Business Solutions

7 Habits of Highly Effective Retail Mobility Providers

Two innovators in retail-only mobility sales share their insights into what has made their businesses success stories.

the number sevenIf there’s one corner of the HME industry has felt the imperative to move to retail sales, it is standard power mobility. Those providers have experienced so much reimbursement change that many have gravitated toward retail sales. If anything retail is where the real business exists.

And there remains a considerable market for retail mobility products. So much so that there some newcomers have entered the HME industry as retail-only providers. These new mobility professionals have never billed a DMEPOS claim in their life, but they have been cleaning up at the cash register. How?

To answer that question, I spoke with Wayne Slavitt, the founder and CEO of Mobile: the mobility store in Long Beach, Calif., and Doug Mykol, the co-owner and co-founder of New Tech Mobility LLP in Scottsdale, Ariz. Both providers have enjoyed considerable success as retail-only mobility providers, and they have both followed their own unique journeys as retail business owners and operators.

Both took some time out of their busy workdays to share seven key habits that have helped them succeed in the realm of retail mobility:

1: PRIORITIZE PRODUCT QUALITY

To begin with, a retail provider must offer products that it knows its clients will value and use, according to Slavitt. You have to stock merchandize you can stand behind, because in HME product, service and sales jointly contribute to success.

“It’s very, very simple. The decision to put a product on our floor is, we ask a very simple question, ‘Would I want my mother to use that product?’” he says. “I speak to Sue Chan about this on a regular basis. Sue Chen is, as you know, is the CEO and owner of Nova Medical Products, and we sell a lot of Nova products. I have developed a wonderful relationship with Sue over the years. And Sue tells me that we are one of the very few retailers that over the years, have begged her to sell more expensive, more feature-rich products than she does. And she says she regularly gets the question from retailers, ‘Do you have a really cheap $89 rollator? That’s what we want to sell.’ But our belief is that, ‘I wouldn’t want my mom to use that rollator because it’s going to fall apart in a couple of months. Because it’s not going to be comfortable to use, because it might even be unsafe to use.’

“At the end of the day, we as caregivers, family caregivers, trying to take care of aging parents. We are very busy in our lives. So if you can come into Mobül and you can find a product that we’re going to stand behind quality-wise, that we know is going to last a long time, you now can check that item off your list and you now know you’ve taken care of mom or dad in a way that’s going to be best for them.”

2: BE INSPIRED

As a mobility device user, Mykol says he gravitated towards “cool” product. He started with an iBOT, but after five years or so, it started having some issues and support for the product had evaporated. So he eventually landed on the WHILL Model M power wheelchair.

I think I was one of the first retail buyers in the U.S, when they came out here in 2015 and I loved it. And since I was a user and saw the pluses and minuses and the features that it had that very few others had, I decided to sell them.

So he co-founded New Tech Mobility in 2015 with his wife around the WHILL product line. That level of enthusiasm is infectious; Mykol’s excitement about WHILL’s products helps him evangelize the chairs to his customers. He likes the chairs so much that his initial enthusiasm and attraction to and affinity for the chairs still feels fresh.

“The style is important to me, and then the features are next,” he says. “As far as the cool front wheels that float instead of turn, and the seat slide are important. The first time I got my will that evening I went out with some friends for dinner, and we went to a restaurant but there were no tables available and I had to slide into a booth, but then the WHILL was in the way. So I use my remote control and sent it down to the end of the restaurant, parked it. So it was out of the way of everybody. We had this great dinner and I called it back to me at the end and slid out of the booth into the WHILL, and we left. I mean it was a perfect test track.”

That’s the kind of story and enthusiasm that will resonate deeply with any potential WHILL buyer.

3: OFFER GOOD, BETTER, BEST SELECTION

Slavitt offers a lot of products at his business and one category is rollators. Included in that lineup? A $1,195 unit, the Motion2 from Dutch manufacturer Rollz. Even the casual observer would probably raise their eyebrows at the notion of a near- $1,200 rollator, but the sleek unit with impressive design, unique features and attractive paint job sells, he says.

