Insights from industry professionals
by Liz Carey

Home modification has become mainstream and today, manufacturers, equipment providers and credentialed professionals continue to develop, source and cite new solutions for making the home safer and more accessible, so that people who are either disabled or aging in place can live at home, longer and less encumbered.

Home accessibility solutions ensure that activities of daily living (ADL) can be carried out more safely and successfully despite the difficulties associated with the loss of physical or cognitive function, that comes with aging, injury or illness. Arthritis, joint pain, stroke are a few of the pushbutton issues.

Safely transferring from the bed to a chair and moving around the home; eating and dressing; and bathing, toileting and grooming present the greatest challenges to be overcome. Equipment and tools can range from heavy- to light-duty equipment, such as ramps, stair lifts, vertical lifts and vehicle lifts, and aids for daily living make life easier and even more enjoyable.

JoAnn Tilghman’s company began with one product—a cup called The Dignity Mug.

“It was made for my mother-in-law,” says Tilghman of Florida-based Granny Joe Products. “She had Alzheimer’s and could not understand why her mug had only one handle. I told my father-in-law that I would find her a mug with two handles and when I could not locate anything other than a “sippy cup,” I decided to make our own. As one ages, something will develop and aids to daily living can ease the new issues that one is forced to face.”

Founded in 2005 by Tilghman’s family, Granny Jo Products quickly began to fill a void in the retail marketplace. The company has grown to offer fashionable accessories for aging—a variety of sizes and shapes of Walker Bags for men and women, four sizes and finishes of the original Dignity Mug, blankets for wheelchairs, fleece capes, bath capes, Napkin Clips, oxygen tank covers and clothing protectors—all of which are made in the U.S. Worldwide presence of Granny Jo includes catalog companies in Australia and the Netherlands who have purchased the items year over year.

What insights can you share with dealers?
Tilghman: Seniors are not a glamour market, and traditional retail has been very slow to embrace their buying power. We see a big demand for customization. Knowing your buyer is key. We have found that when seniors are purchasing for themselves our bestseller is our Napkin Clips. If it is a gift selected by their children, they go with our Walker Bag or Blanket.

With Granny Jo and other product developers, style has staked its claim.

Around 2010, also inspired by a personal need, the first Promenaid handrail was developed in Montreal. The design and utility has consistently evolved and improved. Today, about 250 home accessibility dealers throughout the United States and Canada carry Promenaid handrails. A modern contemporary flair distinguishes the product, which is available in satin-anodized aluminum finishes of champagne silver and architectural bronze, and has grown to offer the look of real wood.

Handrails, which are generally distinguished from grab bars, are a core product of the home accessibility industry and overall safety at home. They can make or break a discharge to home and are effective—when installed correctly—for help in safely navigating the home space. Handrails, preferably continuous, and other accessibility products help prevent falls, the number one cause of accidental death among seniors—more than every other cause combined. And most of these falls occur in and around the home.

“Style transcends everything,” says Rob Geller of Promenaid. “Right behind style is code compliance with the ADA. Something that looks like it belongs in a hospital is a deal killer.”

What have you learned from your customers? What do your customers learn from you?

Geller: This concept of ‘the shrinking home’ opens the door for conversations and ideas. Our product has evolved to become more versatile and adaptable because the needs vary from client to client. By reducing the entire process to as little as 24 hours, we minimize disruption and get people out of the hospital much faster. Doing all of that, with style, while complying with the ADA and Building Code is an essential part of what we do as a company.

Across the care landscape, people live with an extraordinary range of functional abilities and needs, across all ages and life situations. Recognizing a person’s changing needs is the first step in developing an action plan.

One could plot several opportunities along the continuum of care to begin adapting the home, but the best is a proactive approach. Occupational therapists (OTs) play a key role in working with a client and their family to provide individualized recommendations to remain safe in the home.

“Occupational therapists are able to make the holistic connection between the human abilities and the built environment,” says Dr. Tracy Van Oss, an occupational therapist with a specialty certification in environmental modification and 20 years of working in homecare. Van Oss adds, assistive devices, accessibility products, adaptive products and assistive technology—all are in the same family of tools.

Wanda Gozdz of Golden Age Living, LLC, a CLIPP- and CAPS-certified specialist based in Deerfield Beach, Florida, emphasizes education and better communication for dealers. CLIPP stands for Certified Living in Place Professional. CLIPP is affiliated with the recently formed Living in Place Institute. CAPS stands for Certified Aging in Place Specialist.

What advice do you have for dealers who are working with older adults?

Gozdz: We speak to four critical themes. Security, safety, ease of use and comfort. When you talk about products this way, it’s a different perspective. Good communication is key. Understand the different categories of this population, be able to communicate the value of these products and, most importantly, provide the products and services that meet a customer’s specific needs. What do they really need? A large part of the population wants to age in place, which simply means to be able to adapt your environment as your lifestyle changes. Taking a proactive approach to prepare for this process is a win-win for all.

Learning how to conduct an intense assessment or referring to the assessment of a trained professional can help dealers best address customers’ needs, Gozdz says.

Wade Olsen of Stander, Inc., a company in the mobility aid business for 20 years, says stores need to stock more than the simple commodity sets to provide innovative choices.

How can retailers best strategize their product offerings?

Olsen: Merchandise with a wide enough selection to take advantage of retail industry best practices like Top Down Selling. Take a customer to your flagship product first (the “Best” selection in your product mix). This helps anchor them to the highest price, and most feature-rich option. If they are looking for something less expensive, you can take them to the “Better” option, and finally, if necessary, the “Good” option. In a recent store that we consulted with, adding a “Best” product increased sales of the “Better” option by 30 percent, and doubled their total sales in that category. Baby boomers want products that are unique and stylish, high quality with a best-in-class warranty. Baby boomers like to stand out.