A pharmacy-based home medical equipment (HME) business has a number of built-in mechanisms for growth, if only the pharmacist will take advantage of them. That was the assurance made by a marketing specialist who described such a business plan at the 18th annual Medtrade Show, held in New Orleans recently. The presentation was given by Colette A. Weil, MBA, managing director of Summit Marketing, Mill Valley, Calif., a company specializing in home health care.
The pharmacist can increase HME sales in a number of ways, she said. They include leveraging the pharmacy database, modifying the retail space, highlighting products that have wide appeal, and promoting the pharmacist as the local expert in a particular disease area. "It does take time to do this, so you select what makes the most sense for your business and go after it," Weil said.
Familiarizing yourself with your prescription database is an initial activity that will steer you into areas where growth is likely. "It is easier to use your existing accounts to sell something new than to try to attract new business," she pointed out. The Rx database can be searched and sorted by age, gender, and medications to allow for targeted promotions--mailings to customers who would be interested in particular products or services.
Critical focus must be placed on retailing--retooling the store to increase profitability as the customer heads toward the pharmacy. The aim is to create a whole new look--this can entail anything from placement of store items to choice of paint colors to the appearance of your orthotics fitting room. "I have been in more depressing fitting rooms with wood paneling from the 1950s," Weil commented. "You are the personal fit expert for personal needs. If your fitting room does not appeal to the target audience, they will go elsewhere." She also suggested "checking out the competition."
Seasonal items should be prominently featured and cross-merchandised, with displays rotated at least monthly, "or you are not doing your job to garner new business," Weil said. Seasonal items for winter, for example, include not just cold medications but also thermometers, vaporizers, and heating pads--all moved up to the front of the store. "Hot" areas should also be emphasized. Sports medicine is big with consumers, for example, but retailers fail to capitalize on this interest, she pointed out.
"Think big, think ahead," she suggested. "Take a few hundred dollars and underwrite the local soccer team. Become its official sports director. Offer team members 15% off products and donate this back to the team. You will get business, good visibility, and good press. You've been doing this all along. You just need to beef up the idea and put a spin on it."
Sports medicine is only one aspect of the sizable--and aging--baby boomer segment. By taking advantage of the needs of this group, you will enhance your sales of many types of items, such as orthotics or comfort- and arthritis-related products.
"Create an area in your store to showcase ADL [activities of daily living] products [on cords], which customers can try. The manufacturer wants to sell these products, so it will work with you. You set up the area, invite your targeted audience from your database, and send notices to your referral source. You can create a whole program [based around a need]."
Become more involved in disease management, Weil also suggested. While the government has eliminated some of the profit in the respiratory disease area, it has also made it possible for pharmacists to be reimbursed for disease management--up to $180 per hour.
"You have a legislated opportunity in pharmaceutical care to be paid for something you have been doing for free," she said. "What you have to do is build a program and trademark. You are going to claim to be the expert in this area."
But all does not occur within the pharmacy itself, she pointed out. Pharmacists cannot remain in their stores and expect business to grow. "Be known in your community if you want to 'sell' your store. Outside sales are imperative to increase your visibility," Weil said.
Networking is especially important in the managed care environment. The savvy pharmacist and HME supplier will be aware of changes in the local health-system structure, asking questions during times of transition in order to identify opportunities for new business. The R.Ph. will get involved in health-promotion services, such as work site programs, and will pursue business from physician management firms. Even more farsighted, the pharmacist exploring new avenues for growth will conduct customer surveys and consider advertising through catalogues and the Internet.