Scooter sales dominate cash-and-carry model

Saturday, May 31, 2008

If necessity is the mother of invention, then credit competitive bidding with causing providers to think creatively about how to redefine their businesses in the new Medicare environment. At the heart of their thinking: Retail, specifically products sold for cash.
While any number of categories can fit the cash-and-carry business model, mobility is proving to be a blue chip segment, and scooters should be at the heart of any mobility retail strategy, vendors say.
"I haven't spoken to a dealer yet who isn't making retail the most important element of his business with or without competitive bidding," said Pat O'Brien, communications manager for Old Forge, Pa.-based Golden Technologies. "They see it as an essential component of their business plan. Retail is the future of HME."
To be sure, scooters should be at the center of any retail mobility strategy, agrees Cy Corgan, national sales director of retail mobility for Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility.
"Scooters are a product for the more able-bodied, which makes them perfect for cash sales," he said. "With the boomer generation coming of age, they will be coming into play soon if they haven't already."
O'Brien acknowledges that boomers are already exerting their influence on scooter design.
"They are very influential," she said. "The boomers expect more, they demand more, they want higher quality, they want aesthetics and more style. They see scooters as more than just a way to get around--it's a personal part of their being."
Pride is getting more inquiries from providers who may have looked at retail in the past, but who are more serious about it now, Corgan added.
"They want to know the ins and outs of showroom retail strategies," he said. "They want to speak with someone who is knowledgeable about product selection, merchandising, point-of-purchase displays and signage. We offer assistance on all of that."
Spring is the perfect time to focus on mobility and scooter sales because it is the beginning of the prime season, said Sandy Phillips, national accounts director for Carson, Calif.-based Shoprider Mobility Products. And despite a dark financial climate, she said, providers should find a glimmer of hope in retail sales.
"Retailing is one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy," she said. "The retail industry provides excellent business opportunities. At least one-third of the 500,000 or so new enterprises launched each year are retail operations."
Community outreach
Once an HME retailer hangs out a shingle, the object is to get people interested in checking out the store. But it's not an automatic process, it takes some effort, O'Brien said.
"People won't just start coming because they need products--competition is stiff," she said. "Come up with creative ways to let people know you're there."
Connecting with the key mobility demographics is critical to generating awareness and interest in scooters, Phillips said, recommending that companies affiliate with the Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis societies and establish relationships with local senior centers and assisted living facilities.
"A recognized provider from an in-service at a senior facility increases their marketing efforts, most often by word of mouth," she said.
Providers shouldn't be hesitant to dismiss the value of printed advertising, Phillips said--especially ads that feature cut-out coupons.
"Everyone enjoys saving money and consumers will take advantage of the opportunity to get something they need if it costs them less," she said.
Scooter-buying mood
One of the key components of a scooter retail strategy is creating an atmosphere that entices prospective customers to buy, vendors say. That means utilizing all the visual and tangible elements available to get people thinking about the product, said Ted Raquet, Pride's vice president of domestic sales.
"Embrace the whole retail philosophy by setting up a showroom, using creative merchandising techniques, planograms, developing an advertising campaign and offering the best products for the best price," he said.
Corgan adds that scooters should be part of a complete mobility package that also includes ramps, lifts and lift chairs, as well as accessories such as cupholders, oxygen holders, rearview mirrors and scooter covers.
"Show it on an incline and really deck it out," he said.
Showrooms need to be well lit, organized, easy to navigate and welcoming, O'Brien said.
Salespeople need to be trained and knowledgeable on Medicare and insurance coverage, key product features and empathetic with those who walk through the door. O'Brien recommends hiring college students who are studying retailing, advertising or marketing.
"They work for less, they have graphic design and computer skills and are eager to learn," she said.
If there's one simple mantra that HME retailers can abide by, O'Brien believes it's "open your eyes and think like a customer." Use them as advisers, she said.
"Ask for their opinion and ask them to be brutally honest about what they like and don't like," she said. "They can serve as no-cost consultants."