The difference between big box retail and HME


More and more lately, when I ask providers “What’s new?” they talk about their retail efforts. Either they’re just getting started, amping them up or opening up new locations to continue growing their retail income. 

I spoke a little while ago to Eric Hagen, who’s moving to a space in October that will have three times the showroom space. What’s the secret to his success? Understanding why his customers come in the door.

There’s a key difference between big box retailers and HMEs branching into the retail market, he said. HME customers don’t want to buy HME, he said—they need it.

“We have a business of need,” he said. “People come in because they need something. They go to big boxes for fun. This is a totally different retail experience.”

Instead of the large, vacant aisles at a big box store, retailing HME means focusing on one-on-one time with customers. A lot of people come into the store not knowing exactly what they’re looking for or what they might need. 

That’s where well-trained, helpful employees come in—all employees, even the delivery team.

“We educate every employee so we don’t miss out on those auxiliary sales—like mentioning bed sheets when you’re delivering a bed,” he said. 

Of course, price is also a big factor: People might come in needing a CPAP, and be willing to spend some money to get a pillow or other accessory—but the price has to be right, he says. 

“They may want to spend money, but they don’t want to spend a lot of money,” he told me. 

With all the retail-focused conference sessions and HME providers willing to share the benefits of their experience, this blog post might be white noise to you. Ask a provider who’s doing great at retail what the secret is, and, invariably, you’ll hear “customer service.” It seems pretty obvious to you guys, but it isn’t to everyone.

I had an experience with an online retailer—I found a quilt I liked on Pinterest, and wanted to buy the pattern. I did a Google image search and found the company, but, after searching their website for 10 minutes or so, couldn’t find the pattern. I emailed them, asking about it, and this is the response I got:


This was a pattern that I designed for a fabric line that we kitted. It was only was applicable to that line of fabric and does not exist as a separate pattern.


It doesn’t exist? Really? You don’t have this file anywhere in your computer or file cabinet and could send me a copy if I sent you $5? 

Great. Thanks for nothing. I couldn’t help thinking that if this was an HME provider, they’d bend over backwards to give me what I wanted or needed. Alas. 

That, my friends, is the difference between HME and everyone else's idea of retail.