Providers have retail advantages

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Friday, February 22, 2019

LAS VEGAS – Retail opportunities continue to be a major thrust at Medtrade Spring and attendees should pay attention to the advice they get from vendors at this year's show at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. It might just give them the wake-up call they need.

One of the biggest concerns among independent HME providers seeking retail business is about how to compete with major online retailer Amazon. The powerhouse platform is offering home medical equipment as a part of its massive portfolio and has made inroads in sales to the public. On the surface, it seems to have the upper hand. But HME sales specialists say that independent brick-and-mortar providers have an ace in the hole.

“You have the patient in front of you … Amazon does not,” says Kamal Haddad, CEO of Burr Ridge, Ill.-based Health Mobius. “You’re filling their scripts and bringing oxygen to their homes. Amazon is not there.”

Haddad will be showcasing his e-commerce portal and platform at Medtrade Spring, demonstrating how Health Mobius helps the HME industry with product fulfillment – including many specific products that Amazon does not handle.

“Amazon competes on sales and volume I deal with second-tier sellers, such as upscale models, premium briefs and bariatrics,” Haddad said.

Maria Markusen, director of operations and development for Waterloo, Iowa-based VGM Retail, agrees that the HME industry has a place at the retail table and that providers shouldn’t worry about a competitor like Amazon in their domain.

“Amazon scares people and it shouldn’t,” she said. “We have the knowledge they don’t have. Retail is amazing opportunity to fill that gap and serve consumers in a way that Amazon can’t.”

Providers can learn from other retailers that have extensive experience in competing with online purveyors, said Renae Storie, senior director of Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility.

“What makes these companies successful in this environment is they found a way to capitalize on the face-to-face interaction,” Storie said. “They focus on making the shopping experience enjoyable with clean, organized and brightly colored facilities. Wide product selection and knowledgeable staff are important, but so are financing options, service contracts and available upgrades. Demonstrating added value takes the conversation away from strictly pricing and builds a bond with customers that will lead to more sales in the future.”

What HME retailers need to do is create a special identity with consumers, said Mike Scarsella, national sales director for Middleburg Heights, Ohio-based Compass Health Brands.

“They need to focus on merchandising correctly – which includes offering the right product, presenting it well, and pricing it competitively in the marketplace,” he said. “In addition, they need to dial in their communication to their community about who they are and what they do – showcasing their role as a true specialty store offering knowledge and trust beyond just the products.”

While in the years during Amazon’s ascent, high-profile retailers have gone out of business or are in dire financial straits, Markusen points to consumer buying data that should bring some comfort to HME providers: 78% of consumers still shop at brick-and-mortar stores and that half of all purchases are influenced by digital communications in some way.

“Retail isn’t dead – it’s just changing,” she said. “The HME industry needs to understand their customers’ shifting preference toward wellness products and figure out how to incorporate digital interplay into their business models.”