Cattle, Teenagers and #Caretailing?

Posted on: July 19th, 2017 by Maria Markusen


Learning from the Unexpected

It turns out, teenagers, like elevators and airplanes can tell us much about the human condition too.  Last week I lost my cool, big time, for the first time, in a long time.  Jim and I spent five days with five 17-year-old boys plus a 12-year-old tween.  One morning we woke up after a heavy rain storm to find hundreds of dollars of fireworks drenched with rain.  Left out overnight.  Ruined.  The drenched fireworks definitely bummed me out. But what got me on my soapbox was the comment that followed, “Well, I mean, can’t we just go get some more?  It’s the 4th of July.” I instantly became an adult.  “Of course not.  Do you think we are made of money?  You guys need to show me you can be more responsible before I buy you anything else.”  The boys sulked.  Jim reminded me, “Not everyone, especially teenagers, agrees with you or understands your values and reasons without some coaching.”

A couple of days later came the next challenge to my values.   It’s the two year anniversary of the word #caretailing.  Greg from Medtrade Monday wrote an article about the anniversary.  He celebrated the reasons why we caretail, what it represents and how retail in DME is evolving.   I was excited.

It turns out not everyone shares our vision though.  Not long after the article was published, I received this message via email, “I am not trying to be obstinate on a Monday, I just continue to try to understand what #caretailing really means.”  To make it worse, it came from someone I really respect.  I started to question the value of the term.  Are we wasting our time with a silly term? Are we actually making any headway in the industry?  Is retail in healthcare really that different?

The Meaning behind Caretailing

We define caretailing as, “The act of providing customer service and expertise to consumers willing to pay cash for health-related products that improve their lives and are beyond the usual scope of Medicare and other third-party payers.”

At the time we created the term, and even now, retail in our industry isn’t fully defined or developed. It’s the Wild, Wild West.  We don’t have one defined store type or process.  We don’t know what retail in DME will look like long term. There are multi versions of retail in DME right now.  Some stores are retail only.  Some stores are combined with related 3rd party business.  Some are owned by hospitals.  Some stores are wildly successful.  Some traditional retailers are trying to get into the business of healthcare retail.  Others fail quickly. Some are successful as soon as they open.  Others take a while to ramp up.  As an industry, and at VGM Retail, we are testing and trying and learning.  Trying to get the model right.

Early in my career, I was an agricultural lender.  One of my wise customers taught me about the cattle herding pause.  One day I described the struggle and slow growth of one of our startups to him.  I was frustrated by the testing, the trying and the learning.  He told me that building a business is like herding cattle. Every once in a while the herd will stall and need to mother up.  It turns out that the calves get separated from the mothers.  And the mothers hold back from following the herd, making sure the calves are safe and close to them.  The herd gets stalled, distracted and fragmented.  The cowboys pause.  Help redirect.  And wait for the herd to form again.  And then move on.

The whole purpose of creating the term #caretailing is to give retail in our space, which is in flux, some real definition.   An attempt to define what makes us different. To focus on the nuance of patient and customer care. To define our values as an industry during a time of change and uncertainty.  To better communicate with our particular consumer.  It’s our cowboy pause.  A constant reminder. A center point.  A place to come back to when we get stalled, distracted and fragmented.  Yes, caretailing is probably similar to good traditional retail. And maybe we won’t need the term forever.  But we haven’t figured out the exact way to make it work yet on a large scale.

To Wrap Up – Challenge and Be Challenged

Just as my teenagers reminded me of my values, the email challenging #caretailing was the best gift of the week.  It propelled us as #caretailers. It redefined our values as a division.  And gave us reason to move forward.  We hope it can do the same for you.

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