All retail, all the time

Sunday, December 31, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS - One HME provider not losing any sleep over the uncertain Medicare landscape is Access Mobility, a 100% retail operation.
"We're a different breed, that's for sure," said Alan Ausbrooks, purchasing manager.
The family-owned company started out selling stair and porch lifts around 1974, when Medicare reimbursement was favorable. Over the years, the company expanded its offerings. In 1991, Access went completely cash-and-carry in response to changing allowables.
The trick, said Ausbrooks, is getting customers into a showroom stocked with everything from cane tips to elevators.
"The biggest key is retail advertising," said Ausbrooks. "It's a lot harder than just throwing up a commercial that says 'Call this 800 number and we'll do all the paperwork.' We actually have to get someone in here."
Ausbrooks estimates 80% of inquiries come from Medicare beneficiaries who see those 800-number commercials. "We have to explain how cash-and-carry works," said Ausbrooks. "That's kind of a hard pill for folks to swallow."
The company's customer base splits evenly between adult children shopping for their parents and the patients themselves. Often, people pop in to do their homework and come back after they've seen what's out there.
"With cash-and-carry, we can provide pretty much any lift chair that's out there," Ausbrooks said. "Right now, we've got 16 different scooters. They can try those, and we can file for them to be reimbursed, but the only relationship that exists upfront is between the customer and the salesperson."
More providers are diversifying by adding a retail component to their business model, and Ausbrooks welcomes the competition.
"It's a big, big pond," said Ausbrooks. "And the baby boomers are getting older. That's when the influx will happen, and we'll have smiling faces."