Readers sound off on mass retailers

Sunday, December 28, 2008

YARMOUTH, Maine - Manufacturers who sell home medical equipment through mass retailers are adding insult to injury, say respondents to an HME NewsPoll that will appear in the January issue.

"(By selling through mass retailers), manufacturers undercut our pricing, and with Medicare cuts on most of our biggest-selling items, it is going to be more difficult just to make a profit," commented one provider. "We would like the opportunity to be competitive in this market."

A whopping 82% of 183 respondents reported they have a problem with manufacturers selling through mass retailers.

But providers aren't just worried about their profit margins. They're worried about patients. They say mass retailers don't have the trained staff to safely provide HME to customers.

"Think about one of their salespeople discussing the differences between the six or seven rollators they keep in stock," wrote one respondent. "How well will they match the correct product to the customer and meet their needs? My guess is that they won't."

Additionally, providers say mass retailers don't provide post-sale services.

"So much of (what is) being sold requires some degree of service and the mass retailers are not geared to deliver this, nor do they care to," commented John Bullions of Bullions & Associates in Lewistown, Mont.

The good news for providers: It doesn't appear that manufacturers selling HME through mass retailers has become a full-blown trend--yet. Seventy-five percent of the manufacturers who responded to the poll reported they do not sell through mass retailers.

That's because some manufacturers value their relationships with their HME provider customers, commented one respondent.

"They are experts in delivery, setup and maintaining the equipment," said a representative for an oxygen manufacturer. "Patients rely on one-on-one service and you can only get that from the DME company in town that knows you."

Still, providers expect to face tough competition in the years ahead. Eighty-one percent of respondents reported that they expect mass retailers to sell more HME in the next 10 to 15 years. Respondents say they're fighting back and standing by the old motto, "quality vs. quantity."

"We inform our client base that we do more than sell," said one provider. "We educate; we back our product line; and we repair and honor warranties."