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Beds & Support Surfaces

Choosing the Best Beds & Support Surfaces Is Good for Your Business…So We Asked Manufacturers What You Should Be Looking For

pillowsAt a time when DME suppliers and complex rehab providers need every business efficiency they can muster, selecting the right beds and support surfaces to sell and service is serious business.

We asked beds and support surface manufacturers to put themselves in a supplier’s position and tell us what the most important product features are. We also asked them the most important qualities a manufacturer should have, from the supplier’s point of view. And we asked, from a business perspective, why those features and factors are so critical.

The participants, in alphabetical order:

The Most Important Product Features

We asked manufacturers which bed/support surface features and benefits were most important to suppliers, and to start them out, we listed eight categories: Durability; Resists incontinence, fl uids, etc.; Adjusts to fit the needs of different clients; Easily maintained/serviced; Price; Quick availability/order fulfillment; Large range of sizes/weight capacities; and Easy to operate/use. We asked manufacturers to tell us how important each category was, then asked them to list the three most important features/benefits by either using the categories we provided or adding categories of their own.

“Durability” received the highest overall scores, with most of the participants rating it “extremely important” and listing it also as the number one product feature that suppliers should seek.

Kevin Fraser, Star Cushion Products, explained his rating this way: “Because of (his product’s) durability, the investment can be absorbed over a long period of time.” Fraser thus suggests that a product’s price point — even one that’s higher when compared to prices of similar products — can actually become less of an issue if the product lasts for a long time.

Mitchell Yoel, Drive Medical, listed durability as the top factor and said, “Due to the legislative and reimbursement environment, providers need to run their operations leaner than they ever have before.” Durability, he explained, helps to “facilitate lean operations.”

Invacare Corp.’s Mike Sedlak agreed, also placing durability at the top of his list: “The provider must look at the total cost of ownership for the products they buy. A durable bed/support surface will provide a greater return on investment over the life of the bed by minimizing service calls and remaining in use for a longer period of time.”

Flex-A-Bed’s Max Morrison listed “Quick availability” as his top choice (followed by Large selection and Durability). Explaining his rankings, Morrison said, “When there’s a need, the supplier must have a large selection available to suit the need and then get the product delivered quickly, as more readily (available) options may be chosen, even if they’re not better suited long term.”

Because Burke Bariatric specializes in heavy-duty beds with weight capacities of 1,000 lbs., DuWayne Kramer Jr. had a slightly different perspective of a bed’s most important feature. “Most bariatric beds are standard beds with extra metal,” he said. “They are not designed to fit bariatric patients’ needs. Bariatric beds need to be tested to the IEC 60601-2-38 FDA OSHA U.S. standard.” (For more information on beds and other assistive technology for bariatric patients, check out Mobility Management’s June issue.)

Other product factors receiving the highest scores, after Durability, were “Easily maintained” and “Large range of available sizes and weight capacities.”

Jim Acker, Blue Chip Medical, listed those three factors in that order, explaining, “A good manufacturer needs a comprehensive product line that holds up in the field and provides positive outcomes.”

Sue Plaisance, SleepSafe Beds, listed Price in her top three, after Durability and Easily maintained, saying, “It has to be affordable or reimbursable to be considered, and no one wants a product that requires aftersale visits…this just cuts directly into their margin.”

Sedlak agreed that ease of use and ease of maintenance were critical: “Cleaning and maintenance must be considered as well, since they represent a significant cost to the provider.”

Added Yoel, “You also must have a varied enough product offering to allow the provider to match the appropriate product to the appropriate patient population. Too many providers put a gel overlay on every Group 1 patient, when in fact by matching products to patients, and by communicating that to referral sources, providers would earn more Group 1 and Group 2 business. Each product within the categories has its place in the market.”

The Most Important Manufacturer Factors

After asking what the most important product features and benefits are, we turned the question around and asked: What are the most important manufacturer attributes, from a supplier perspective? What manufacturer traits, services, benefits and offerings should be most critical to the beds/support surfaces supplier — and therefore should be strongly considered when suppliers are deciding which manufacturers to partner with?

The factors we asked participants to rate were Large range of product choices; Offers product that fits complex rehab needs; Supplier can purchase most or all of the beds/support surfaces they need from a single manufacturer; Able to fulfill orders/ship quickly; Offers innovative, “unique” products; Constantly strives to upgrade/improve technology; Offers marketing support; Offers funding/documentation support; Pricing; Advocates/lobbies on behalf of the industry.

