Connection in the Heartland

Posted on: June 23rd, 2017 by Maria Markusen

A World of Possibilities

Elevator Encounters

You can learn a lot about human nature and the human connection riding in elevators. Early in my career, I worked on the 50th floor of the IDS Tower in downtown Minneapolis. Each morning I’d ride in a packed elevator. I never timed the ride however, it seemed like an eternity every morning. I looked at the elevator full of people as a great opportunity to catch up with and meet people every day. The elevator ride was a chance to make a tower of unknown people seem real. In short, to connect. The purpose was not to dive into long detailed conversations. But to at least acknowledge that the temperature was -30 that day. Or that a new retail store opened in the building lobby. Or maybe just to say hello. Or have a good work day.

My fellow elevator riders had a different agenda. They all packed into the elevator. Some reading the morning paper. Most looking straight ahead as if they were the only elevator rider. In fact, few of them even smiled when I smiled first. Sometimes, I tested the waters. “Good morning everyone. It’s a lot warmer in here than outside today.” No response. Mostly just scowls.  Every once in while I ran into a fellow connector. We talked across the elevator. More scowls.

A couple of weeks ago in Myrtle Beach, a very different elevator experience. This time on a ride to the top of the hotel, the elevator was full of connectors. A group of SC MESA attendees just finished dinner. Included were vendors, event speakers, and HME provider attendees. As we ended our night, our great dinner conversation and banter continued into the elevator. As each person got off the elevator, more banter and heartfelt goodbyes.

The only rider not a part of our group was a young man.  He was 14 or 15 years old.  After my crew exited, he said, “You’re so lucky.  You have so many friends with you in Myrtle Beach.  My parents only let me bring one friend this week.” How ironic.  None of our group knew each other before dinner.  We gathered to talk business.  To talk about the state of the industry.  How we could help our suppliers.  How we could help our customers better.  How we could thrive during a time of change.  We managed to connect in the span of an hour. We connected so well, other people thought we were old friends.

Connection at Heartland

Last week was the ultimate in connecting with old friends and making new ones.  Heartland.  The thing that most impresses me about our industry is the care and connection we have with each other. You take your connection with your patients and customers and extend it into our whole industry culture.  I would like to thank you for spending your week in the Heartland.  We enjoyed seeing you in our Retail Lab, talking about retail and its future and sharing our insights about inventory management, marketing, new store openings and the transition of our culture from sickness to wellness.  Thank you for your engagement and connection with us at Heartland and everywhere. In case you missed it, we encourage you to explore the retail world of opportunities and connect with us.


Claire’s Perspective: 2017 Heartland

Posted on: June 21st, 2017 by Claire Young



What’s the Heartland Hype?

As a newbie to VGM, I had no idea what all the Heartland Conference hype was all about. Prior to Heartland, I had heard it was a celebration for our VGM members. Months of months’ of work would be compiled into just three short days to provide members with keynote speakers, learning opportunities, and new networking connections. Without previous perceptions of the conference, I decided to dive into the Heartland madness with an open-mind set, but also a somewhat critical one. I feel this process helped me acquire honest opinions of the company that I am lucky enough to be interning for. So here it is, my perspective on everything Heartland!

The Layout:

VGM Retail’s Heartland experience kicked off with our retail roadshow pre-con. If you’re like me and had not been to a retail roadshow, you should expect interactive presentations around marketing, inventory management, and financials. Being honest, some of these topics do not always sound the most interesting (for me- financials) however, I was impressed by the level of interaction between the attendees, vendors, and presenters. Among the discussion materials, the day involved fascinating breakout sessions led by vendors which allowed attendees to bounce ideas off one another. Overall, it seemed like attendees really enjoyed the chance to learn alongside other VGM members who faced similar challenges in the HME retail industry.

Amidst the presentations during the conference, VGM Retail’s shining moment was in the retail training lab. The retail training lab allowed VGM members to get a hands-on experience of the retail-related material presented throughout the duration of the conference. The retail training lab highlighted everything from incremental sales, to displaying the sickness to wellness re-branding strategy. As a retail team, we thought the lab was a way for members to see how all the pieces of building a successful HME retail business fit together. I personally thought the retail training lab displayed the innovative and unique venture opportunity that surrounds the HME retail industry. This is the same opportunity that inspired me to be part of this team.

