Increase cash sales with senior-suitable clothes.
by Jan Erickson

In the face of the uncertain future of medical insurance and reimbursements,
HME providers are seeking cashand- carry products that meet their customers’ needs. While clothing is not generally considered a medical necessity or a therapeutic investment, medical retailers are successfully turning to clothing to increase cash sales.

It takes more than simply stocking clothes on a shelf, however, to be successful in this transition. By studying the boutique retail selling and merchandising model, we have identified three key strategies that HME stores can easily use to successfully turn clothing into profits: stocking the right products, becoming an authority and creating a comfortable atmosphere.

Choose the Right Product Mix for Your Customers

Boutiques provide the perfect assortment of products for their customers. For the HME provider, adding clothing and adaptive garments may be a perfect fit. However, this market is extremely specific, with limited choices and some stigma related to disability. Adaptive clothing also tends to look clinical, unattractive and dull.

Comfort clothing, however, is a new market with great potential for HME providers. Garments with versatile designs, multiple uses, functional features and unisex or single sizing—like Janska’s Wellness Wear—have a wider, more universal appeal.

When selecting comfort clothing, look for easy-care fabrics, energetic colors and a loose fit. Choose garments that keep patients warm while allowing easy access for medical treatments, stay on the lap but safely away from the wheels of a wheelchair, don’t require full mobility to put on or are designed to conceal adaptive features.

A good selection also increases sales. Historically, when presented with one choice, a customer may not buy; with two choices, he or she will select one. With three choices, however, the customer often selects two.

Establish Your HME Store as an Authoritative Resource

A boutique, by definition, is an authority on who its customer is, what her tastes and needs are and which current trends and products will meet those needs. There are several ways to establish your store as an authority—clear signage, engaging displays and trunk shows or other events. But the most effective (and least expensive) tool is a helpful, knowledgeable sales staff.

Often, HME customers don’t know what they might need beyond the written prescription they must fill. “Consumers don't understand how products work and where to find them,” says Helen Rockey, owner of Seattle-based Wildbleu. “Retailers are struggling with how to best service the consumer and communicate product benefits. It takes work to educate consumers on how products improve their lives.”

Instead of merely filling customers’ prescriptions, serve your customers like a boutique. Just talk to them. Some basic questions help you uncover needs associated with aids for daily living of dressing. Is your loved one cold? Which part of the body is cold—the hands? The feet? Is a caregiver helping your patient dress? Does the loved one spend a lot of time sitting? Is she confined to a wheelchair? These questions can help you offer solutions to problems which your customer may not even have been aware of.

Create a Comfortable and Conducive Environment

Flattering mirrors, comfortable seating, pleasant lighting and luscious textures—
boutiques are known for their inviting environments. Studies show that when customers are comfortable in a store, they will spend more time shopping. HME providers can embrace the boutique merchandising paradigm to put the customer at ease in the store (which can be intimidating, especially to a first-time customer) and invite him or her to “stay and shop.”

Denver-based You Can Too Can created a display inviting customers to touch garments and try them on in a comfortable environment. Wraps and shawls, for example, are draped across wheelchairs— showing the customer exactly where and how to use the garment.

The bottom line is that there is a demand for comfort clothing, and if HME providers don’t meet it, customers will find it elsewhere. Since these customers are already in HME stores, the providers who offer soft goods can improve both their profits and their ability to serve their customers. By following the boutique paradigm of choosing the right products, establishing your store as an authority and creating a welcoming environment, HME stores can successfully turn clothing into profit.

Senior Care Products, Winter 2011