Acker’s top three were Education, Marketing and Technology, in that order. He also said Pricing was extremely important, and listed as important a manufacturer’s ability to fill and ship orders quickly, and to be able to single-handedly provide most or all of a supplier’s needed beds and support surfaces.

“To be a true asset to the DME supplier, a manufacturer must be able to help the DME grow their business,” Acker said, in explaining his choices. “Price actually means nothing in the big picture. It is about supporting the DME supplier through education, marketing support and quality product.”

Plaisance chose Price (“Have to be affordable,” she said), Unique items (“not average, better appeal”) and Can fill large range of needs as her top three manufacturer qualities.

Noting that a manufacturer has to have “an affordable product,” Plaisance added, “The more items that one supplier can provide, the lower the cost (should be) by either bundling, or volume discounts.”

Kramer, again speaking specifically from a bariatric product viewpoint, said quality of products and parts availability are important factors to seek in a beds or support surfaces manufacturer, and he again stressed the importance of safety when working in the bariatric market. He urged suppliers to choose beds “certified to IEC 60601-2-38 by an NRTL (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories) independent testing lab.” He also advised suppliers to be sure the beds they choose are “wide enough to rotate patients for therapy and treatment” and that they choose a “low air-loss mattress to reduce maceration.”

Morrison said it’s most important for a manufacturer to continue to improve its products. He also said having a range of product choices and being able to ship orders quickly are the most vital manufacturer factors and abilities to consider.

Sedlak also listed “Constantly strives to upgrade/improve technology” in his top three, along with being able to buy most or all products from one manufacturer. He also said it was important that the manufacturer advocate for the industry and lobby policymakers on the industry’s behalf.

There’s also a potential financial advantage, he notes: “Single-source procurement is also less costly for the provider due to less paperwork and more familiarity with the company/products.” But ultimately, “Most important is the assurance that the products are designed to work together as a system and minimize the risk of injury to patients.”

Fraser listed the ability to fulfill orders and ship them quickly as the top manufacturer factor to consider. Then, perhaps because so many users of Star Cushion’s products fall into the complex rehab realm, he listed “Offers products that fit complex rehab needs” second, followed by “Offers marketing support” third.

Yoel said it was most crucial for manufacturers to offer education/training, followed by “Supplier can purchase from a single manufacturer” and “Pricing.”

“Many suppliers do therapeutic support surfaces ‘by accident,’” Yoel said. “They get an order for a gel overlay, and they fill the order and wait for the next one. A small percentage of suppliers have found a niche in these surfaces, and they understand the business well. It is up to manufacturers to provide the context necessary for the majority of suppliers to be able to match products to patients.”

Making a Partnership Decision

As with any important relationship, choosing a manufacturer to work with often comes down not just to the black-and-white pros and cons, but the intangibles as well.

Sedlak suggested suppliers additionally pay attention to how easy a manufacturer is to work with, how supportive and provider friendly they are, and the quantity and quality of their training and on-going education.

“It is imperative that providers know what they are buying to ensure that they are getting the most for their money,” he said. “While many products claim to perform the same, there are differences in the products that may affect the performance over the long run. In the end, you will get what you pay for.”

Plaisance touted the importance of highquality customer support, saying it’s “important to be able to reach a live body for sales support, tech support and customer-care support.”

She also pointed out that aging seniors and baby boomers — aka, folks expected to grow the demand for this niche — are “very patriotic and seek ‘Made in the USA’ products. Many place higher importance on quality and look rather than (which product is) ‘cheapest.’”

Morrison agreed, suggesting that suppliers look for equipment “produced in the USA,” as well as for “longevity of the company and nationwide service support.”

And Yoel suggested that suppliers seeking to start a relationship with a beds/support surfaces manufacturer ask themselves what support that manufacturer can bring to the partnership.

“What value-added services can a manufacturer provide?” he says as an example. “The manufacturer has a vested interest in growing their customers’ business, and should provide education and training to the suppliers’ sales, customer service and billing to help grow business. Helping with referral source in-servicing is critical as well.”

For suppliers who combine the appropriate products with productive partnerships with manufacturers, the rewards can be great, Yoel adds. “The beautiful thing about therapeutic support surfaces,” he says, “is that by simply doing the right thing by the patient, the supplier will earn a reputation for having expertise in this niche market and will win more business. These products are high-revenue, high-margin products that are carved out of round 1 competitive bidding except in Miami and Puerto Rico, and are integral components of a comprehensive ulcer management program. Everyone wins by matching products to patients.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

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