Overcome the 'boring' nature of retail sales

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It takes a provider with hardy self esteem to hear the message consultant Louis Feuer commonly gives to his HME clients: "Our products are boring."
But it also takes a provider willing to think creatively about marketing to overcome the "boring" nature of retail HME sales. The key, he says, is to get out of the position of salesperson and into the role of educational resource for patients.
"Education is such a powerful tool," said Feuer. "People who buy products prefer to work with people who are experts. But they don't know you're an expert unless you tell them."
That's exactly what Alan Kirk, COO of Total Home Health in Elgin, Ill., has done, and with overwhelmingly positive results. Kirk hosts support groups for amputee, COPD and CPAP patients in Total's "community room," which doubles as his employee lunchroom. One Saturday a month, he hosts a free CPAP clinic. Total also sponsors a monthly Health Day where vendors come into the showroom to provide education on their products.
"The reason we're doing this isn't to sell product," said Kirk. "Giving back to the community makes me feel good about what I do. But you absolutely get back more than you put into it."
Kirk started these programs shortly after moving into a new, more-visible retail location. The result: a 100% jump in sales that first year. Even four years later, Kirk said retail sales continue to climb 50% each year.
Joe Groden experienced similar results by offering patient education in a slightly different setting--a community health fair. As general manager of Southside Apothecary (now Omnicare) in Rochester, N.Y., Groden founded Rochester's Family Health and Fitness Fair, which attracks thousands of local residents and healthcare professionals.
"The fair made us the most well-known name in home health care in our area," Groden said.
Today, Groden is a consultant who teaches HME providers how to host health fairs and has written a book on how to create such fairs.
So if providing community education is such a powerful marketing tool, why aren't more HME providers doing it?
"People don't feel like they have the time," Kirk said. "You need to assign this to one individual and free up enough of their time to focus on it."