Home accessibility presents dual-edge opportunity

Friday, September 23, 2016

In their quest to increase cash revenues, HME providers are inquiring about home accessibility with increasing frequency, manufacturers say. Quietly coexisting alongside the mobility market, home modification typically hasn’t been a core service line for providers, but the tumultuous Medicare environment has HME companies taking a fresh look at the business.

“Without a doubt this is a growth market and we are focused on capturing a larger share of it,” said David Baxter, vice president of marketing for Sarasota, Fla.-based Harmar Mobility. “HME providers are in a unique position to benefit because the customers that need accessibility are customers they already have. They have a built-in customer base, a nice advantage over specialty suppliers who have to go out and find new customers.”

Chico, Calif.-based SafePath Products has also seen “an uptick—quite a bit,” noted CEO Tim Vanderheiden. “There is a watershed of opportunity.”

Several drivers make home accessibility an attractive business option for HME providers, such as a surging number of baby boomers reaching senior citizen status and their desire to stay in their homes; expanding catalogues for home accessibility; and an increasing need for firms to furnish, deliver and install the products.

 According to the MetLife Mature Marketing Institute, 91% of pre-retirees ages 50 to 65 want to live in their homes in retirement. Today, aging-in-place technology is estimated to be a $2 billion a year industry, and the Aging in Place Technology Watch website reports that the market is expected to grow sharply to more than $30 billion in the next few years.

“The population of people between ages 75 and 85 is starting on the path toward doubling over the next 10 years, so the need is developing now from an aging standpoint,” Baxter said. “The demand is strong and getting stronger.”

boomers are key

From a sales standpoint, the boomers are key to the market from two angles—as the decision-makers for their geriatric parents and as potential customers themselves. They are also more willing to pay cash for the products and home modifications they want, though they are also educated and discriminating in their business dealings, Baxter said.

“That means becoming an expert in the field, knowing which solutions best fit their clients’ homes according to their physical capabilities,” he said. “It is imperative to understand these clients and their living environment. Not all solutions are created equal and providers need to know every unique situation, including local (building) codes and the dynamics of each home.”

Vanderheiden expounded on the code issue as it relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991, saying that providers should not only be intimately familiar with its requirements—especially for Veterans Affairs customers—but also as an opportunity for new business.

“While all multi-housing properties built in 1991 and later should be ADA-compliant, there are many that need modification,” he said. “ADA requires that no threshold be higher than three-quarters of an inch and all entries should have that dimension. It is a business opportunity that providers should definitely pursue.”

marketing and branding

Creating visibility and establishing a reputation—especially for companies adding the accessibility business—is paramount for creating a client base, says Jerry Keiderling, president of VGM’s Accessible Home Improvement of America. This means focusing on marketing and branding campaigns, he said.

“The most important component of making a successful transition into the accessibility marketplace is marketing,” Keiderling said. “The right message to the right audience in a timely and informative fashion is the key to success. Your existing clientele, your existing referral sources, and your community as a whole all need to be made aware of the new services you offer and the products available to help them live independently.”

Certification in home accessibility is the core of company branding to a generation that grew up trusting the Maytag repairman and Mr. Goodwrench, Keiderling said. 

“The Certified Environmental Access Consultant is very well known in the HME and home accessibility market, as it focuses on the individual and looks at their needs today as well as the future,” he said.