“Be careful what you wish for…”

Posted on: July 21st, 2017 by Maria Markusen

“Be careful what you wish for…” is supposedly a very ancient Chinese proverb. Apparently, people have said it since the beginning of time.  Lately, the retail team is secretly mumbling this ancient wisdom under our breath.  Why you ask?

For years the VGM Retail team has said, “Great looking stores are important.   But, great looking stores only matter if you have customers.  Success depends on driving traffic to your stores with a solid, consistent marketing plan.”

Here’s the good news: some of you are paying attention to our saying! Some of you created a marketing plan.  A solid one.  A plan specifically targeted and based on your existing patients and customers.  And some of you even targeted people who you don’t know you yet.  You have been aiming for the customer of whom, you want to show up in your store, so you can wow them with your products, your store environment, and your superior customer service.

You’ve created a real plan. A multi-faceted, multi medium plan.  One that uses a combination of print, radio, tv, direct mail, social media, a solid website and SEO planning.  One that’s tracked daily, weekly, and monthly.  A plan based on data, competition, demographics and the marketing mediums that matter most to your customer in your, specific market.

If good plans are being created, then what’s the problem?  Why again are you VGM Retail people mumbling? You ask, “We’re doing what you told us to do? Sounds like a Goldilocks moment to us.”

Not only have you created the marketing plan, now you’re asking us the hard questions.  The questions marketing experts and professionals ask.  Questions like: What’s the expected return on our marketing investment?  How much should I budget for marketing?  How do I know if my marketing campaign is successful?  How do I prove the numbers to my boss?   How do I know that our marketing spend has value?  Where and how often should I be marketing?  What should it cost me to acquire each customer?  All excellent questions.

So, here’s the conundrum:  we don’t have all of the answers about marketing outcomes yet.  The market place is changing.  And it’s happening fast. Healthcare is the ultimate unknown right now.  What worked before, doesn’t necessarily work now.  And many of the tools we use to market aren’t tested.

Why bother?  Why get expertise?  Why spend 5%, 7%, 10% of expected revenues to generate revenues and drive traffic? Why use social media?  The answer is this:  In an ever-changing environment, the only choice is to do the homework to know your market. Create as much buzz, excitement, and awareness as you can.  Test stuff.  Be thoughtful about the amount you spend.  Budget.  Spend with a laser like focus.  Make sure your website is solid. That people can find you with a search engine.  Budget and track your results. Know that what works in your market, might not work in the next town over.  The only certainty you have is that you won’t have all the outcomes and information for a while, maybe ever.  And finally remember, If you do nothing, you’ll get nothing.  Results and proof are always good.  But right now, that might not be fully possible.

Need a place to start? Read our blogs that focus on marketing tips and trends. Lastly, always feel free to reach out to any of our team members! 

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.


Posted on: July 14th, 2017 by Staci Langel

What’s interesting about the marketing and advertising industry is the negative reaction to it. Everyone, myself included, complains about the commercials interrupting our TV shows or radio stations or the ads that show up in your Facebook feed. Yet as the history of marketing shows us, it’s a necessary evil.

So grab your pencils and notebooks, everyone. We’re taking a quick trip to history class – marketing history that is!

The Early Years

Advertising increased in the late 1800’s because of a huge industrial expansion in the US with the advertisements being most frequently announcement of goods available. It was looked at as a vital force in the nation’s economy – encouraging people to buy meant continued production. The first types of marketing were entirely print – magazines, posters, billboards, etc. – with radio to follow.

The Era of the Unique Selling Proposition

As production grew, so did the number of companies creating those products. Suddenly there was a need to prove why Company A’s soft drink was better than Company B’s. Every product needed its own unique selling proposition, something that made it different. With hundreds of products and brands lining the shelves of grocery stores, begging to be bought, it was only a matter of time before the marketing world became cluttered and consumers put up a wall to try to stop. Marketers had to think differently to be heard.

