HME in a big box

Monday, February 28, 2005

St. PETERSBURG, Fla. - HME retail could be hitting its stride with a growing number of providers setting up locations inside the world’s foremost retailer, Wal-Mart.
Hoveround has opened in a Wal-Mart store.

In less than a year, the number of HME locations in Wal-Marts has grown to more than 50 nationwide, and the concept’s mastermind, Kim Mairs, president of Boston-based Companion Health Services, said the partnership is primed for further success.

“It took us a while to test the locations and see if the concept was going to work. We didn’t want to grow too fast because we wanted to make sure that the customers and referral base were going to welcome this opportunity as well,” said Mairs, whose company works as a liaison between the provider and Wal-Mart. “Now, with more than a year under our belts, we have found they are doing just that, so we are now in a position to grow very quickly.”

In January, Hoveround jumped on the bandwagon when it opened its first retail store in a St. Petersburg, Fla., Wal-Mart Supercenter. The 600-square-foot location will feature the company’s power wheelchairs and scooters, as well as lift chairs, ramps and manual chairs. Any requests for other DME products will be referred to local providers.

“We are also using the store as an opportunity to educate the community on other mobility and home medical equipment information,” said Calvin Cole, Hoveround’s director of corporate development. “We are using the first store as, what I would call, a work-on-progress, as a continuation of testing to see how we can fully utilize the opportunity that Wal-Mart is presenting the industry.

Hoveround will accept third party and cash sales in the Wal-Mart store. In its first week, the location did good business and made quite a few cash sales of scooters and lifts, Cole said.

“We have been extremely pleased with traffic flow and sales so far,” he said. “If every week is like the first week, we’ll be moving into a lot more stores.”

Quickly following Hoveround, the Scooter Superstore announced it had negotiated an agreement to open locations in Supercenters throughout Nebraska, as spaces become available.

“In conjunction with the pharmacies and optical centers already in place [in Wal-Mart], we will coordinate not only DME but also partner with others to provide oxygen, home health services and audiology at out of one convenient location,” said Scooter Superstore spokesperson Mark Frederick.

The Scooter Store, the country’s largest mobility provider, has also found a place for Wal-Mart in its business strategy. The provider opened its first location last year and most recently added a store in a Brownsville, Texas Supercenter.

The biggest benefit of the retail giant for providers is the sheer volume of people who walk through its doors each week. A Supercenter can expect to attract 150,000 to 200,000 people per week. Mairs and Cole described this as a huge marketing and brand awareness opportunity for companies.

“It really is bringing the product categories to life, giving the elderly the opportunity to see what is available rather than just looking through product catalogs,” said Mairs.

“We have people walking in all day long. I have been in a lot of HMEs where you sit for hours and no one ever comes in,” said Cole. “And, the demographics that walk through the Wal-Mart are not just the customer. It’s the customer’s family and care givers, and the doctors and the nurses in the community.”