A bar in every bath

Monday, March 31, 2008

If HME providers are serious about incorporating free market economic principles into their businesses, it may be time to look at specializing in bath safety products. Grab bars, bath benches, commodes and shower mats have certainly been part of the home healthcare product pantheon for a long time, but they have traditionally been seen as ancillary items—more or less commodities for add-on sales.
But considering their enormous potential in a graying society, HME providers may want to take a closer look at focusing more intently on bath safety products, vendors say. Not only are they gaining more importance as aids to daily living for the elderly, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the aesthetic and functional purpose of these products.
“Bath safety is a growth category and will follow the demographic trend of the aging population,” said Sue Jotblad, marketing manager of HME products for Longmont, Colo.-based Sunrise Medical. “Some bath safety products are becoming accepted as useful aids to daily living for everyone and are losing the stigma of ‘handicapped.’ Broadening the market scope from rehab to (injury) prevention greatly increases the target customer base. Even children will find a wall grab bar in a shower to be helpful.”
Jerry Lisman, vice president of sales and marketing for Waukegan, Ill.-based Mabis, agrees that the bath safety market is on the upswing.
“The whole patient care market is a growth area,” he said. “Demographically, the boomers are turning 60 and people who years ago may not have used the products have less resistance to putting a grab bar in a tub these days. We’re an active society today and are increasingly aware of the seriousness of breaking a hip.”
Collectively, HME providers appear to be zeroing in on bath safety’s cash sales potential as reimbursement continues to fall in other categories, said Jesse Keirn, president of Strongsville, Ohio-based Roscoe Medical.
“We’re seeing more providers carrying bath safety products,” he said. “It is a relatively low upfront investment with high cash sale potential and the patient demand is growing. It is an additional source of revenue for providers outside of Medicare and most manufacturers make it easy with merchandising kits and planograms for the novice retailer.”
An important key to success in bath safety sales is the display and merchandising of the products, observes Tom Tucker, vice president of sales and marketing for Humble, Texas-based Attentus Medical Sales, adding that they are a natural showroom product.
“Customers need to be able to touch and feel the products,” he said. “Choice in this type of product is also important. A provider can carry basic products, but they also need to have the higher-end products that appeal to baby boomers.”
Extensive product knowledge, expertise about mobility issues and superior customer service are all advantages that can elevate the HME provider above the price-war fray being fought by big-box discount chains, bath safety vendors say. Ultimately, HME companies should strive to establish themselves as bath safety experts who can furnish quality products for a fair price, said Brandon Birch, COO of Logan, Utah-based Standers.
“Find out what end-users don’t like about the products that are on the market now and then work with manufacturers to supply something that meets their needs,” Birch said. “They should also understand the target market’s mobility challenges and select the right products to help solve those challenges. If a user wants a standard grab bar, they can go to any mass retail store. Providers can increase their bath safety sales by selling unique products that add features to the standard line.”
New companies like St. Paul, Minn.-based Bridge-Medical, are looking to make a splash in the bath market and partners Dan Matschina and Mike Vizenor are working hard to get providers’ attention with a new breed of temporary grab bars. Innovation, they say, will give the independent retailer a leg up on the mass merchandisers.
“Do your research and carry only the best and safest product assortment from vendors that stand behind their products,” said Matschina, president of the company. “Don’t always go for the low cost solution, because consumers don’t forget if you sold them an inferior product that puts their lives at risk. We spent over two years perfecting our product before we shipped one unit to retail, and we encourage retailers to use the same litmus test we do: ‘Would I trust my parents to use this product?’ It took us two years to get to ‘Yes.’” HME