Wholesaler makes big pitch for HMEs

Monday, February 28, 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Medical/pharmaceutical wholesaler HD Smith apparently touched a nerve in the home medical equipment industry with its recent seminars on the East Coast as nearly 100 provider attendees turned out at programs in New York and New Jersey.
Providers flocked to HD Smith’s recent seminar to learn more about how to survive in a post MMA world. The distributor has big plans to boost its offering for HMEs.

Organizers say retail strategies, reimbursement specifics and billing essentials in a post-MMA world drew huge interest among the largely HME and pharmacy audience, as did the opportunity to network with Smith, a wholesaler that has affirmed its commitment to serving HME clients. The success of these programs prompted conjecture about whether distributors and providers are forging closer ties.

“Distributors are always putting on these types of programs and the average attendance is usually between 25 and 35 people, so this turnout is exceptional,” said Jack Evans, president of Malibu, Calif.-based Global Media Marketing, who gave presentations on HME retailing. What’s more, more than 30 vendors exhibited at the shows, and Evans figures the norm is between five and 10. “It was the most successful format for a regional conference I’ve ever seen,” he said.

No one was more pleased with the turnout than Avi Weiss, Smith’s director of home healthcare. Though an industry mainstay since the early 1970s, the East Coast conferences were the first Weiss has organized since joining Smith in 2002. He credits the seminar topics with being the primary drawing card.

“People realize that merchandising and marketing are important for success these days,” he said. “You have to know what’s going on if you’re going to stay in business. It’s a matter of being the best at what they can do to maximize their potential. Anyone can sell products - the object is to sell the right way.”

Weiss plans to hold more regional seminars in other parts of the country throughout the year, including California, Texas, Florida and Illinois. The speaker line-up will remain the same, featuring Evans and billing/reimbursement specialists Bruce Brothis and Jay Williams.

Things are definitely happening at Smith, which observed its 50th anniversary last year and plans to expand its territory into the Southeast with a new 140,000-square-foot distribution center in Pompano Beach, Fla., in the spring. A $2 billion pharmaceutical wholesaler, Smith is ramping up its presence in the HME market under Weiss’s leadership, employing seven dedicated home care sales reps.

“If you’re serving pharmacies, you have to be in [the HME] business at some level - how much is up to you,” Weiss said. “We’re dedicated. We want to be in it. We’re not afraid of it. Our goal is to dominate the marketplace.”

An Rx wholesaler aggressively pursuing HME is definitely unusual, but Smith has the right pieces in place to be successful, said Tom Tucker, vice president of sales for DME and respiratory for Mundelein, Ill.-based Medline Industries. Medline is co-sponsoring the HME seminar series with Smith.

“The difference is that they have HME sales reps who are dedicated to the market,” he said. “Most pharmaceutical distributors don’t have that and as a result aren’t serving the HME customer to any great degree.”

Conversely, HME providers haven’t been clamoring for a distribution link in the supply chain either, though that could change under the right circumstances, said Bob Weir, president of the Warner Springs, Calif.-based homecare consulting firm Weir and Associates.

“The HME provider is used to seeing 15 to 20 manufacturer’s reps a month and it would greatly simplify things if that number were reduced to one or two,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s a relationship-based business and providers like their relationships with their vendors. Overall, I don’t see things changing much in the short term.”