ADL products help HMEs get more retail customers

Monday, December 31, 2001

Today, most HME providers know that ADLs, now commonly cast as "convenience products," are escalating in demand from aging baby boomers shopping for elderly parents. Providers also know that ADLs are getting more attention due to a greater brand selection and alternative marketing forums like the Internet and cable television shopping channels.

But what some may not know is that hospital-based referral sources are increasingly directing patients to homecare specialists with detailed ADL shopping lists. And they are recommending HME retailers as the definitive source for such items as reachers, elastic shoelaces and stocking pull-on aids.

Those who discovered this largely untapped customer stream are reporting a significant boost in ADL business.

"We're seeing more demand for ADLs because hospitals no longer bill for those items," said Patti Kelnhofer, manager of Home Care Medical's retail store in Milwaukee. "Years ago, the occupational therapist would assess a patient's needs and add the appropriate ADLs to the hospital bill. But because [under Medicare prospective payment] they don't get paid for those items, they are now sending patients out into the market to find them."

Bill Koniers adds that he gets a lot of referrals because local hospitals know he'll have the items their patients need.

"When our referral sources are discharging someone, they want it now," said Koniers, president of AmHealth Group's Genox Home Care in Stamford, Connecticut. "They don't want to make a bunch of phone calls."

Koniers credits the "one-stop shop" concept as being attractive to referral sources, especially as it relates to ADLs.

"ADLs used to be strictly a retail pharmacy item, but it has grown beyond that," he said. "Through our informal marketing, we promote the fact that we offer a bundle of services and that we can supply Mrs. Jones with all her product needs."

By contrast, Home Care Medical's referrals are mainly residents of the immediate area in south Milwaukee, Kelnhofer said.

"Most rehab units give patients a choice of suppliers, based on location," she said. "So many of our clients live nearby."

One of the most important points to convey to referral sources, Koniers says, is that patients will find a plentiful supply of ADLs when they come calling.

"We want to be able to fulfill everything when an order is called in, from antibiotics to enteral nutrition to oxygen," he said. "But they also need ADLs. We don't just buy items because they look good on the shelves. We buy smartly and what we need -- we're careful about inventory turns."

In the 32 years that he has owned Broward Medical Supply in Pompano Beach, Florida, Johnny Oh has seen the ADL business grow tremendously. He has also seen competition for the business soar in populated southeastern Florida.

"ADLs have become the most important part of our business, but the piece of the pie has gotten a lot smaller," he said. "There are so many different players in our market now - Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS, even Home Depot sells shower benches."

Yet Oh's company plugs along with determination, trying to get as much market share as possible by distinguishing itself from the general merchandisers.

"We have a reputation in this community - we have second- and third-generation customers," he said. "They know we provide the best service. If someone wants us to install a grab bar, we will do it for them. And we'll help them select the best products for their situation. Home Depot can't do that."

What's more, the HME retailer can seize a competitive advantage by carrying a greater quantity and breadth of ADL products, says Gerald Sullivan, owner of Home Care Solutions in Westchester, New York.

"We have a whole section that showcases our wide variety of ADLs," he said. "Home Depot may sell a grab bar, but you'll get one kind in an institutional style. We have designer bars that our customers say are much nicer."

Because designer items attract customers, it underscores another key reason for their growth in popularity: they can be marketed as gifts for elderly relatives.

"Most sell for between $10 and $25, and we move a lot of them around the holidays," Kelnhofer said, noting that ADLs are also tailor-made for generating repeat customers and add-on sales.

"If grandpa has an item, the granddaughter will remember and come back for something else," she said. "Once she comes back, she'll browse around and pick other things up. When you expose them to one thing, they get new ideas and buy more."

As a purveyor of catalogs that feature page after page of new ADL items, longtime manu-facturer's rep Pam McGregor is in a prime position to spot sales trends for these products. Among the biggest interest generators she sees: diabetic support products.

"Because diabetics have foot circulation problems, there are a lot of products coming out to help that condition," said McGregor, owner of Creativity Plus, Bonita Springs, Fla. "There is an antimicrobial cream to prevent skin dryness and infection. Special shoes and socks promote circulation, reducing the chance for infection and gangrene."

Another product drawing attention is a back brace that fits underneath clothing. "Spinal back braces are usually worn over the clothes -- they're ugly and cumbersome," McGregor said. "But this new brace is a cervical belt. Instead of running along the spine, it is worn around the waist. It is easily concealed and allows the wearer to be more active."

Even with all signs pointing to robust growth in the ADL market, McGregor says she is amazed that more HME providers don't appreciate the value of the products. HME