My Favorite Part- The Feeling of Community:

Going into Heartland, I already had a strong sense that VGM cares about their members, vendors, and employees. During Heartland, it was completely evident that what I was sensing is true and that The VGM Group is one big community. For me, Heartland was a chance to experience this community firsthand. By talking to members, vendors and attending speakers, I feel like I got a really good a grasp of what our Founder, Van G. Miller strove for while changing the world of HME.

Hands down, my favorite moment was a conversation I had early on at Heartland with one of our vendors. This vendor holds a positivity that drives his career and life towards a bigger purpose. Although I did not have the pleasure of meeting Van, from what I have heard, this trait is a similarity they both share. The vendor told me to always remain kind to others and to always work hard towards something bigger. It was clear to me that this vendor really meant what he said and lived it as well. As the conference continued, I noticed this special quality in many of the employees, members, and vendors in the VGM community. As I talked to more and more people, it was clear that VGM is a value-centered, tight-knit family working towards completing Van’s initial mission of being a part of something bigger in the HME world.

To Wrap Up:

As graduation approaches me, it has been a growing concern of mine that I will be unable to find a company who not only cares about its bottom-line but genuinely cares equally about its customers and employees as well. I like to think my parents raised me to be a strong, value-driven independent woman who is able to form my own honest opinions of people, businesses, etc. After Heartland, I can honestly say that VGM has shown to be a company that takes great concern for everyone involved in their tight-knit community. Just like Van would have wanted, it is clear The VGM Group aims to be a part of something bigger.

If you missed Heartland, I  suggest you try to attend next year. Check out the link for a fun and quick recap:

Separate Yourself from the Competition

Posted on: June 9th, 2017 by Rob Baumhover


Key Ingredient for a Competitive Edge

Customer service is the key ingredient in separating your business from all the competition in the market. With Big Box retailers focusing most of their attention on pricing, more and more customers seem to be asking, “Where is the HELP?”  Most DME’s in the retail industry understand the importance of helping and caring for their customers/patients. So let’s dissect a few key aspects of customer service that is sure to give our customers the shopping experience they have been asking for.

#1 Have the RIGHT Employees Interacting with the Customers

This is often a piece that we take for granted or don’t know we’re missing the boat on. Employees are the direct connection between your company’s values and expectations and what the customer’s actual experience turns out to be. If the right people are not representing your company, then there is a very good chance your values and expectations aren’t being depicted to the customer. This in turn, will cause the customer to feel unimportant and like their well-being does not matter to you. Eventually you will lose that customer’s business.

Where do you find a strong employee who is sure to let your company values shine? Well I have always been told treat everyone like you would want to be treated, look for this in a new hire. Start by looking from experience. Your new employee might be standing in front of you every day at work, at your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or retail store. We are all consumers ourselves and should be able to pinpoint a time when we received excellent service. Have you ever thought about approaching that waiter, waitress, or sales associate when they provided that outstanding service? Most of these folks bring the sales and service background that we are looking for.  Most are also looking for opportunities to grow professionally. By utilizing this methodology, I personally have found some of my best employees.

#2 Properly Train your Employees

There are many ways to effectively train a new employee to properly assist a customer. Here are just a few that have worked best in my experience.

The first is to spend some time talking with the new employee about your consumer base and your customer service expectations (i.e. you want them greeted within a certain amount of time after they enter the store). The clearer you are with your expectations, the better the chance each employee conveys themselves to each customer.

The second is point of sale (POS) training, though this might seem obvious, you would be surprised how many times a sale or even a customer is lost at the register. Take your time here if needed. Don’t hesitate to spend a good couple days running through the basic functions of a sale and a return, as every system is different. Once this is done, run them through different scenarios by doing live training with help available if needed. As a new employee, there is nothing more crushing than coming to work knowing you are not confident in what you’re supposed to be doing and as a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than being ignored or treated poorly.

In closing, if you make great customer service your bread and butter, your customers are sure to notice. There is no better means of marketing than having a happy customer tell a bunch of friends about your business. Some studies show consumers are even willing to spend more money when they receive a great experience. Moving forward, I invite you to stay in tune for my future blogs that will dig deeper into other areas that are sure to help your employees provide excellent customer service.


Posted on: June 7th, 2017 by Staci Langel

We’re just a few short days before members start arriving for the annual VGM Heartland Conference, and all of our preparations over the last few months are beginning to come together! Here’s what we’ve been working on:

  1. Retail Roadshow

Have you attended one of our Roadshow sessions yet? Now’s your chance! This year’s Roadshows are deeper in the weeds than we’ve ever been before. With hands on activities, breakout sessions and plenty of time to interact with your peers, the information you get from our Roadshow is invaluable.

