Mobility is something many of us take for granted — until we get older. As the years go by, it becomes something to worry about, because without it there can be a loss of independence. For many seniors the fear of injury, or actual accidents, can mean a loss of personal freedom. With so many Baby Boomers aging, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and mobile PERS devices are a hot segment of the security industry. If you are a dealer interested in offering PERS or medical alert type of products, the time to act is now, says Kenneth Gross, president of the Medial Alert Monitoring Association. “People are living longer every day, and with something like 10,000 men and women turning 65 daily, this makes our business very favorable,” says Gross.
SDM spoke with four dealers, who entered the PERS and medical alert market and found success.
Priority 1 Makes Compassion Its No. 1 Priority
When Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Priority 1 Safety Systems starting selling PERS in 2010, the company didn’t know how it would do in the market. Five years later, the company has a steady growth rate, with PERS accounting for more than 10 percent of its annual revenue (as anticipated for this year), according to Sandy Rolfs, office manager. When Priority 1 introduced its PERS offerings, the team of 17 employees knew the importance of having compassion for all of the PERS customers.
“They are anxious, or the people buying the products for their family members are nervous, and you have to have compassion and kindness with your customers, especially ones who need extra care, like seniors, or someone who is ill or recovering from a trauma,” shares Rolfs, who is married to co-founder Steve Rolfs, who along with Ray Easterly, started the company in 2000 as a fire and burglar alarm dealer. “We believe that if you are in the PERS market, the connection you make to the customer is extra important. For example, when we see a call has been forwarded to one of our monitoring stations — we use EMERgency24, a great service, for example — but we always follow up ourselves with a phone call. We want to make sure our customers know that we are there for them, too.”
Priority 1 both leases and sells PERS systems, including mobile units (that can be taken from location to location) by its customers. Rolfs says that both sales force and installation team members are trained to put customers at ease. “So many elderly people are nervous about being taken advantage of, it is our job as a dealer to make our customers feel safe and secure throughout the entire process,” Rolfs notes. “We also keep a record of which customers might be taking their units with them, say, to Florida, as some of our customers do during the winter months. When they get back, we’ll call and check in.”
The company offers mobile and standalone units, all custom created for the client, says Rolfs. There are no contracts, as is common with PERS systems, but they do offer four different programs to pay for the fees associated with the services. Customers can pay annually, quarterly, semi-monthly or monthly, according to Rolfs. “Many seniors are on a limited income, so we like to offer them a variety of programs to suit their financial needs,” she adds. One area for growth that dealers might consider is something that has set Priority 1 apart. “We’ve been marketing to senior housing and apartments in the area. We partner with them, and then the building company or manger offers our services as part of the rent. It works out well because often a leasing agent sees our potential customers first and knows if there will be a need.”
Like many PERS dealers, there are no contracts, just fees, and most units are bought outright. Priority 1 recognizes some potential customers may be short-time users, “like six months, because of a broken hip, and they will be back on their feet after that, or similar,” Rolfs adds. “We do ask people who lease our equipment to return it to us and we’ve had very little problems in getting them to do so.”
Priority 1 also recommends customers always try out the products they are purchasing, preferring not to do the “program and ship” method that works well for other companies. “We are a local outfit and we pride ourselves in our work — from sales to installation — of these potentially life-saving and life-enhancing devices,” says Rolfs. “We want our customers to know us and know that everyone gets a personal touch.”
The company expects its PERS business to grow, especially as it markets to senior housing. “I anticipate this year PERS becoming a bigger part of our company than we first imagined in 2010. As we are partnering with more and more senior apartment complexes, I believe our expansion into the PERS market will continue to grow. And it’s not just seniors; there are many other people with mental or physical challenges, or illness. They can all benefit from these products; they help them live more productive and independent lives,” shares Rolfs.
Acadian Is ‘On Call’ When You Need Them
Acadian On Call, a division of Acadian Ambulance Service, Lafayette, La., grew organically out of Acadian’s emergency service operation in 1991 and is one of the oldest providers in the PERS industry. “This service is uniquely situated within our corporate family to take full advantage of one of the most technologically advanced communication centers in the nation,” shares Josh Creed, sales coordinator.
Because the company has been around for so long, it has seen its share of obstacles. Creed notes that one obstacle they have faced over the years has been “healthcare budget cuts across the board, making it difficult for state agencies, hospitals and home health agencies to offer these systems for free to those who may need it, but cannot afford it.”
Some of the best things the company has done in regard to the PERS market are the relationships it has formed with the Council on Aging agencies throughout Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, shares Creed. These agencies that have helped the company understand its customers (and potential customers) and their needs.
