The pulse on retail

Providers: Give them what they want
Monday, April 23, 2012

It seems like more providers than ever are jumping on the retail bandwagon, driven by reimbursement cuts and competitive bidding, they say.

“If you have a company like ours that’s 80% insurance and you lose the bid, what do you do?” said Eric Espinal, district retail manager at Suburban Home Medical’s retail-focused store in Vernon, Conn., which opened Jan. 25. 

Espinal hopes increased retail traffic will offset potential losses once competitive bidding hits his area.

The customer demand is certainly there, says provider Mike Grotefend, and not just for products that supplement traditional HME but also for products typically paid by insurance. 

“A lot of people don’t want to go through the hassle of going through insurance,” said Grotefend, who opened retail-only Alpine Home Medical in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. in February. “We’re noticing that if we have really good pricing, people will say, ‘For that, I’ll just buy it.’”

It’s not just about making more money; it’s about helping patients, says provider Craig Rae. 

“You set someone up with a power wheelchair and say, ‘How are you going to get in and out of the car?’” said Rae, who moved Salisbury, N.C.-based Penrod Home Medical into a shopping plaza and beefed up its retail offerings in February. 

Another bonus: Less time doing paperwork and more time with customers. 

“That’s the part of the business that we love, getting out there and talking to people,” said Grotefend. 

Getting into retail has its challenges, providers warn. The biggest: retraining employees to sell products, rather than take insurance information, said Rae. He took advantage of manufacturer training and hired someone with a retail background. 

It’s also a challenge to keep up with the sheer variety of products, say providers. 

“If we’re talking about crutches, (for example), you’re going to have tall, medium and youth,” Espinal said. “When you go into retail, you’re going to have different sizes, different colors and different materials. It gets to be more what the customer wants versus what they need.”