  1. Four Educational Sessions

Our education sessions cover every area of the retail business, and more! From inventory to marketing to industry trends, check out one (or all!) or our education sessions throughout the week. To see the full schedule and plan your days out, CLICK HERE.

  1. Retail Training Lab

The main focus for our Retail Team this year has been on our Retail Training Lab! Just a short walk across the street from the convention center, we’ve set up an ideal showroom to explain how incorporating incremental sales into your business will increase your bottom line.

Come check out all of our handy-work! The hours for the Retail Training Lab are:

  • Tuesday, June 13: 3:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 14: 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; 4-6 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 15: 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

We’re looking forward to seeing you here in Waterloo! If you haven’t registered to attend, there’s still time! CLICK HERE!

The Value of Connecting

Posted on: June 2nd, 2017 by Maria Markusen



Sammy is turning 1

Lately I have been thinking, maybe obsessing about connection. The human kind. The kind we crave as a culture more than ever. It seems social media and technology are to blame. Social media is about virtual connections, but we’re yearning for something more. The actual human contact. Our need to connect is spilling out into our culture in unusual ways. 

A New Take on the Restaurant Experience

A few weeks ago during a visit to Minneapolis I dined with my parents at a very chic, new restaurant.  The restaurant tables were long, beautiful high-top tables where we sat right next to people we did not know.  It was an amazing experience.  The food was excellent.  However, I cannot remember what we actually ate.  What I do remember was the experience and the conversation.  We talked, met, connected, and even communed with the diners on both sides of us.  The same ones we had never met. The ones we did not arrive with or plan to sit with.  The ones we probably will not see ever again.  Yet, we had incredible conversations.  Not just about the food or the Minnesota weather instead, big life topics like college visits for children, places traveled, hotels we liked and the best restaurants on Lake Minnetonka.  That day we left the restaurant nourished by the food and made unexpected connections with the company surrounding us.

Using Connections in Retail

As a sales trainer, I am always telling our students to connect with the customer.  Not just about the transaction.  Not just probing for needs.  Not just for asking good questions.  But to really truly connect by getting to know the customer beyond the need of the sale.  We spend a huge chunk of the training just practicing rapport building with the customer.  Sometimes making the connection is the hardest part. It seems unnatural.  After all, we want to make a transaction as efficiently as possible.  We often prepare our sales people by teaching them about the products. One of my early sales mentors always told us, “If you build rapport, then you don’t need to close the sale. The customer will connect with you, trust you and the sale just happens naturally.  It’s less work and the customer feels great about the experience.”  Connecting in modern retail is more important than ever.  With the ease of purchasing on the internet, we have lots of buying choices.  Without a memorable experience or connection, price and ease trump driving to the store every time.

Capitalize on Your Membership!

One of the great gifts of working at The VGM Group, being a member or being a vendor is the connecting.  And the ultimate opportunity to connect is Heartland.  In a few short weeks our members, our vendors, industry experts will gather in Waterloo. We will teach, learn, celebrate, and commiserate.  The VGM Retail team will share our insights and our experiences this past year about inventory management, marketing, new store openings and the transition of our culture from sickness to wellness, all valuable topics.  But mostly we will connect.  And each of us hopes to connect with you.  Come to our sessions, visit the Retail Training Lab, and drink in the whole connection that is Heartland.  See you there.  And happy connecting!


For More Heartland Conference Information Click the Link Below:

Meet the Retailer: Claire Young

Posted on: May 31st, 2017 by Claire Young


Good afternoon, Readers! My name is Claire Young. Most of you I have not had the opportunity to meet and that is because I am the newest addition to VGM Retail! I am very excited to be the new marketing intern here at VGM and to have a chance to work alongside Rob, Maria and Staci.

I started at VGM around late March and now have been fully integrated into everything VGM Retail because it is FINALLY summer! Whoohoo! My current job entails handling social media for three retail businesses that VGM Retail represents, making effective marketing plans for these separate business entities and the VGM Retail Department, implementing our VGM Retail Blog, creating promotional graphics, providing research on marketing trends, demographics etc. and other various clerical work.

Currently, I am a senior at The University of Northern Iowa studying Marketing: Sales Management. Originally, I am from the Des Moines Area; Clive, Iowa specifically. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have 2 wonderful parents, 3 great siblings and 2 very active doggies. Born and raised an Iowa Hawkeye, it came as a surprise to my family when I chose to attend The University of Northern Iowa.

