‘Aging in place’ trend drives home accessibility

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Baby boomers wanting to stay at home despite mobility limitations is the key driver in the home accessibility market, specialists in the field say. The desire among boomers to avoid assisted living or skilled nursing facilities is strong and they are willing to pay for modifications that allow them to remain at home and “age in place.”

Because HME providers serve these potential clients as mobility patients, they are in a great position to handle these home modification services as a business segment. In fact, market data from Waterloo, Iowa-based VGM shows that only 15% of its potential is being reached by HME providers and that it could double to 30% over the next five years.

“There is much more opportunity out there for HME providers to pursue,” said Jim Greatorex, vice president of VGM’s Live at Home division. VGM sees so much potential with “aging in place” and the home accessibility opportunities it presents for HME providers, it established Live at Home, a membership organization for HME companies working in the field.

“This evolving niche industry offers so much potential for growth, but it’s so much more than that,” Greatorex said. “Providing products and services that allow people to either re-enter their home or making their home more accessible and safe for life-long living makes a huge difference. I know our members take that very seriously and look to provide the right service, no matter how big or small, at the right price. This type of customer interaction results is a much closer, more loyal connection that few industries get to experience.”

David Baxter, vice president of product strategy for Sarasota, Fla.-based Harmar, says the primary driver for "'aging in place’ modifications is safety followed closely by the cost and peace of mind advantage of staying in the home they love. While many people invest in these modifications proactively, unfortunately many others do this out of necessity after a fall, accident or significant medical procedure. They just simply need the ability to safely access all of their home.”

While some may view the term “aging in place” as referring exclusively to elderly patients, Baxter says it goes beyond that narrow definition.

“’Aging in place’ is not just for the elderly—a broader definition allows for the planning of a long life in a home designed for evolving needs,” he said. “A person at any age with special needs and limited physical mobility—typically using a wheelchair—is an additional demographic for this segment of the market.”

Accessibility consultants

Projects can be big or small, depending on what the client needs and HME providers serving this market need to understand the scope of their services. It could be as simple as modifying thresholds and retrofitting fixtures or a more extensive renovation, said Shawn Krupicka, sales manager for Fairbury, Neb.-based Prairie View Industries.

“It is about helping people stay in their homes as long as possible,” he said. “Widening doors, updating bathrooms and other home modifications is a huge step in making this happen.”

While there are various projects that could help patients access and navigate their homes, Baxter says HME providers serve a valuable role as accessibility consultants.

“At the heart of it, the best HME providers are valued consultants for their customers or prospects,” he said. “Understanding the variety of health conditions coupled with product knowledge can give them a leg up at establishing credibility and trust.  Free in-home consultations, networking, and lunch-and-learn seminars are popular tools that can help build and educate an audience. Certified Aging-In-Place-Specialist certification is a great way to enhance an HME provider’s knowledge of the space.”

Business strategy

HME providers serving the home accessibility market need to consider their range of service offerings and what a comprehensive portfolio involves from a staffing, materials and skill level standpoint. These are just some of the questions providers should ask, Baxter said.

“There is no one best way to structure an HME business because not every customer buys the same way,” he said. “Many end-users value having a specialist with a more focused product offering, especially for more complex products, while others value a one-stop shop and ongoing relationship with someone offering hundreds of product categories,” he said. “Each market is different and requires some research to determine where the best opportunities reside.”

To install Harmar products, HME providers need to invest in personnel or utilize Harmar’s Lift Squad third-party services. While it requires specialized skills, it also gives providers an opportunity to serve a market that still has a lot of room for growth, Baxter said.