Classified: Web site targets used, excess DME market

Monday, September 30, 2002

Ft. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - If you've got used or excess equipment and don't know where or how to get rid of it - and make a little money in the process - Vinnie Baratta's come to your rescue. Or so he hopes.

On October 1, Baratta debuted, an online classified ad service for the HME industry. The site has two sections. One allows dealers, pharmacies and manufacturers to post equipment and sell it to each other. The other allows consumers to buy from other consumers as well as from HMEs and pharmacies.

"There's no way for guys in the industry to exchange equipment that is stagnant, stale or slow moving and that costs a lot of money because no matter how much you discount it, it is not moving," Baratta said. "But it may move in another area, and he'd rather sell it at a fair price, hopefully equal to cost."

If Baratta's name sounds familiar, it should. In the late 1990s, he made a play to franchise retail HMEs under the name Homecare America to hospitals and garnered a lot of trade coverage. Baratta left the company, which has since gone out of business, about two years ago and since then has been operating his own HME, American Healthcare Products, in Ft. Lauderdale.

Baratta's not worried that the vast majority of e-commerce Web sites - in and outside the HME industry - have either turned into dot.bombs or attracted relatively little interest. The key to success, say industry watchers, is not whether there's a need for such a site, there is, but whether gets off to a good start.

"Any one who has traveled and met with providers, knows that just about everyone has a place in their backroom that has cobwebs growing on stuff that has a value," said Steve Neese, Invacare's vp of e-commerce. "They hate the idea of throwing it away, but for whatever reason they are having a hard time getting rid of it. If you add up all the providers, there is a lot of stuff there."

The key to Baratta's venture, Neese said, is early success. If it works and providers move inventory, word will spread. If a provider puts something up and it doesn't sell, "he's probably not going to do it again."

"This is a darn good idea," said Rick Forshee, manager of Cherokee Medical Supply in Cleveland, Tenn. "I was speaking with one of my competitors and he asked me if I knew a market for used apnea monitors. I said no I didn't, but that I had a couple I'd like to get rid of, too."

That's music to Baratta's ears: "Every dealer is like that. There is no dealer with a perfect inventory."

Baratta got the idea for from his own experiences in trying to move used and excess equipment. He also discovered that many third world countries can afford used equipment but not new, and will let providers tap that vast foreign market. Additionally, it gives consumers (caregivers and family members, for example) a place to sell equipment they no longer need. charges $1 to $3 to list equipment (the more you list, the less you pay), and takes a 5% commission for all sales.

Baratta said he doesn't see online auction house eBay as a competitor. isn't an auction, nor does it sell anything but medical equipment. A seller sets a price and a potential buyer makes an offer. If the two can't strike a deal after one counter offer from the seller, they part ways, and another buyer can step to the plate.

"I think it's got a lot of merit, and for $1 you can't go wrong," Baratta said. HME