“When the rep from Rollz came in, I had not heard of the product nor had Roy Hannah, my general manager, who’s been in the business for almost 40 years; hadn’t heard of it. So we were very interested. The product itself is just a beautiful product.

“So I said to the rep, ‘How much does this retail for?’” he recounts. “And he said, ‘$1,195.’ I said, ‘We have a similar product from Medline. … It does the same things for $395. Who is going to pay three times that amount?’ And he said to me, ‘Wayne, you know what? I’m willing to let you have the product here for a month or so to see kind of feedback you get from customers.’

“So we left it there, he went home,” Slavitt continues. “The very next day we sold one, and it blew me away. But it also made me realize that we have an opportunity to present wonderful selections. So we’re not just selling a $200 rollator, we’re selling a $1,200 rollator and everything in between.”

And those more expensive items help sell other items. They give customers a good, better, best range that lets them decide what is the right product for their needs, wants and budget.

“We really feel that when a customer comes in and says, ‘I’m feeling a little unstable walking,’ we always will suggest a walker, and we’ll talk to them about how often they’re using it, what their mobility is, and if a rollator is what they need, then we’re going to show them what we would call the very best solution,” Slavitt explains. “Well, the very best solution is going to be the Rollz, but quite frankly, not everyone can afford a $1,200 rollator/transport chair.

“Well, no problem, no judgment at all. We will then show them a step-down product,” he continues. “It might be the Drive Nitro that retails for $395. It might be the Triumph, the Escape rollator that sells for in between $295 and $495. It might be a three-wheel walker from either Nova or Carex, that sells for $147. Or it might be the traditional rollator that Nova sells in four different sizes, and that’s going to sell for anywhere between $178, $192. But what we’re doing here, by having various choices at different price points, we’re able to find a solution that not only is going to be functionally sound, but also fits into someone’s budget.”

4: CREATE RAVING FANS

Mykol says New Tech has been driving the majority of its traffic through word of mouth and customer referrals. How? He says it comes down to service.

“You know, it’s cliché, but I’ve always been a fan of Kenneth Blanchard’s and Sheldon Bowles’s ‘Raving Fans’ book,” he says. “We firmly believe in making raving fans. So we have our customers loving our customer service, products, or how we take care of them. So we get a lot of referrals from them. And that’s been, that’s the ultimate success for us.”

And how can a provider create raving fans? Mykol says creating product familiarity goes a long way. A customer or family member will come into his store that is attracted to the WHILL’s eye-catching design and wanting to learn more. The first thing New Tech will do is learn more about the prospective user.

“We immediately take that call and get a little bit of information about height, weight, size, and what their needs are and make sure they can, because will not for everyone, it’s for select clientele that has the upper body strength and hand motion, that kind of thing,” he explains. Then the next step is getting that users to start interacting with the product.

“Then we go to their house in their environment where they’re going to use it,” Mykol says. “I think that’s one of the big differences that we take the WHILL to them to do test drives. They don’t have to come into our store or anything like that. So we let them experience the will and tight confines of their kitchen, their bathroom, their living room, out on the sidewalk, the mall, whatever it is close by.”

Once the customer buys the chair, New Tech delivers the chair to the customer, trains them on how to use it, and then touches base regularly with the client to ensure their experience is still positive.

“Any service issues or anything else is taken care of immediately,” Mykol says. “We do that ourselves also. And I think it’s just the follow-up and that constant ‘reach out and touch someone’ as they used to say at AT&T. We touch them frequently.”

And Mykol says that work to maintain healthy customer relationships pays dividends.

“We also reminds them that we do have a referral program,” he says. “We pay him a little spiff if they refer someone that buys a chair,” he says. “I have had a couple of customers make some pretty good money at it because they refer a lot of people, but at the same time they’re doing it because they like the product and they are believers in it.”

