Healthy Profits

Teach Them Well

Understanding how to educate consumers is perhaps the number-one priority for aspiring health-care retailers. Opportunities exist for new enterprises but only where entrepreneurs can do an exceptional job of merchandising, community outreach and providing customer service.

For most entrepreneurs, niche marketing is key. Although the superstore concept is hot, the millions of dollars required to open a mega-location are beyond the scope of many new business owners. Instead, smaller ventures like Schickling's focus on one specific market--diabetics or specialties as diverse as back care, allergy relief, and herbal and homeopathic remedies.

Entrepreneurs in this field must be consummate retailers. It's not enough for a health-care store to be clean and attractive; it should also be informative. "I'm constantly trying to get [home health retailers] to think about their in-store displays," says Jack Evans, whose Malibu, California-based Global Media Marketing provides marketing advice to health-care providers nationwide. Evans advocates setting up "vignettes" that
depict a well-equipped bath or a state-of-the-art wheelchair so customers can see what different products do and why they might be useful.

Knowledgeable service should be a given in this business. Good service might include anything from teaching a client to use diagnostic equipment to fitting them for prosthetics. Hosting seminars and support groups is smart marketing--and a common practice among savvy health retailers.

Reaching consumers is essential, but so is reaching out to the health-care community. Evans estimates as much as two-thirds of revenues at home health stores come from managed care and Medicare referrals. To that end, health-care retailers must establish solid relationships with local doctors, therapists and hospitals. Expertise in third-party insurance billing is also important, although it's possible to farm your billing out to specialized firms.

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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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