Road trip

Sunday, February 29, 2004

MUNDELEIN, Ill. - One difficulty HME sales reps have is not being able to fit the products they sell into their cars. Try to squeeze a homecare bed and a scooter into a car, even with the back seat laid flat.
Medline reps started making sales with a 30-foot trailer in December.

As a result, sales reps must use brochures to sell products, and sometimes, that’s not enough.

“[Our customers] want to see our products in front of them,” said Tom Tucker, vice president of sales and marketing for DME and respiratory equipment for Medline Industries. “They want to use them.”

But sales reps struggle with how to give that to customers. Not anymore.

Since December, Tucker and other senior sales reps have been making sales calls with a 30-foot trailer equipped with Medline products, including larger items like homecare beds. So far, they have made about two dozen sales calls with the trailer, dubbed “The Learning Center.” Most of their trips have been to the South, but once the weather warms up, they plan on making trips north, too.

Greg Smith, senior vice president of sales for the Northeast for Medline, made a sales call with the trailer to Gould’s Discount Medical in Louisville, Kentucky: “It’s one thing to tell customers they can convert any of our Excel 3000 chairs from a standard wheelchair to a transport chair in about ten seconds using our quick-release wheels,” he said. “It’s another thing to allow customers to do that for themselves.”

“The Learning Center” represents a monumental shift for Medline, Smith said. Out of the gates, Medline was a “disposable” company that purchased wheelchairs on a private-label basis and targeted institutional settings. Today, however, Medline manufactures its own wheelchairs, scooters, homecare beds and oxygen tanks and targets HME providers, too.

But Medline’s not the only vendor on the road. Since 2000, Exeter, Penn.-based Pride Mobility Products has used an RV (vs. an airplane) to transport products to each of the 32 locations of its “Seminar Tour,” where attendees receive hands-on training.

“[The RV] is more cost effective,” said Dan Fedor, general manager of education for Pride, “and it allows us to get to more locations for a more reasonable price.”

In addition to transporting products, at each “Seminar Tour” location, the team operating the RV often tries to visit several providers in the area, Fedor said.

Tucker said a sales call with the trailer entails pulling up to a customer’s store and allowing its owners and employees to take a look. What they’ll see is a 16-foot long by 8-foot wide showroom lined with DME and a kitchen and bathroom showcasing patient aids and bath safety products.

David Gould, vice president of Gould’s Discount Medical, said the power of “The Learning Center” as a sales tool rests not only in allowing providers to try products but also in allowing sales reps to meet with providers on their “turf.”

“When we meet in a store, the phones are always ringing, and people are always asking us questions,” Gould said. “By bringing us into the trailer, they guarantee themselves a captive audience.”

But “The Learning Center” is more than just an attempt to catch providers’ attention and hopefully, boost sales, Tucker said. By offering to visit referral sources with the trailer, Medline is looking to help providers boost their sales, too.

“Initially, I fought to bring this to fruition,” Tucker said. “Now it’s taking on a life of its own.”