Skip to Content

What is the ‘secret sauce’ of HME retail?

What is the ‘secret sauce’ of HME retail?

The state of retail sales in the HME industry can perhaps be best described this way: While retail is not new to the HME industry, retail-focused HME is something new and different. 

That observation belongs to Fernando Elguea, business development manager for St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Rhythm Healthcare/Lifestyle Mobility Aids. As someone who has spent most of his career helping providers capitalize on the retail opportunities most companies miss, he is now helping the Rhythm commercial team build out a retail toolbox for providers. It’s a journey he says can be rewarding if the right procedures are followed. 

“Finding the ‘secret sauce’ can take work, with ‘emulation’ being the most relevant key to success,” Elguea said. “That sounds strange, I know, but there are tried and true processes and practices that can make a retailer successful.” 

His three principles of success include: Find a unique selling position, focus on existing customers and offer broad product selection. 

“HME is an emotional industry, which makes the mantra of ‘people buy from people’ more relevant,’ Elguea said about his first principle. “All competitors will have wheelchairs, POC’s and a choice of rollators, but find what makes you different and sell them there first.” 

Existing customers are the safest option for launching into retail and providers need to capitalize on that relationship, he said. 

“It’s significantly less expensive to grow sales from existing customers than it is to go out and find all new customers,” Elguea said. “Meeting their retail needs in addition to their reimbursement levels will form a nice fence around your customers and secure future business.” 

The third principle – broad product selection – takes into consideration that retail customers want choices of models, colors and styles. 

“They don’t have to succumb to a ‘covered’ or ‘coded’ item, so give them choices,” he said. Showroom strategy 

Environment plays a huge role in successful retail sales, so providers need to determine how to establish a showroom that motivates customers to buy, vendors say. 

“Gone are the days of ‘stack it high and watch it fly,’” observed Rob Baumhover, director of Waterloo, Iowa-based VGM Retail. “Today’s customers want and expect more of an experience – they want service, education and they want ease of getting what they need and want.” 

What that means is providers need to create a true “showroom” for welcoming customers and deftly merchandising products. 

“It needs to be a place where customers feel welcome and calm; a place where they’d like to return,” Baumhover said. “It should be an area where they can literally see and feel everything they may need and want, but also to educate them about product details and how they work in the home.” 

In Baumhover’s view, the optimal showroom size is around 1,500 square feet because it is sufficient for showcasing both big items like lift chairs and scooters as well as small items like pain management and aids to daily living. 

While Renae Storie, vice president of Exeter, Pa.-based Pride Mobility, doesn’t offer a definitive showroom square footage number, she instead says that showroom space needs to be “optimized” regardless of square footage. 

By carrying one or two travel scooters, full-size scooters and a few power lift recliners, customers can get an idea what they like, she said. 

“You don’t need to carry every size of every product,” Storie said. “In a small showroom, having a variety of choices can help people visualize what they want and from there it is a matter of finding the right color and fabric for them.” 

Understanding the local demographics can help providers pinpoint the right products for the showroom, with the key being having the choices available in the warehouse once the consumer makes a selection.  

“Obviously, larger showrooms offer more opportunity to display more products,” she said. “Watch trends closely and listen to your customers to make sure you have the right products on the floor.” 

Sophie Chadefaud, vice president of sales and marketing for Markham, Ontario-based Mediflow, adds that “Retail is all about offering the experience customers don’t have when shopping online, showcasing products in their environment, such as displaying pillows in a bedroom environment and bathroom safety in a bathroom setting, having demo products for customers to touch and feel. 

"And of course, it’s about engaging with them and asking questions to understand their pain points and how it’s affecting their days, so the best solutions can be identified and explained.”


To comment on this post, please log in to your account or set up an account now.