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How Baby Boomers Can Help Grow Your DME Retail Business

The onslaught of industry cuts, caps and competitive bidding have made it increasingly difficult for DME providers to survive on reimbursable revenue alone. In response, providers have been growing their retail/cash sales efforts to make up for lost income and grow their overall revenue. According to Jim Greatorex with VGM Retail Services, VGM group members who have seen cash sales success are generating annual cash growth between 10 percent and 20 percent year over year.

One of the drivers of DME retail growth is the baby boomer market. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, the boomer generation, along with their parents, own 80% of American household wealth (The Motley Fool). This is important because not only do boomers have discretionary income for their own health-related issues, but many of them are making HME health-related decisions for their parents and other elderly relatives.

Boomer Illnesses Mean Increased Healthcare Demand

The large boomer demographic will most likely enjoy increased longevity, but not without significant health challenges. According to Medscape:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 baby boomers has diabetes
  • 40% of baby boomers are obese
  • More than 50% of baby boomers take medication for hypertension 

"We are looking at a market that will benefit from our services," says Greatorex. In addition to these health challenges, several factors point to increased demand and spending within this important demographic:

  • Boomers' income
  • Increasing insurance deductibles
  • A nationwide physician shortage
  • A huge influx of new patients due to the growing aging population, and
  • Those newly-insured due to the Affordable Care Act   

DME Opportunities in Incontinence, Wound Care and Bathing & Bed Supplies

Considering the consequences from health challenges facing baby boomers today and into the future - diabetes, obesity and hypertension - Greatorex said there are three top-selling product categories that address these issues, and, therefore, should be a part of DME providers' retail mix. They are incontinence, wound care and bath and bathing. Here is how you can implement these categories into your retail business. 


Urinary incontinence (UI), which is the loss of bladder control, affects between 25% to 33% of men and women in the United States, according to the Urology Care Foundation. Links to UI include obesity, pregnancy, prostate issues and aging, although UI is not considered a normal aspect of getting older. According to data cited by Ad Age, bladder control products is a $1.6 billion business

"It's never been a very well publicized medical condition," said Cheryl L. Hutton, BSN, RN, CWON, Clinical Director at McKesson Medical-Surgical. "Even though we've known that it's been an issue for years, the message that the healthcare community wants to get out right now is that incontinence is not a normal part of aging. The majority of sufferers are most likely not even talking to their doctors about it, and, instead, are out there trying to find a solution in the retail environment."

According to Hutton, early baby boomer age is when issues begin to occur. She said that UI becomes evident with people in long-term care facilities or personal care homes. These patients can't get to the bathroom so there is a very high incidence of UI in those facilities. But the target age, she said, is probably a lot younger, perhaps early 50s or 60s. 


UI Products

According to Susan Wood, RN, BSN, PhD, WCC, FAPWCA, LLE, Clinical Educator and Consultant with McKesson Medical-Surgical, products that HME retailers should carry are pull-ups, diapers and liners. And carrying several brands and sizes is important, because each product will have different levels of comfort and absorbency for patients.

"One of the biggest challenges that we even see in long-term care facilities and hospitals is that the staff doesn't understand how to properly size the incontinence products for the patients," said Hutton. "That's very important so that they don't have a failure. Wipes are also an important product to carry. They come in handy for baby boomers, who are on the run, very busy and in the workforce."

Along with wipes, Hutton said stocking other skincare products near UI products is smart marketing. Also keeping a sizing chart in the area as well and a mannequin that can be used to show proper fitting. Finally, it takes well-trained and sensitive salespeople to make sure customers leave the store with the right product. Boomers expect a high-quality in-store experience when shopping (Business Insider).

According to Business Insider, baby boomers are Internet savvy and comfortable shopping online. So with UI products being somewhat embarrassing for many patients to buy in-store and with adult diapers and pull-ups taking up a lot of retail space, Hutton suggested that UI products are perfect for providers' online space.

Greatorex offered these tips:

  • Offer two lines of incontinence products: Minor-level products for baby boomers, who are active and don't have major bladder control issues, and then a major line for more severe problems.
  • Have a robust sample program.
  • Offer home delivery to avoid embarrassment.
  • Consider keeping UI products in a lower traffic area of the store so when customers are looking they don't feel crowded.


