Healthy Profits

What Ails Consumers

At first glance, retailers might not seem like the best sources of assistance for the physically and medically challenged. After all, serious conditions call for professional help. But today's medical system leaves plenty of gaps. It's not simply that cost-conscious insurance companies are sending patients home "quicker and sicker." It's that the limits of traditional medical care often fall short of addressing all of a patient's needs.

A case in point: When Paul Schickling sees diabetic consumers at his Fountain Valley, California, store, Guardian for Diabetics, they've already seen their doctors, heard their diagnoses, and even received recommendations on how to deal with their conditions. But that doesn't mean they're ready to cope.

There is equipment to select--blood glucose meters and maybe insulin injection systems. Once chosen, that equipment has to be operated safely and accurately. Nutrition and the judicious regulation of food intake are vital--and often mystifying to the novice. Add complications such as impaired vision to the picture, and you've got a consumer in dire need of service.

Schickling, who is a pharmacist, can't cure his customers. But he and his wife, Clarice, a registered dietitian, can offer helpful products and train customers in their use. They hold seminars, provide advice and furnish much-needed support because, as Schickling puts it, "[Patients] need to talk about what's happening to them."

Schickling isn't alone in realizing this market has potential. Retail chains are springing up nationwide, including Greenberg's superstore, Take Good Care, which boasts a staggering 20,000 square feet of merchandise. In addition to its 20 departments (ranging from mobility to orthotics, back care, homeopathy and daily-living aids), Take Good Care features a conference area for in-store seminars and expert help with third-party billing.

Greenberg concedes the very thing that makes health-care retailing exciting is also its greatest challenge: "We've had to find ways to get the word out that there's a whole new way of shopping for these products," Greenberg says. "We're very encouraged by the response so far. But there's an educational process [to helping consumers learn these stores exist]."

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This article was originally published in the February 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Healthy Profits.

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