Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Daily Living - The Effort To Make It Easier.

You have probably guessed by now that in this partnership duo, I am the one who loves to blog. I write all the time and enjoy it immensely. This week we are featuring some musings from Pam Pressel. This is the terrific thing about our being co-founders and owners of Capabilities. We each bring very different talents and skills to the table. The best part is that those differences are complimentary… at least most of the time. Oh, we have our share of issues we discuss and sometimes disagree about, but we always come back to what makes us such a winning team. We share the same passionate vision about Capabilities. When we were working on the plan before we opened, we would give ourselves assignments. For example, we challenged ourselves to each go off and write what we saw as the vision and purpose of Capabilities. It was remarkable to share our notes later and see just how similarly we saw the possibilities. Capabilities would not be the great company it is today without each of our contributions. I feel very lucky to have Pam as my partner. So, while Pam does not do a lot of writing, she is an incredible expert in the field of health and retail. She is my constant teacher and I appreciate her patience and knowledge. She also has many interesting musings about our business and is often asked to speak at public events. This past week Pam was a featured speaker at the National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership annual conference. This group of project directors for Assistive Technology programs from around the country gather annually to share the latest information regarding how to get tools and programs into the hands of those who need them. You can find out more about all this by reading Pam’s blog. You can see what the Colorado Assistive Technology Project is up to by visiting uchsc.edu/atp.

First of all, let’s clarify the term “assistive device.” Essentially, it is anything that helps someone do something more easily and independently. Those jar openers you see everywhere are “assistive devices.” So are grab bars in bathrooms. We are surrounded by such tools in our daily lives. Our goal at Capabilities – and the goal of those attending the recent conference I spoke at – is to ensure accessibility to the array of assistive devices that make daily living easier and more manageable, regardless of age or ability.

There are three major themes:
1. How generations shop differently, make their decisions for assistive products differently.
2. How a combined physical store presence and web presence spans multigenerational access to assistive devices.
3. How emerging trends are influencing the types of assistive devices available.

First, how generations shop differently.
Customers from the Silent Generation, shop differently from their Boomer children. They tend to be independent and want to do things themselves, including bootstrapping a solution to a problem. They purchase products and services, but they have to be able to perceive the value of an item as a necessary addition, unlike Boomers who sometimes buy things just because they are “cool.” The Silent Generation will often turn away from a needed product because of the price.

Boomers on the other hand are used to buying what they want and expect elements of design, style, choice and price to be present. Boomers are not AGING! Or at least, they are committed to doing it very differently.

We find, being among the Boomer generation, that they, we, are searching now for the products and services that will help them remain healthy, independent and in their own homes. Boomers especially appreciate having choice in the distribution channel. Being able to purchase assistive devices either from the store or online is important, especially when they are helping care for their parents long distance.

These two generations converge in scenarios that look like this: Dad or Mom shops focusing on price and insurance reimbursement. Many pay less to style, choice and personal comfort. Customers over 75 are more likely to settle for whatever Medicare will allow. Since price is often most important to them, they will talk themselves out of a needed device and say they can get by without or figure out a substitute. We see many customers who come in with equipment they have borrowed or purchased at yard sales. Often they are using equipment that is of poor quality or poor fit. When the Boomer son or daughter is shopping with Mom or Dad, he or she usually encourages the parent to get the best and will often purchase it for the parents.

That leads to our second area of discussion. Making products accessible through a variety of distribution channels enhances the odds that people will discover them. As more and more of the public shop on line, we have to be sure that we are adding value as a storefront. Even with the increase in internet based shopping, studies show that a retailer that creates experiential environments for their customer has a better chance of winning that customer loyalty and repeat business. Customer-focused problem solving creates the loyalty and trust that retailers need to keep the customer coming back to the location.

Capabilities began with the mission of creating a shopping experience for our customers similar to Sharper Image and Brookstone. We believe the more someone can touch, experiment with and understand a product before they purchase enhances the overall experience and pleasure of buying it. It’s likely to stay in the customers hands, too, and not come back as a return. Our job is to de-mystify medical equipment and assistive devices and provide appropriate solutions for challenges.

We are using our new web site to extend the look and feel of the bricks and mortar store to the virtual store. Accessibility to products multiplies with this dual approach. Our customers can use either the physical location or the web site. We find that they do so in a combination of ways. They may research first on the web and then come in to touch and feel, or they may come in for a fitting and then use our web site for subsequent purchases. Compression stockings and incontinence supplies are perfect examples.

