Providers make 'rare and gutsy' moves

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not all HME providers are in standby mode. Some, likes Medically Yours and Cape Medical Supply, opened new locations in April.

“People in my state association—they tell me it’s a rare and gutsy move in this economy,” said Aaron Lerberg, owner of Medically Yours in Des Moines, Iowa. “But you can only turn over the same bit of market share so many times. You have to look at new market share—other places to tell your story and to service people.”

Medically Yours opened an 1,800-square-foot location in Ankeny, Iowa, its second. Sandwich, Mass.-based Cape Medical Supply opened a 1,400-square-foot location in Hyannis, its fourth.

Medically Yours

When Lerberg decided to expand, he began looking for a town that was underserved and “rich in landmarks.” A retail shopping mall in Ankeny fit the bill with a Walgreens; Karl Chevrolet, a large car dealership; and Old Chicago, a popular restaurant, all nearby.

“Our industry needs to be more strategic,” Lerberg said. “For too long, we’ve been so mom-and-pop centered. We’ve been like, ‘Well, this is where we live, so this is where we’re going to have our location.’”

Lerberg’s flexibility extends to his product mix: Medically Yours is a full-line provider, but Lerberg has told his Ankeny staff, “If you get requests for products we don’t carry, go ahead and stock them.”

“We need to turn on a dime,” he said.

Lerberg considers the location in Ankeny—a northern suburb of Des Moines—an “experimental test bed.”

“It’s close enough to our main location that, if any issues arise that we haven’t planned for ahead of time, we have backup,” he said. “That way we can get things right before we move into areas that may be harder to support.”

Lerberg says he’s already looking beyond Ankeny to a third, and possibly a fourth, location.

Cape Medical Supply

If there’s a plus side to the downturn in the economy, it’s the real estate market. For Gary Sheehan, president and CEO of Cape Medical Supply, that helped to make opening a new location less risky.

“The timing is really good to be in expansion mode,” he said. “The lease terms you can get and the concessions you can make—we weren’t able to do that before.”

Cape Medical Supply’s new location focuses on retail, and while Sheehan admits, “We’re still learning to be retailers,” he won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

“We’re doing well, but we’re always striving to do better,” he said. “The key right now is diversifying away from Medicare and getting all the infrastructure in place.”

With four locations under its belt now, Cape Medical Supply has formed a template for expansions.

“We use the same wood color and the same carpet color, so there’s a consistency,” he said. “We’re not McDonald’s, but when you walk into one Cape Medical Supply, we want you to think, ‘Oh, I’ve been here before.’”