Enter the “Mad Men” Phase

If you’re familiar with the AMC original series “Mad Men,” you’ll understand the next era we’re entering. For those of you that aren’t, this TV series follows the life of 1960’s Madison Avenue advertisers. While the show mainly focuses on the dramatics of the character’s lives, the advertisements created in the show are real examples of the true creative genius that was developed during this time, from the iconic Volkswagen “Lemon” ad to Heinz, Jaguar, and Kodak.

Then a tightening economy changed the marketing landscape once again, and strategy became king and creativity followed at its heels, a battle that still rages on.

The Age of Inbound Marketing

While online and digital advertising had been happening years prior, when the dot-com bubble burst on March 10, 2000, the Internet entered a new age. From this point on, there has been an emphasis on information sharing, user-centered design, and collaboration. Instead of simply pushing advertising at consumers online, the benefits of creating value for customers and earning their business begins to take hold.

Since then, the world of marketing and advertising has evolved and changed as quickly as new technologies and platforms have been created. Social media, SEO, e-commerce, all are changing faster than ever before, making this the most exciting time in marketing since its creation.

The Greatest Defense: Rapport

Posted on: July 12th, 2017 by Maria Markusen

A Lesson from the Sky:

Airplanes, like elevators, are a great place to study the human condition.  Since I am obsessed about connecting lately, my focus during my travels is watching and observing passengers, the crew, and the airport vendors.

On a recent trip, home to Omaha a very frail, elderly woman was sitting near me.  We happened to be in first class. The woman was clearly uncomfortable.  She was cold and shaking. She looked scared.  Right before the pilot took off, the woman’s son came up to check on his mother.  He was sitting in coach.  He gave her a blanket and tucked her into her chair. The man sitting next to the mother said.  “Here, sir.  Take my seat.  That way you can sit next to your mother.”  The son politely replied, “Oh but sir, I’m not sitting in first class.”  The first man said, “That’s ok.  You need this seat more than I do tonight.”  And so the two men switched seats. As soon as her son sat down, the mother smiled.  You could just see her fear wash away.  Humanity.  Kindness.  Instinctiveness. Selflessness. Human connection at its finest.

Build a Defense or Build Rapport?

I’ve been a sales trainer for 20 years in multiple industries.  At the beginning of our day-long training, I always ask, “What’s the one thing you want to learn today?”  Without fail, multiple students always want to spend a significant amount of time learning how to work with difficult customers.  I understand their pain.

One of my past gigs was leading in a large, high-end assisted living and independent living organization.  The cost to live in our buildings was $10,000 or more a month.  The expectations were high.  The customers vocal.  The small details mattered.  When things were not perfect we knew it.

My instinct was to protect my staff.  To arm them with multiple tools to work with our demanding customers.  We spent multiple hours training on service recovery.  How to defuse angry customers.  What I learned in the process, however, is that while customer service recovery is an incredibly important skill, it can consume our staff.  We spend too much time letting one or two interactions in a week or a month cloud the mood of the day, cripple our staff and erode our confidence.

So now we spend most of the training, practicing, and connecting through rapport.  We learn how to build natural relationships through human and selfless acts like the man on the airplane.  We spend about fifteen minutes on service recovery.  I always ask students, “How many interactions do you have in a day?”  “How many of those are good interactions where you help a customer recover better, solve a problem and get them the products and services they need?”  We then talk about a couple of the best sentences and tactics to diffuse difficult customers. Lastly, I remind them about the impact they have on customer’s lives. Eventually, a switch goes off and attendees realize that sales is easy if you do not let the difficult interactions ruin the good ones.  And you simply remember to be human and connect to build trust.

Introducing the M+D Crutch

Posted on: July 10th, 2017 by Rob Baumhover

Introducing the M+D Crutch– a leap in Ambulatory Aid Innovation and DME Profitability.