We actually find that many people in general still like to come into a store and see what a thing looks like. The difference is that the older the customer, the less likely he or she is to shop online. Surprisingly, though, we do see some customers in their early 80s looking online first. They use it for research and then come in to check it out before they purchase. Many still like the idea of having a local retailer in case there is a problem and they need to return the item.

Third, the trends we see and how they are influencing product availability. The emerging Boomer market with its demand for style, design, choice is driving new product development and a new cultural framework around aging. We see 4 categories of changes influencing products and service:

  • Design: It’s a slow transformation, but we are beginning to see manufacturers introduce a sense of style. For example, Drive Medical. They’ve engaged Michael Graves, a renowned designer and architect, commissioned by Target and other mega-corporations over the last decade to introduce design into the everyday products they sell. We’re invited regularly to chat with the Michael Graves product designers to offer feedback on their emerging ideas.
    Their first releases due this Fall in the bath safety area have clean lines, a splash of color and rounded edges. As Boomers age and need more products to enhance independence and mobility, this approach to manufacturing will take root across the industry. Pride Mobility released three new designs for lift chairs this year, including new fabric choices and colors. Manufacturers of pillows and cushions are also developing unique and varied designs. Obus Forme, for example, released a unique back support with an attractive and functional curve. They also highlight the scientific research that led them to this design. And manufacturers of wheelchairs, scooters and walkers have made at least one model of each that sports some new design element.
  • Focus on brain fitness: Kathryn has written quite a bit so far in our blogs about this phenomenon and the role we are playing. We are actively looking for more unique products to compliment the addition of this great software to our product mix. Every day we discover new ones as manufacturers jump on this important trend.
  • Products for staying home, aging in place as some call this phenomenon, are multiplying as Boomers age. Transforming one’s home becomes more and more feasible. There have been adaptive products for making the home safer and more easily maneuverable, especially since the passage of the ADA in the early 90s. What we notice is that there are more and more manufacturers getting into this arena. Ten years ago there might have been two or three major choices for stair lifts, for example, while now there are a dozen or more, some of them packaged almost as do-it-yourself. Of special interest to us is the Safety Bath. Designed by an entrepreneur in Canada, this tub features a lower threshold lip for easy access, a door that opens out (not in as does the tub that has occupied center stage), whirlpool jets, and a raised cushioned seat. The newest models also sport features of a warm air massage unit. While the technology exists to transform ordinary kitchen cabinets and counter tops into those that adjust to the level of the user, we find they have not yet become a popular choice. We predict this whole arena of home modification and adaptation will grow.
  • Low vision is no longer just the realm of handheld magnifiers. Low vision is now recognized to be the critical issue it is. Vision plays a key role in an individual’s perceptions of independence and mobility. Electronic solutions are expanding. One that impresses us gives the user the option of focusing the camera in three different ways: one as a traditional video reader, or CCTV; a second option to point the camera away from the eye to enhance long distance vision; and, a third use as a magnifying mirror. On the service side, Colorado is a leader with a new designation for some Doctors of Optometry. The state now has a special certification specifically for low vision. These are the doctors we invite to present at our seminars.

It is an exciting time to be in now with the “Boomer tsunami” growing. I’ve heard that term twice now in the past 2 months, so it must be building. There is also reference to “Boomsday,” January 1, 2008, when the first of this generation will turn 62 and become eligible for Social Security. Economists are predicting all kinds of economic shifts once this happens. We predict the focus on assistive devices will sharpen. We have opportunities now to create very different futures for ourselves and our children.

Assistive devices are finally emerging out of what has been the sole realm of medical manufacturers, and are now coming from mainstream companies bringing the costs down for many. Volume of product will increase in the coming years; costs will reduce. Continued miniaturization in the computer industry will create new products helping people see, hear, speak, live comfortably and independently. We are thrilled to be at the cutting edge of this new way of bringing assistive technology and devices to the public.

1 comment:

Aaron Marks said...

This is such a well written and informative post. I really enjoyed it. I especially liked in the beginning when you pointed out that assistive devices are everywhere. It reminded me of another article I read about how glasses are technically assistive technology, but no one thinks of them that way.