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Retail playbook for caretailers, part 1: How to find the right retail products

You might have great ideas for products to sell and how to get foot traffic through the door if you owned, say, a small boutique or a hardware store. But for home medical equipment (HME) providers or "caretailers"1 — retailers who provide customer service and expertise to customers willing to pay for health-related products to improve their lives beyond third party payers — you have to think a little differently when finding the right retail products to offer your patients.

You'll need the same retail savvy as if you owned the hardware store — for instance, carrying the most popular hammers, coupled with good quality products and equipment consumers need and are willing to purchase. But you'll also need to provide a traditional retail experience along with excellent customer service and care.

Here's what HME providers should know about selling the right retail products.

Build your HME catalog: Deciding what products to sell

Customers are willing to buy medical equipment and products they need with cash, even if they have those items reimbursed by their payer afterward.

Patients often purchase items for cash and get reimbursed later for a variety of reasons, including: they're able to find what they want, try it out, get feedback from their HME provider, or ultimately, because they may likely be able to take that item home for immediate use.

Talk to the people who determine which products to carry.But selecting the appropriate retail items to stock and carry may be difficult — especially if you're new to selling medical products for cash as opposed to traditional reimbursement.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to determine what cash items you should carry:

1. Talk with your referral sources for ideas. If you're willing to expand your product list to include what they think are the most common items they refer patients for, you may see an uptick in sales.

2. Ask your current patients what they'd like to see more of in your retail store. You can ask them when they stop in or call to inquire about an item, or even consider sending a more formal questionnaire via mail or email from your mailing list.

3. Check out your competitors. Do your competitors carry items for cash sales that you don't? They may have done the research they needed to determine which items sell for cash. To help uncover this, consider asking your distributor about the popularity and availability of items your competitors sell that you don't.

4. Foster incremental sales. Let's say one of your bread-and-butter items is CPAP. Incremental sales means you offer the associated equipment and accessories for CPAP, like masks, hoses, cleaners, pillows, headgear, etc. This is a win-win scenario. These items will likely make your patients more comfortable and could lead to them being more compliant with their prescribed therapy. Plus, many of these items are great cash sales, which often have higher margins. Consider what categories have accessories available for cash sales you could promote to your patients as a starting position.

More tips on how to drive HME sales

Excel in inventory management

To maximize retail sales, you'll need impeccable inventory management skills, including identifying your top products and having a handle on how many you need so patients will find the product they're looking for in stock.

Start by identifying your best-selling categories, which are typically CPAP, pain management and mobility. Next, analyze the products that perform best and identify top-performing products that account for at least 20% of sales.2 Find those products that are great for cash sales.

For effective inventory management, two months' worth of inventory is the recommended volume for your top 20%.2 Because everything else is more sales-volatile, use your best judgment for inventory needs. The below example looks at inventory needs for the bathroom aid category.

Offer quality products

When you think of yourself as a caretailer, you have a vested interest in your customer's health and want the best quality products for them. Buying medical supplies and products is important for your customers — they're looking for healthcare solutions and (oftentimes) answers, and expect the highest-quality product possible.

An open and candid relationship with your distributor based on trustworthy feedback from your customer base provides a way to assess the products you order.

Drive HME sales with effective marketing

Since there's more to caretailing than putting products on a shelf and hoping the customer will buy them, you must market to your customer base through photos, verbiage and experienced sales professionals. Word of mouth along with great online reviews is an ideal way to jump-start your marketing.

Start by asking your current patients to provide a review about your services online. Just as you wouldn't buy the latest high-tech TV without learning a little about it, your patients are unwilling to pay cash when they're unsure what a product can do, what its features are, and how it works. When a customer does review you online, make sure you respond as well.

As the trend toward consumerism moves into healthcare products, having positive online reviews will go a long way to promote your business.

Build a great distributor relationship

For your distributor to succeed, you must succeed, so ask your distributor what training is available for your staff, including how a product works.

Leading distributors — like McKesson Medical-Surgical — have resources available to teach you and your entire team about product categories and specific products. Ask your distributor, and you'll be surprised what resources you can access.

Be patient-focused

Because the global health industry is worth $4.2 trillion today, according to the Global Wellness Institute,3 storefronts should feel health-minded and patient focused.

What's more, the primary imperative for home-use products is that they're safe, functional, usable and pleasurable, and they help patients achieve their health and life goals.

Caretailers should also consider product customization to their patients' preferences. Desirable products offer:4

  • Personalizability
  • Delightfulness
  • Usability
  • Functionality/accessibility
  • Safety

Create desirable product inventory

Finally, because customers always have a choice between you, your competitors, big-box retailers and e-commerce sites, create a product list and inventory that encompasses devices and products that have been used in the home for many years as well as emergent technologies.

Place the most popular categories in the middle or towards the back of the store to drive traffic, make good use of signage to direct customers and use product placement to your advantage in a good, better, best shelving design, pairing like-items at eye level.2

By creating an impactful experience, nurturing your customers, and getting to know their needs while offering superior service, best quality products and care, you can ensure you're selling the right HME products for maximum revenue and creating a caretailing experience customers will want to revisit.

Continue your reading. Our complete ebook, Think bigger: A retail playbook, goes into more detail on this and other ways to channel traditional retail ideas to help grow HME retail profits.


© 2021 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.