Despite my love for Northern Iowa’s competitor, I have grown to love UNI just as much. This is because of the education I have received and my campus involvements. On campus, I am highly active in both the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority and Pi Sigma Epsilon, a Marketing and Sales Fraternity. For those organizations I have held a few positions like Assistant Public Relations and have been involved on numerous projects.  In addition, I have had work experience as an office assistant at UNI, experience in the restaurant industry and retail industry. To this day, it amazes me how fast these four years in college are flying by! Like any senior in college, I am looking forward to graduation. I am very thankful for my opportunities thus far, and I am excited for the ones to come after my time at UNI.

To conclude, I would like to invite you to our sessions at the Heartland Conference! Below are a list of sessions we will be leading. Also, don’t forget to visit us at the Retail Training Lab during the conference! Have a great week!

Here’s our Schedule:

Monday (9:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Pre-Conference Session: Achieving Retail Success

Lead by: Rob Baumhover, Staci Langel and Maria Markusen

Tuesday (9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) Starting a Store from Scratch: An All-Cash Store Case Study

Lead by: Rob Baumhover, Staci Langel and Maria Markusen

Wednesday ( 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.) Inventory Management: Digging Deep to Fill Inventory Holes

Lead by: Rob Baumhover and Maria Markusen

Thursday (1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.) How HMEs Can Capture and Monetize the Sickness to Wellness Trend

Lead by: Beth Cox Hollingsworth and Maria Markusen

Thursday (3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) Marketing Strategies: Re- invent, Re- energize, Re- engage

Lead by: Staci Langel and Maria Markusen

Meet the Retailer: Rob Baumhover

Posted on: May 26th, 2017 by Rob Baumhover


Rob Baumhover

Hello Friends! For those of you that I have not met, I’m Rob Baumhover, Director VGM Retail and Vendor Programs. I have been with VGM for 7 wonderful years. I’m originally from Dubuque, IA which is located on the eastern part of the state bordered by the mighty Mississippi River. I currently reside in the Cedar Valley and work at VGM Corporate in Waterloo, IA.

Before joining VGM in 2010, I worked in a variety of positions with big-box retail companies including Bed, Bath & Beyond, Hobby Lobby, Menards, Eagles, Lowes, and Wal-Mart. Over the 25 year span of my retail career, I have opened and managed numerous big-box retail stores throughout the Midwest, with various responsibilities including the daily operations of stores, financials, setup, ordering of merchandise, inventory management, and the hiring and training of management and sales employees.

While at VGM I have had the pleasure of helping over 300 VGM members to date. This experience has allowed me to better understand the wants and needs of our members. The knowledge acquired has aided in the development of our retail program and services. Our program and services continually change as our industry advances forward. This innovative program allows us to provide you, our valued VGM members the best help, knowledge, and expertise in the industry.

The most rewarding part of what I do is getting the pleasure of working with you, our members. I enjoy rolling up my sleeves and working alongside our clients to determine the “what” and the “how” to make their businesses more profitable.

For those of you who will be attending our Heartland Conference, please stop by my and Maria Markusen’s presentation on Inventory Management: Digging Deep to Fill Inventory Holes on Wednesday June 14th at 9:15. If you can’t make it be sure to come check out our Retail Training Lab.

Rob Baumhover
Director, VGM Retail

Meet the Retailer: Maria Markusen

Posted on: May 25th, 2017 by Maria Markusen


Hey #caretailers.  It definitely does not seem like four full years since I came to VGM.  Getting to know our members, our vendors and my co-workers is one of the great gifts of my personal and professional life.  With that said, we are counting the days until we see you all at Heartland.

For those of you that do not know me, I am currently the director of development with the VGM Retail team.  My primary role is to assist our members to expand, build from scratch, or enhance retail programs and cash sales.  I also like to sales train occasionally.

For the past fifteen years, I have focused on the consumer in healthcare. How to serve our seniors as they age.  How to drive traffic to healthcare organizations, changing how we deliver service and care.  And, how to train healthcare professionals to connect with the customer, making sure the right goods and services are delivered.  I like to get down in the trenches, uncovering issues and generating actionable solutions that transform processes, develop strategies and help transform businesses.

My career at VGM started during the acquisition of Simply Shoppes in 2013. But, my sales and marketing career started as an agricultural lender in a town of 206 people in Southwestern Minnesota over 20 years ago.  Since then, I led national sales and marketing teams in long-term care, developed and operated long-term care communities for national providers and led the start-up of multiple healthcare and development companies as president, coo and cfo.