5. FOLLOW THE MONEY

Smart retailers know where they derive the lion’s share of their revenues. For Slavitt’s Mobül, his store’s retail mobility strengths are lift chairs and scooters he plays to those strengths. His store is brimming with a wide selection of items from both categories. For instance, there are so many lift chairs you might be fooled into thinking Mobül could be a furniture store.

“It didn’t take long for me to figure out that if we focus on lift chairs and scooters, we’ll do all right,” Slavitt says. “We still sell a lot of other things and that, and the lifter and scooter might not be the first thing people come in to buy, but once we get you in here, we’re going to sit you in a lift chair eventually.

“It might not be the first time, might not be the second time, but if we make the suggestion, it’s because we’ve identified a need you might have for that lift chair,” he continues. “And that’s going to be an important thing that we get to show you.”

Providing a broad range of selection on your main offerings is crucial to maximizing that category’s sales potential. And you have to back that selection up with the kind of sales and service that will seal the deal.

“I equate buying a lift chair to buying a pair of shoes,” Slavitt explains. “We want people to be able to try it on, and sit in it for a while. I tell the story often of this customer who has since passed away, but when he bought his lift chair, he brought a book with him. He said, ‘“I have a 35-minute rule.’ He said, ‘I want to sit in the chair and I want to read a book for 35 minutes. And if it feels good after 35 minutes, I’m going to buy it.’

“You want to sit in it long enough to really get a feel for how it’s going to feel,” he continues. “So we sat him there, we left him alone for a while. We never pressure-sell anyone. We never force them to buy something they’re not ready to buy. With some customers, we need to help push them along a little bit sometimes; they need a little suggestion. So we’re going to help them with color. We have color swatches and they can take them home if they want. They can try it out, whatever a customer needs to be comfortable.”

6. FOSTER PRODUCT INTERACTION

One thing Mykol has started doing and is going to make a regular part of his business is to host test drive days where users can test the chairs and enjoy some snacks or other goodies. The more prospective buyers can spend time demoing a chair, the more they can decide if it’s right for them. He advises that the provider be there as a facilitator and to answer questions more to sell. Rather, let the experience and the product convince the customer.

“People come in and they test-drive them and no charge, no pressure, no nothing,” he says. “And that also is I’m sure going to get some sales, but they can also watch what works, what doesn’t work, you know, go outside and you know, take the curb. You know, or the curb cut, you know, squeeze between cars in the parking lot. You know, all those types of things that WHILL is good for because of its compact size.”

But Mykol adds that he still thinks the best environment is for the test unit to get demoed in the user’s home.

“It’s a big difference from test driving a power chair in the store than it is in their kitchen, their bathroom, their hallways, their doorway, etc.,” he says. “I think that’s critical.”

But at the end of the day, demoing a product the more a customer tries out a product, the more that person can imagine that product in their life.

7. CREATE A STORE THAT TRULY ENGAGES

Bearing that thought in mind, Slavitt says he tries to get his customers to envision Mobül’s HME products in their lives. To that end, he has build a four-room “home”— complete with walls, windows, and even a street number — in his showroom.

The home fatures a garage, living room, bathroom and a bedroom that all showcase various retail HME items in real-life settings. The purpose of the display is to get customers to interact with various HME items and see how those products can fit into their lives.

“You might wonder, why would we build a house inside of a store?” he says. “The main reason is that we want to give customers a chance to see what it might look like in their home and also to try out products.

“It also lets them do what’s really important to us in retail, and that is to imagine,” he continues. “To imagine having a nice, adjustable bed; imagine having a lift chair in your living room; imagine a scooter being parked in your garage. When we start to use ‘imagine,’ then the customer can envision it in their own house, and that gets them closer to making a decision.”

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and Slavitt says his store experiences low return rates thanks to that focus on customer-product interaction and orientation.

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