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Rebranding, renovation gives Rice Home Medical a whole new look

Not unlike a display seen at any home furnishings store, this hospital bed and lift chair are shown in an environmental setting in newly revamped display areas at Rice Home Medical in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — You can still find canes, hospital beds and mobility scooters at the newly rebranded Rice Home Medical.

But you can also find fashionable diabetic shoes, self-pampering items such as hand massagers, and a women’s boutique featuring swimwear, activewear and lingerie.

The Willmar store recently completed a major renovation project that does away with the institutional image of the home medical equipment business, replacing it with an inviting, retail-oriented vibe.

“This is truly a store now, from one end to the other,” said Carol Laumer, business development director of Rice Home Medical.

The makeover is part of Rice Memorial Hospital’s strategy to strengthen Rice Home Medical and meet a regional need that’s anticipated to grow.

Over the past several months, Rice has invested about $1 million in bricks and mortar for Rice Home Medical outlets — a new store in Redwood Falls that will open in early January, renovation at the Willmar store and an addition and renovation at the Alexandria store.

“The long-term goal has been to position Rice Home Medical to be sustainable and to be focused on providing sales and service to customers,” said Mike Schramm, Rice Hospital chief executive. “Facilities are only one part of it. It’s much more than just having products available. It’s the people and the services.”

The new image was recently unveiled at the grand opening of the renovated Willmar store.

The store was gutted and redesigned to give it nearly twice as much retail space. Customers can now browse a showroom floor of lift chairs and see model displays of home health equipment ranging from barrier-free showers to hospital beds with decorator headboards.

There’s a new sleep wellness center focusing on services such as CPAP and BIPAP machines for those with sleep apnea.

Home oxygen, the longtime mainstay of the home medical equipment business, is still available but there’s now much more emphasis on products that can be used at home to help make people’s lives easier, said Kristi Lang, manager of the Willmar branch.

“Our offerings aren’t just for the elderly,” she said. “They’re for whatever comes up in your life that you need special care for.”

For instance, the therapeutic and diabetic shoes in the newly expanded shoe department are specially designed with a larger toe box yet look like the dress shoes, athletic shoes, sandals and slippers worn by everyone else. Other products help ease everyday inconveniences, such as a swivel cushion for comfortably transferring into and out of a car.

A key piece has been the addition of a rehabilitation service to help match clients with products that best meet their needs.

Wheelchairs, for instance, must be fitted to the user “to make sure it’s the right piece of equipment for them,” said Sandy Lindemeier, rehab director.

She and her staff can advise people how to modify their homes with ramps and other assistive technology that enable them to live independently. “Aging in place is really big,” Lindemeier said. “Their social and emotional well-being is important to their overall health.”

The staff is especially eager to see the consumer response to Bellaforma, Rice Home Medical’s new store-within-a-store catering to women’s health needs.

Although mastectomy products are a large portion of the services at Bellaforma, the store also specializes in apparel and skin products for women across the age and health spectrum. Laumer, the project manager, aimed for a boutique atmosphere with soft lighting, private fitting rooms and a separate outside entrance. The long-term plan calls for adding customer education programs as well.

“We’re hoping to draw more women,” Laumer said, noting that the Redwood Falls and Alexandria stores also will contain a Bellaforma boutique. “The mastectomy service is where it started but we’re looking to enhance the retail piece. It will evolve.”

The rebranding of Rice Home Medical reflects Rice Hospital’s mission to address the continuum of care, said Schramm.

“We’re at a changing time in our industry. There continues to be much more of a need for patients in the home setting,” he said. “We’re really trying to diversify our services to enable care at home.”

“Very favorable” is how Lang described the response to the new look of the Willmar store.

“At the open house it was fun to watch people come in and go ‘Oh my goodness.’ We’ve seen people come in that have never been in the store and are coming in to check it out,” she said. “We’re going to always be researching the next best thing. Hopefully we will continue to offer different things so when people walk in the door, it’s never the same.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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