For your customers, it eliminates the two worst parts of standard crutches:

  • Pain in the wrist and armpits
  • Loss of hand functionality

For your retail location M+D Crutches represents:

  • 40% net margin
  • Cash Sale

User Experience:

  • The M+D Crutch distributes the user’s weight over the forearms, instead of the wrists
    and underarms
  • Users of the M+D Crutch find relief immediately!
  • The increased comfort translates to user satisfaction and higher levels of compliance
  • The pivoting arm cradle allows users to utilize their hands while performing ADL’s
    without disengaging from the crutches. The user is free to brush her teeth, shake hands+, and all without the danger of losing her balance or dropping the crutch.

DME Benefits:

  • Making a historically unprofitable category a financial winner!
  • Whether a Cash Sale or Rental the M+D Crutch = increased profitability for you

The M+D Crutch is quickly catching on as a short-term user Rental. Like knee walkers, which exploded in popularity once they were rented, the M+D Crutch is a vast improvement over conventional crutches. Compared to knee walkers, the M+D Crutch is:

  • Much lighter at 9 lbs.
  • Less bulky and easier to transport
  • Practical for going up and down stairs
  • Appropriate for ALL leg injuries, not just ankle injuries

Dr. Sabin Testimonial                                                                                      Testimonial
Dr. Sabin is a physician in Kansas City. She has tried just about every
ambulatory aid out there. As she put it:

  • “Thank God I found these crutches, they were a life saver!”
  • “So much more comfortable than the alternatives I’ve tried.
  • “Without them, my recovery time would have been much longer and I would have had to have Carpel Tunnel surgery”
  • “They gave me the freedom I needed”

“What is Alzheimer’s Furniture?”

Posted on: June 30th, 2017 by Rob Baumhover

What an interesting question, for it concerns some 5.5 million people in the United States. To make matters worse this disease is growing exponentially as our population continues to grow older. It is estimated that by the year 2050 as many as 16 million people could be living with Alzheimer’s; the care cost is estimated to be as high as $1.1 trillion. The other factor often forgotten is that the spouse who invariably becomes the caregiver faces tremendous hurdles both physically as well as mentally. It is estimated that more than half of these caregivers will die before the Alzheimer’s stricken spouse.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes the connectivity of the brain to block or sever cognitive functions. As the disease continues to progress, severe memory loss and behavior changes will occur. Other symptoms may include, difficulty with language, the inability to perform familiar tasks, disorientation, unpredictable mood swings, reduced mobility, sleep pattern changes, decreased muscular functionality, and irritability. Learning to understand the disease, what to look for, and to establish a specific routine while allowing the loved one to be emotionally secure in their environment.

It is no surprise to learn that at the very least, 1 in every 4 people who visit a durable medical equipment retail store are intricately familiar as to the effects of the disease. This makes them a prime contact for a knowledge-based decision in reference to specifically designed Alzheimer’s furniture.

How Can Comfor Tek Seating Help?

When it comes to dinnertime moving an Alzheimer patient can be physically challenging culminating in disorientation and irritability. We at Comfor Tek Seating have developed a complete new line that is a culmination of design, specifically suited for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other Dementia-related diseases.


  • Features included in the Royal EZ are:
  • Curved without sharp edges and with contrasting colors
  • Easy to clean, with spill-resistant fabrics
  • Stable and comfortable seating for a prolonged periods while reducing incidence of injury
  • Patients will be more compliant with the caregiver’s instructions while providing dignity and self-worth


Functionality plus – to give the seated person dignity without the stutter or associated noises of moving a chair to or from a table. The patented chair assist relieves pressure on the back and legs of the caregiver as he or she gently glides the patient into position. Independence and ease of mobility are the hallmarks of our Alzheimer’s specifically designed chair.
Get to know the Royal EZ from Comfor Tek Seating, as your margins are upwards of 50%. Not only will your profits grow, but you will have a customer who will enjoy the luxury of having a specifically designed chair for their loved one.


Connection in the Heartland

Posted on: June 23rd, 2017 by Maria Markusen


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!