Home Accessibility Eyes New Horizons to Stay Afloat

It's nearly always a throw-away line when an association officials says that awareness of his industry growing. But what's startling when Jerry Keiderling, president of Accessible Home Improvement of America utters it: He isn't talking about the public.

He is referring to the manufacturers in the industry itself.

So far, 2010 has ushered in the perfect storm for this segment. Medicare reimbursements are declining; days sales outstanding (DSO) are climbing. The two are putting a serious squeeze on cash flow for vendors. The threat of competitive bidding is only fanning these flames of economic troubles.

"They're in this industry because they care about people. They don't want to open a car wash or a hotdog stand. They want to do what they do well, but they need that cash flow to make things happen," Keiderling says from his office headquarters in Waterloo, Iowa.

Meanwhile, the Baby Boomer generation is picking up retirement steam this year, with the bulk of this population looking to throw in the career towel for a stay-at-home lifestyle over the next 10 years. However, both the housing and stock market conditions make moving to a new home, one friendlier to aging in place, less likely. So our BBs will require adjustments - grab bars, stair lifts, and ramps being a tip of the iceberg - to their homes.

Like a Reese's peanut butter and chocolate marriage, the home accessibility manufacturers are making the leap as to how their experience within the home medical equipment focus can also be a Boomer boon.

Frank Westby, manager of new business development at EZ-ACCESS, is watching the same light bulbs snap on from his position. "If Medicare doesn't pay your bills, you have to have some cash items around you can sell. The education comes in getting dealers comfortable with product sales," he says, "but we're getting more calls from dealers who want to know how to identify the right ramp for their customers."

He is turning his attention this year toward teaching the art of upsell and companion products - transforming a stair-lift provider, for instance, into a one-stop shop for all home accessibility needs. The AHIA has pointed its training guns on making sure the industry remains credentialed and professional during and after the expansion. He sees no pushback on that agenda.

"This industry has seen what can happen with fly-by-nights who tried to ruin the power mobility market, the bed market, the wound care market. So if we're going to do this, let's do it right," says Keiderling. The association's business entry classes are seeing an uptick so far in 2010, an "introduction to independent living" if you will. AHIA is currently holding these in conjunction with state associations.

"Our message is that you can go as deep as you want. You can simply do grab bars and maybe a ramp, or you can get all the way into room additions, total remodifications. There is plenty of business opportunity in any of the lines," he adds. "The market is wide open."

About the Author

Award-winning journalist Julie Sturgeon of CEOEditor, Inc., is an online contributing writer for Mobility Management.

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