...but spares cash sales

Saturday, February 28, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine--With the national economy in tatters and consumer confidence nearly as ragged, even the typically recession proof healthcare industry has taken a hit.

Provider Jerry Jeanes says he’s just happy his retail numbers are even with last year’s numbers.

“I’m tickled we’re not going backward,” said Jeanes, owner of Denton, Texas-based Choice Medical Equipment. “People are going to continue to get sick regardless of what the economy’s doing or who’s in the White House.”

The National Retail Federation in January predicted overall retail sales will be down about 0.5% in 2009.

HME is not immune, says retail consultant Jack Evans.

“It’s the first time in 20 years I’ve seen health care affected,” he said. “Anything discretionary, people are putting on hold.”

Evans blames a lack of foot traffic in stores for the drop in retail sales. He recommends providers ramp up advertising and sales tactics.

That worked for provider Angie Fishel, who enjoyed a busy holiday season. Her biggest movers: lift chairs and seat lifts.

“We had a 15% off sale that started in November and we stayed busy right through Christmas,” said Fishel, director of Winchester, Va.-based Valley Homecare. “We’re considering doing it again later this winter.”

Valley Homecare added several new cash lines in 2008 and was on track to open a new location with a 2,000-square-foot retail space in February. Fishel said the company was pushing home safety products and other non-DME items.

“We’re taking the approach that there’s stuff caregivers may need for themselves,” she said. “We’re also looking at doing more with aromatherapy, candles and maybe greeting cards.”

With reimbursement on the decline, provider Rich King is also pumping his efforts into cash sales, despite the specter of reduced consumer spending.

“We’re pushing the marketing hard,” said King, CEO of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based ProMed DME. “Last year was our best year ever and this year is starting off really well. People will bring the ads in with them and look at stuff.”