipped to their door.”

This also means that pharmacies should seek out suppliers that will defend brick-and-mortar stores’ use of minimum advertised price (MAP), which is the lowest price a retailer can advertise a product for sale. For Anderson, MAP pricing is essential to helping Oswald’s Pharmacy maintain a competitive edge with online stores.

“When our more tech-savvy shoppers are on Amazon on their phone while shopping our aisles, we’re the same price,” he notes.

Orthotics and Footwear

Orthotics and orthopedic devices cover a wide range of products, such as footwear, splints and braces, and posture support. Though some orthopedic and orthotic products are reimbursable through Medicare or other private insurance, customers aren’t always able to get the items they want or items that individually suit them. Customers also don’t want to wait for reimbursement before they can have access to the products that they need. Pharmacies are yet again in a position to fill a customer need while increasing cash sales.

Athletes are a large consumer base for orthotic products, like knee braces and wrist splints. Brandon Noble, director of medical sales and marketing for Vionic Group LLC, recommends rotating out orthotic displays by the check-out for injuries and aches related to specific sports seasons.

Shin splint, for example, is a common injury for runners and soccer players. “During the ‘prime’ season specific injury like shin splint, put a set-up of bracing for that particular injury around your check-out area,” he suggests.

These types of products come in different sizes, and arranging the display by size helps customers find the size they need more easily. Having staff on hand to guide customers through their purchase will ensure that they are fitted properly.

Noble also suggests video, which serves as a good selling tool but also an educational resource for customers. Pharmacies that sell orthotics should ask their suppliers if they provide any sort of video to accompany their products. “Video is another salesperson always working. Most suppliers have great video content you can loop to help support your sales efforts,” he explains.

For footwear, Alex Anderson of Oswald’s Pharmacy finds that displaying products on a wall will best draw customers’ attention.

“We use our wall of diabetic shoes to draw people’s attention into our DME department,” he says. “We have them displayed on a dark wooden slat near the back entrance.”

He adds that some suppliers that he works with provide plastic displays shelves to fit into a slatted wall to showcase the shoes, but for smaller pharmacies that can’t compromise the wall space, suppliers will also often supply spinning displays.

Whether pharmacies sell bracing and supports or footwear, having staff that is knowledgeable in the products and in sizing is key. Fitting customers with the product the product that suits them not only cuts down on returns but also creates loyal customers who will see the benefit of coming into the store for their products rather than purchasing online.

Walking Aids

For many seniors and people with limited mobility, walking aids are a daily need that HME pharmacies are positioned to meet. People who require walking aids use different kinds depending on their needs, so supplying canes is not always enough. Also, a customer might not want to wait or can’t wait to have their product ordered, delivered and sometimes assembled; providing these products in-store opens a range of options for customers.

As with other retail displays, it’s important that customers are able to touch the product before buying it. At Mobül, a home mobility store in Long Beach, Calif., walking aids are arranged to tell a story. “You can see there are the three-wheeled ones, there are the four-wheeled ones. There are the ones that work in a very narrow door pattern,” explains Mobül CEO Wayne Slavitt.

“We’re able to visually show people the product, and also be able to let them try it out,” he says. “We can demonstrate how they work, and then the customer is able to really see a good overview of options and be able to make an informed decision based upon the product.”

A display should also highlight certain distinguishing features of individual walking aids. For example, Barry Walker, vice president of sales at LifeWalker Mobility Products, says that their rollator should be “open and fully extended versus closed. Ours opens left to right, not forward to backward like most traditional rollators do. From that perspective, people can see it from their full and upright position.”

In general, if product is available, it should be on the floor for customers to see. “If you’re just storing it, it doesn’t provide any viability or any real attraction to it,” Gray adds.

In smaller pharmacies, large and extensive displays of product are not possible. But pharmacies can find ways to work with the space that they do have. If display space is possible but limited, be sure that walkers and rollators are not strapped down or elevated on a shelf. Even with smaller display space, a customer should still be able to touch and try the product.

Smaller pharmacies could also consider a video supplement when having the product open and available is not an option. “That way if customers do miss seeing the product, they can least see it in use on the video monitor,” Gray says. (See “Dollars Per Square Foot,” for more tips for small pharmacies).

Bringing It Back to the Customer

Retail strategies are not one-size-fits-all, and whether due to limited space or limited staff, some of the suggested strategies might not be possible to implement. But as pharmacies explore their options to find what practices work best for their business, it’s important to integrate Rob Baumhover’s three main retail pillars into their model:

  • Consumer involvement to help find the right products or solutions best for your customer’s lifestyle.
  • A store brand and marketing messaging that encompasses the life your customers live or want to live.
  • A store environment, in which your customers feel comfortable, valued and connected.

No matter the business model or size, pharmacies can go a long way in fulfilling all three pillars by having an educated staff that is knowledgeable about the HME products on the floor to engage thoughtfully with customers. As Slavitt explains, customers walk into the HME stores and usually have very little context about the products and the industry.

“They typically have never been in a medical equipment store, or they have never really had to care for an aging parent,” he says. “Customers look to us for guidance. They heavily look to us as being the experts, and they expect us to be able to answer questions and be able to advise them based on their situation what the best product is going to be to provide the best solutions.”

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy December 2018 issue of HME Business.

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