Creating Your 2014 Retail Realm

Retail MobilityDevising a retail strategy is not a new idea, of course — DME dealers have been putting canes, lift chairs and scooters into storefront windows nearly since the advent of storefront windows.

So what has changed?

Who you’re selling to. While the retail mobility end user may be the same — often, a senior with strength, stamina or aging-related issues — the person doing the buying or at least the initial browsing may be different.

“We’ve seen that the caregiver from a retail standpoint is very much involved in the decision-making process, helping whoever the individual is who needed the product, helping with the selection,” says Cy Corgan, director, Pride Mobility Products corporate sales. “They’re taking Mom or Dad down to the provider to sit in all the chairs, to drive the scooters, to drive the power chairs. And a lot of times, if [there are] a couple of sons or daughters, they could be the ones from a cash standpoint also paying for the product for the person who’s going to use it.

“More and more providers are taking that into consideration, that the caregiver is the one they’re actually marketing to.” How he/she shops. A generation ago, consumers and family members looking for DME thumbed through the Yellow Pages delivered to their doorsteps. But not now.

“That mid-40s mom, she’s not likely to drive up and down your street and walk into your store,” says Mike Serhan, executive partner, Drive Medical Design & Mfg. “She’s going to get on the Internet and educate herself on what’s out there.”

That can be good news for the provider who’s ready not just to turn a quick sale, but to be a resource.

“People aren’t familiar with medical products like power wheelchairs,” Serhan explains. “They know they exist; they really don’t know what they’re for or what the best one is. An event has just happened: Someone has fallen or something has triggered this person to look for medical equipment.”

How should the savvy retail supplier respond? “Whatever you can do to educate them as quickly as possible about what is the right equipment for the needs that [they’re] looking for,” Serhan says. How they find providers to work with — and how providers are finding them. A generation ago, the line between consumer and DME supplier was much more direct.

“Back then,” says Corgan, “[the consumer] would’ve been given a lift by a discharge planner, case manager, or clinician who said, ‘Here are three or four companies in the area that carry lift chairs and scooters,’ and that’s where they would go.

“Now providers are reaching out, making sure they’re advertising, educating, running commercials to create the awareness for the products so that it’s not just the typical demographic who sees them. [Providers] are going beyond that to a different level of demographic who wants that convenience.”

Jay Brislin, MSPT, VP, Quantum Rehab says, “[For] any consumer who’s doing a lot of research, any provider who is able to show information in regards to what they’re doing within their community, to not only provide for clients but make sure that they have the right product, gives users a sense of clarity and a little more sense of being at ease.”

In other words, many of the more effective Web sites don’t just push products for sale. Instead, they also include “editorial” articles that don’t necessarily tie to products directly, but seek to teach consumers. Some possibilities: Real-life case studies of consumers the provider has worked with; how to make rooms in the house more accessible on a budget; photos of the provider’s staff volunteering at a health fair.

Brislin says consumers who find such a Web site could think, “‘I’m looking at this provider’s Web site, and I see all the great things that they’ve been doing, I see the education that they have out there for different diagnoses, some of their success stories, and it makes me feel like I’m going to get taken care of the way I need to based on whatever my condition is and whatever my functional limitations may be.’ It is a huge advantage for a lot of providers, to ensure that they are really marketing to their clients, not trying to sell to them as much as trying to put them at ease, letting them know, ‘This is the company you want to be working with.’”

The role of the retail store and displays. In the past, retail displays attracted passersby and enticed them to browse. Today, much of that browsing occurs virtually, as consumers and family members streamline the process by going online before starting up the car.

Serhan says knowing your neighborhood’s demographics is key to determining whether or not to create a traditional retail display space.

“A huge showroom in the right spot can be very helpful,” he notes. “A huge showroom in the wrong spot is just going to put you out of business.”

One advantage of providing consumers a retail display space: It can help them to visualize how the equipment will fit into their homes.

“You want to look like you have a suite of products in your home, that you haven’t cobbled something together, that it looks like you did it on purpose,” Serhan says of consumers. “Because no one wants their house to look like a hospital room. They want their house to look like they wanted these items, not that they needed it. So, retail-looking canes, crutches, bath benches, whatever it may be, those have been extremely popular.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Mobility Management.

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