Bath safety: 'huge' growth, more to come

Monday, November 26, 2012

Israel Gamburd, president of Los Angeles-based Gamburd Independent Living Solutions, sums up the state of the bath safety market this way: “The past year has been huge. It has reached a point where I have almost had to turn down business.”

Of course, not everyone is experiencing a level of growth where refusing customers is an option, but Gamburd’s experience may serve as an indicator that demand for bath safety products is exploding and that there is plenty of opportunity for HME providers seeking out cash alternatives for their businesses. With baby boomers aging and needing assistive home products for their parents and themselves, bath safety is a natural category for any company serving the homecare market, vendors say.

“We’re now dealing with the ‘sandwich mom’ who is challenged with finding care for her parents, as well as her own family,” said Doug Francis, principal and co-founder of Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive Medical Design and Manufacturing. “Many times this caregiver is more interested in finding an item that adds to her parents’ independence and quality of life and less interested in what is paid for by the government.”

Consumer awareness of bath safety products has greatly increased in recent years, Francis says, which raises the retail profile for HME providers.

Beyond grab bars

The core products of bath safety—grab bars, commodes and bath benches—remain the top sellers of the category, but manufacturers say they are drawing more interest in a new generation of products designed to expand the portfolio.

Gamburd chalks up the ShowerBuddy, an ergonomic shower transfer system, as a catalyst for his strong business growth this year. Designed to assist the caregiver, the portable system alleviates heavy lifting with automatic hoisting and lowering into a tub or shower stall.

“This is a cost-effective system for those who can’t afford to install a permanent fixture,” he said.

New York-based Cleanis is offering a couple of new products that are also designed for caregiver benefit—the Carebag commode liner and Aqua wash glove. At $1 per liner, the Carebag is a super-absorbent pad that offers users an affordable option for commode pail management, said Nicholas Beck, Cleanis general manager.

Beck contends the new wash glove delivers the same performance as the traditional pre-moistened shampoo caps.

“It allows HME providers to get out of the saturated low-margin no-rinse wipe market,” said Beck.

Selling upscale

Having cost-effective options for consumers is a must in a sluggish economy, but carrying products on the opposite end of the scale is also proving to be a successful formula, vendors say.

“It has been an interesting evolution,” Gamburd said. “Where once people would laugh at $100 grab bars, they’re not thinking twice about spending that kind of money if they are designer quality. There are a lot of people out there who want something much better than what Home Depot would carry.”

Consumers are also becoming more sophisticated in their choices of product materials and colors, Francis says.

“People are demanding products that look less ‘medical grade’ and more ‘designer inspired’ as the category continues to expand,” he said. “We also see the need to make products transportable to aid those that continue to travel. Of course there will always be a need for a basic product, but we believe that basic products can still have some pizzazz and we can bring high design to the masses.”

Merchandising these products is also essential for sales, says Cali Thomson, business manager of bath safety and walking aids for Elyria, Ohio-based Invacare.

“It is important to think like a traditional retailer when displaying bath safety items—create a bathroom vignette with a bathtub, toilet, and maybe a vanity to display the products,” she said. “Create an environment that is inviting and help the customer envision how these products would help them be safer in their home.”

Build a package

Ken Spett, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Graham-Field Health Products, asserts that purpose, not price, is the main purchasing factor for bath safety products.

Carrying a wide array of styles and price ranges, as well as performing installations, positions the independent HME provider as an expert in the field, says Spett, which serves as a competitive advantage over giant discount retail chains.

“Becoming an expert means having a trained staff to educate their customer base and having a team of trained technicians that can install these products,” he said. “Installation is an integral part of selling a bathroom safety package. While some customers may wish to ‘shop’ these products individually, I believe it is the service an HME provider can deliver that will result in more sales.”

Customer empathy is another valuable sales tactic that separates the independent provider from the mass merchandiser, says Dave Henderson, national sales manager for Algona, Wash.-based EZ-Access.

“For many users, this is a very personal area and the ability to talk knowledgably and in comfortable terms is appealing to the customers,” he said. “The HME provider can often win the sale with personal service and immediate delivery.”