HME bristles at PB ad

Monday, May 31, 2004

PORT RICHEY, Fla. - The great thing about direct-to-consumer advertising by manufacturers are the leads you get. The frustrating things are the leads you don’t get. And the infuriating thing is losing a customer to a competitor when you supply the product they’re leaving you for.

That almost happened to Carol Acevedo, COO of Bayonet Point Oxygen, in March when one of her patients called for Bayonet to pick up her concentrator and tanks: She’d seen an ad on television for Helios the night before, and she was switching to an American HomePatient branch that would set her up on the Puritan Bennett (PB) system.

The ad was part of a marketing campaign that required Acevedo to purchase 10 new Helios systems, which she declined to do. She’d already bought and dispatched into her patient base 50 Helios systems. At $2,500 each, she could-n’t afford to buy 10 more.

“They told me that even if I didn’t buy into this big national program, because I’d bought Helios in the past, they would at least let my patient know - because they always ask, who do you have oxygen with - and they would let them know I do have Helios and refer them back to me,” said Acevedo.

But then, according to Acevedo, the policy changed and leads would only go to those who bought into the program. PB declined to be interviewed for this story or to answer specific questions by e-mail but did issue a general statement about the campaign.

“In order to participate,” a PB spokesperson wrote in an e-mail, “a dealer must demonstrate a willingness to provide Helios to consumers who request it… and demonstrate the willingness to obtain and maintain inventory of enough Helios units.”

The issue is a particularly sensitive one for suppliers and manufacturers as consumers begin to play a greater role in their purchasing decisions. Many believe that direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising efforts are in their infancy.

“Marketing is going to change our industry,” said Bob Lictenstein, president of Hollywood Medical Supply in Hollywood, Fla. “It’s not a matter of whether you [the supplier] like it or not. It’s going to happen.”

Since she didn’t buy into the new campaign, Acevedo doesn’t begrudge leads to competitors who did buy in, but she can’t understand why the amount of business she did do with PB wouldn’t keep them from referring her patients elsewhere.

“I buy thousands and thousands of dollars from PB,” she said. “I got two liquid trucks running right now. We even had a seminar in our retail showroom, and we sent out letters to our patients, telling them we have Helios. If I am not a Helios provider then what am I?”