Ed Lemar: Build your retail momentum

Monday, April 30, 2007

The HME industry has approached over-the-counter cash sales with a series of fits and starts. Branching out into retail picks up steam when Medicare reimbursement falls and subsides when rates stabilize. But with public insurance programs now in a constant state of flux, retail sales have never been more important as a revenue supplement, says Ed Lemar, senior vice president of design for Lisle, Ill.-based Gladson & Associates.
Lemar will share his secrets for "Designing and Merchandising a Retail Environment" at Medtrade Spring and recently offered attendees a glimpse at his program.
HME News: On a scale of 1 to 10, how are providers doing when it comes to retailing?
Ed Lemar: On the pharmacy end, they are doing exceptionally well--a nine. Independent pharmacies are ruling the marketplace. They have better products and deeper inventory. They understand retail. HME stores are not accustomed to retail, so they continue to face a big learning curve. I'd give them a five. For freestanding HMEs to improve, they need to recruit a professional from the retail sector to come in and manage that business.
HME: Where are providers most deficient?
Lemar: Let's start with where they are efficient: taking care of patient needs. When it comes to service, they are the Nordstrom's of health care. But they tend to forget why they're in business and that's to sell products. In essence, they know how to take care of patients, but they don't know how to sell.
HME: What are the most common misperceptions within the provider community?
Lemar: Home health care has an identity problem and that shows in many retail stores: They tend to be boring. They aren't doing enough to make their stores an exciting place to shop. Professional retailers change their front window every couple of weeks; an HME is lucky to change it once a year. Another misperception is that they can't compete against the discount mass merchandisers. That is absolutely false. Price isn't everything. There's probably 20% of the buying public who will shop strictly on price, but that leaves the other 80%.
HME: If you could give a provider one piece of advice, what would it be?
Lemar: Appropriate square footage gives you the opportunity to do things correctly. The ideal size is about 3,500 square feet, which gives you enough space to display a wide variety of products and for customers to freely walk around without getting lost. It should be large enough to be inviting, but small enough to convey intimacy.
HME: What trait do successful providers share when it comes to retail?
Lemar: They share a willingness to change and aren't afraid to experiment. Retail is show business--you're on stage. You want to create things that get people excited. The theme of retail today is the "wow" factor. When you walk in, you want to be taken aback by the latest greatest designs. But it can't be too trendy, either. Make your showroom someplace customers want to be.
Ed Lemar
Title/company: senior vice president of design for Lisle, Ill.-based Gladson & Associates.
Session: "Designing and Merchandising a Retail Environment"
Date: Tuesday, April 24, 2:45 p.m.
Contact: 630-435-2200 or erelemar@gladson.com