Originally, I’m from Minneapolis where I grew up spending every possible minute on a snowmobile, on a jet ski or in a boat navigating our beautiful lakes.  Currently I live in Omaha, Nebraska with my partner, Jim and my two step sons, Tom (17) and Jay (13).

With our Heartland Conference on the horizon, we’ve got a busy schedule! Please join us in the Retail Lab and come see us speak on multiple topics!

Here’s our Schedule:

Monday (9:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Pre-Conference Session: Achieving Retail Success

Lead by: Rob Baumhover, Staci Langel and Maria Markusen

Tuesday (9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) Starting a Store from Scratch: An All-Cash Store Case Study

Lead by: Rob Baumhover, Staci Langel and Maria Markusen

Wednesday ( 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.) Inventory Management: Digging Deep to Fill Inventory Holes

Lead by: Rob Baumhover and Maria Markusen

Thursday (1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.) How HMEs Can Capture and Monetize the Sickness to Wellness Trend

Lead by: Beth Cox Hollingsworth and Maria Markusen

Thursday (3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) Marketing Strategies: Re- invent, Re- energize, Re- engage

Lead by: Staci Langel and Maria Markusen

Meet the Retailer: Staci Langel

Posted on: May 22nd, 2017 by Staci Langel


Hello Caretailers! For those of you I haven’t met, I’m Staci Langel, Marketing Coordinator of VGM Retail. I’m originally from a tiny town (less than 500 people) in Iowa called New Vienna, five miles away from the famous Field of Dreams. I currently reside in Cedar Falls, IA and work in the VGM main office in Waterloo.

My retail experience started when I was 14, at my first part-time job carrying out groceries with Fareway Grocery Stores. For the next 6 years, I weaved my way through several areas of the business in multiple store locations, learning everything from customer service, merchandising, ordering, inventory, operations, financials and many more.

Before coming to VGM, I studied Marketing and Economics at the University of Northern Iowa. I’ve been with VGM for three and half years, three non-consecutive years in VGM Retail and a short stint with VGM Club. My main roles during that time have been marketing focused – development, creation and implementation of strategic marketing efforts for VGM Members, contracted retail vendors, and the VGM Retail and Club divisions.

The most rewarding part of what I do every day is seeing the members have success. Because of how closely we work with each member on their specific project, it’s easy to become invested in what they’re going through and wanting to make a significant positive impact. So when a campaign or marketing effort sees a lot of success for them, it truly makes my job worthwhile.

If you ever have any thoughts or questions about marketing, what you’re currently doing or should be doing, or want to spit ball ideas, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Staci Langel
Marketing Coordinator
[email protected]

For a chance to meet me, attend VGM Retail’s marketing session at Heartland:

Marketing Strategies: Re-invent, Re-energize, Re-engage
Thursday, June 15th at 3:15 pm


We’re Amping It Up!

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Staci Langel


Blog Graphic-Amping

There’s so much happening in the HME Retail industry right now and we can’t hold it in anymore! We have to share it! So we’re going to be amping up our blog, Twitter and social media communication!

The goal of our blog and social media communication is a three-fold:

1. To keep you up-to-date on new trends and opportunities that are happening in the marketplace

Be it the HME industry, the traditional retail sector, or the changing mindset of the population as a whole, our VGM Retail team is constantly gathering information, studying and analyzing what’s going on, and making predictions on changes to come. And what good is this knowledge and insight if we don’t share it with the people that need and want it the most – our VGM members and vendors.

2. To give you advice on what works, doesn’t work and best practices to implement in your business

With a combined 60+ years of HME, health care, and retail experience, our VGM Retail team has experienced almost every challenge you could be facing in your business. And if we haven’t experienced it first-hand in our professional careers outside of VGM, one of the hundreds of members we have helped in the last 6 years has, giving us piles of advice to share.

3. To give insight on what’s going on within VGM Retail and what we’re working on for you guys

We are always cooking up something new for you guys – from Roadshows and Heartland presentations to new tools and programs to help your business grow. Everything we do has you guys in mind, and want to share it with you!

How can you make sure you don’t miss any of this information?

There are two easy ways to make sure you don’t miss anything:

  • Get email notifications on new blog posts by entering your email in the purple box on the upper left corner and click subscribe!
  • Follow us on Twitter at @VGMRetail