Advanced Wound Care

As more baby boomers and seniors stay in their homes instead of using long-term care facilities, advanced wound care, a several-billion-dollar industry (WOUNDS 2012;24(1):10-17.), has gained traction for DME retail. In fact, although there is little industry data available about the advanced wound care market for DMEs, Heather Trumm, Director of Wound Care, VGM & Associates, estimated that the average revenue percentage of most advanced wound care DME providers is up to 30%.

According to Hutton, the three biggest baby boomer disease states that cause wounds are: diabetes mellitus, peripheral artery disease and chronic venous insufficiency.

"DME providers need to know what those disease processes mean," said Hutton. "For example, the type of wound that a diabetic might have would be very different than someone who had a venous insufficiency wound. There has to be some clinical education on the part of the customer service people who would know what type of products would be most commonly requested in those specific chronic disease processes. In diabetes, the big issue is that people can't feel their feet. There is neuropathy." 

Hutton said that providers need to be prepared to address comments and questions, such as, "What should I use? Whatever the doctor gave me isn't working" or "The dressings are hurting. What should I tell my doctor?"


Wound Care Products

"For advanced wound care patients who walk into a provider's retail store, they are going to be looking for roll gauze, saline, tape, cotton swabs, tubular elastic gauze and topical antibiotics," said Wood. Greatorex added bandages, and latex and vinyl gloves, all in sizes and variety that are greater than the local drug store.

Also, become familiar with which wound care products are reimbursable. They can be expensive and you don't want them sitting on the shelves. Instead, form a relationship with a secondary supplier that can get you these items when you need them.

Wood recommends that providers who are interested in advanced wound care should visit the Wound Care Education Institute, which offers courses in the fields of skin, wound, diabetic and ostomy management.

Greatorex offered these tips for enhancing your wound care business:

  • Let area physicians and clinical professionals know the products you carry.
  • Work with wholesalers who can help you maintain quantities of product that make sense and can even drop ship directly to a patient's home.
  • Take advantage of the public's perception that an HME provider is a medical supply company by stocking medical supplies, such as advanced wound care products.
  • This is a category of products in which we can sell items at a price lower than what customers will find elsewhere.
  • Take advantage of advanced wound care being a recurring need.


Bathing and Beds

The baby boomer wants to age at home. According to AARP, 87 percent of adults age 65 and older want to stay in their current home and community as they age. Among people ages 50 to 65, 71 percent want to age in place. This helps drive the bathing and bed HME market.

According to Greatorex, bathing is really about safety for later-year boomers and boomers who may be caretakers for the elderly, such as a live-in parent or parents in long-term care facilities. Popular bathing products to carry in an HME showroom include seats, benches, grab bars, hand-held showers, non-slip bath mats, foot scrubbers and long-handled sponges.




of adults age 65+ want to stay in their current home and community as they age.

Bathing and bath are highly competitive categories because you are competing with home improvement stores and the Internet.

Here are Greatorex's tips for differentiating yourself:

  • Meet customer needs effectively. Often, a son or daughter takes a day off from work or uses a Saturday to help the patient buy an item. In that case, the caretaker likely wants the transaction to be completed that day and as quickly as possible. If you can communicate what products will work best and are able to deliver the items on the spot, you have a better chance of landing the sale.
  • Offer a higher level of service than your competition, such as equipment installation, and home delivery via your company or a wholesaler.
  • Build a program around visiting therapists who like to borrow equipment from HME providers so that they can try them first. Get the business by getting equipment into the home.

For the homecare bedroom, products to carry in your retail store include handles and rails that assist people getting in and out of bed, transfer products, any kind of table or bed tray, bed pads, sleep covers, orthopedic pillows, monitors, bed warmers and foot cradles. Greatorex suggested that in your showroom, you:

  • Display products where customers can see them.
  • Shy away from putting a homecare hospital bed in your showroom. It is scary to the baby boomer.
  • Cross-sell bathing and bed products because they go hand in hand.
  • Don't use up all your floor space. Some of the bed products take up a lot of space. Wholesalers make great partners because of just in time inventory. They allow you to carry a minimal number of products but offer a greater selection.


What's next for your DME business?

The baby boomer market is growing significantly and the time is right to enhance your DME business by taking advantage of their numbers, income and wealth of knowledge.

Providing the best care must be top of mind, so choose incontinence, advanced wound care and bed and bathing products from a manufacturer/distributor that will be dedicated to education and helping you grow your business. Make sure your manufacturer/distributor partner offers product instruction, online tools and consultation.

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