Find your way to accessibility business

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Home accessibility—which includes the sale and installation of ramps, lifts and retrofitting of mobility customers’ homes—is a logical and potentially lucrative business for HME providers. Yet this segment has been largely ignored by the industry, despite its natural compatibility. The age-old question is: Why?

“Our experience is that HME providers shy away from home accessibility for two reasons: It is definitely a different business method than retail, and it requires an installation team,” said Ryan Mornan, vice president of sales for West Nyack, N.Y.-based National Ramp. “Many home accessibility sales require a visit to the client’s home to determine what their exact needs are before the sale can be made. Of course, this is different than having clients walk in to buy items off the shelf.”

In other words, venturing into home accessibility requires leaving a comfort zone. That can be an intimidating decision, said Karen Riker, sales and marketing manager for Bartlett, Tenn.-based American Access.

“At times, what may seem logical and reasonable to one business owner is radical and uncomfortable to another, so change can happen slowly or become non-existent,” she said. “However, I do believe that the changes in Medicare will create a catalyst for survival among HME providers. Our hope is that they find their way to accessibility and capitalize on that revenue stream.”

A complete home accessibility business should feature vehicle lifts for chairs and scooters, modular ramps for safe home access, a stair lift for navigating stairways and bathroom modification products and services. While installation is a departure from the regular HME provider services, Mornan says the process is “not as hard as it seems” and that “there are many unemployed contractors that are only too glad to get a job working in a growth industry.”

National Ramp offers both installation support and sales tips for its provider customers, he said.

“Our philosophy of ‘making it easy’ to sell ramps has led to strong partnerships with our mobility providers to get into the business and have a huge resource they can tap into from day one,” Mornan said. “It is like giving them a blueprint for a new business model.”

Assessing viability

Determining the commercial potential for home accessibility should start with the company’s best resources—customers, Riker said.

“Ask them about their concerns, preferences and fundamental needs,” she said. “Then compile that data, along with a business plan of what makes the most sense for short-term and long-term growth. Develop marketing, training and team buy-in among the staff and once all of that is in play, execute the plan fearlessly.”

Expanding into home accessibility presents fortuitous timing for mobility providers, said Gail Judd, regional sales manager for Sparta, Tenn.-based Rane Bathing Systems.

“As boomers continue to age and stay at home, they will obviously need more and more accessibility products that would normally be available in an acute or post-acute setting,” she said. 

Jennifer Miller, global programs coordinator for West Fargo, N.D.-based Roll-A-Ramp, suggests providers engage in a fact-finding mission by visiting trade shows.

“It’s a good idea that doesn’t take a lot of investment,” she said. “Trade publications that feature these products are also helpful. It is also valuable to contact the companies whose products you are interested in to set the clear picture.”

Put it online

Promoting home accessibility to prospective customers—especially the all-important boomers—is essential and no medium is more important than the Internet, Mornan said.

“Print advertising has been effective in the past, but it is rapidly being reduced in effectiveness because of the proliferation of Internet search engines,” he said. “Everyone is on the Internet today.”

Miller agrees that marketing dollars invested in the Internet is money well spent.

“Providers must be committed to developing an effective website,” she said. “Customers need to find you quickly and easily, so investing in key words is also effective.”

Because home accessibility is typically a one-time business transaction, new lead generation is critical for providers, Mornan said.

“Once someone has made their home accessible, they will not likely need your services again,” he said. “But they might refer you to their friends and you need to find the best method of driving those leads every day.”