When the company first started, it only offered installations in the local areas of Lafayette, La., parts of Mississippi, and the Gulf Coast region of Texas. Today, Acadian On Call sells and installs medical alert systems nationwide. Its target customers are typical of most PERS buyers: the elderly, disabled or anyone who may need help at the touch of a button. Acadian’s monitoring division has 175 employees but its parent, Acadian Companies, has more than 4,000 staff members.
Acadian has more than 40 years of experience in the emergency services industry and its mission statement is “Knowing Life Matters.” Creed shares that “no matter how large we are now, we are forever a community-focused and family-centric company. Acadian Ambulance grew out of our community’s need for emergency medical support and care.
“Commitment to our community, along with our love of the people within it, guided us in the beginning and is our driving force today. Even with our expansive growth across multiple states, that mindset continues to be the foundation of our organization,” he relates.
Acadian has not just one, but three CSAA Five Diamond central stations — in Lafayette and Baton Rouge, La., and Chicago. Among the medical alert systems they sell are Rescue Alert, Linear, Smart Wave, and MobileHelp, as well as “a host of other medical alert systems,” Creed describes.
The mix of solutions is something dealers should consider when making the leap to PERS, he suggests. “Try to offer different choices in systems so you can cater to the individual subscriber’s needs. Our customers typically lease the unit and depending upon the unit chosen, there may be installation fees. Most customers pay about $1 per day for our services. We don’t offer just one system, but allow the customer to pick from a variety of products that will best suit their needs.”
What’s up next? “We hope to expand our service line to include medication reminders and fall detectors when we find viable options we can trust and put our stamp of approval on.”
Making the Connection With Those in Need
Connect America is pioneer in the PERS industry. The company was founded by Kenneth Gross, who has more than 35 years in the security business and made the successful switch to the PERS market in early 2004. With its headquarters in Pennsylvania, Connect America provides national personal emergency monitoring and home medical alarm services to older adults with medical ailments or conditions who wish to live and stay at home.
Gross says he got the idea of entering the PERS market because he happened to own the domain name “MedicalAlarm.com,” and he began to notice the site was getting attention, even without heavy advertising. He believes, at that time, people were searching online for PERS products because they were not sure where to go. “One thing led to another and it gave me the impetus to create Connect America. At the time, we were very unique; we had a DIY model for a low price, no installation fee, no long-term contract, and only $29.95 per month. We sold it over the phone, preprogrammed and ready to go.
“We started that selling model 11 years ago when others only sold systems that had to be installed, and we were pretty successful with our model. To date, we have seen growth in the double digits and we’ve been around a long time. We have 275,000 customers.”
Gross says his “average client” is a female between the ages of 75 and 90, who still lives in the home she raised her children in. “Three years ago, we started selling the mobile PERS units that a customer can take with them — so that demographic is a little younger; they are not homebound and they want the freedom to stay mobile as long as possible. They travel, or they might live on a farm; some say they want to be able to go to the mall without worry. I see great potential for growth in the mobile unit.” Gross reports more than 30 percent of his customers select the mobile unit.
Connect America uses Rapid Response Monitoring Service, Syracuse, N.Y., as its central station, one of the largest in the country. “They are a fantastic monitoring system and their operators really know how to speak to our customers.”
How does life in the PERS industry differ from straight-up alarms? On many levels, shares Gross. “First off, typically with burglar alarms you are going to have a 12 percent annual attrition rate, and with PERS, it’s typically 30 percent. Also, for PERS, most companies don’t ask customers to sign long-term contracts, for obvious reasons. We have an agreement that allows the customer to cancel with a 30-day notice, for example.”
Connect America keeps its financial information private, but Gross shares that his stream of recurring monthly revenue and annual revenue is very healthy. “Let’s just say we are doing well enough to be listed in the SDM 100, if PERS was a category, and it should be,” Gross adds.
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: LifeSupport Medical Inc. is an Electronic Caregiver
LifeSupport Medical Inc. was founded in 2009 by The Electronic Caregiver Company, Las Cruces, N.M., whose founder, Anthony Dohrmann, worked for more than 30 years in the security industry. Today, Dohrmann’s company provides home monitoring devices and health management systems to the aging and chronically ill nationwide. Among the products offered by LifeSupport are Nortek, Linear, and products developed by Dohrmann and his team at The Electronic Caregiver.
The Electronic Caregiver Company is unique in that it collaborates through its sales programs with national third-party administrators, hospitals, physicians, pharmacies, medical equipment companies, home health agencies, insurance agencies, national senior housing operations, and direct sales networks. Dohrmann’s team handles online sales and dealer sales. “A direct dealer network is our primary method of sales. We purchase products from our supplier and custom provision it to order (i.e., an extra pendant, additional wall-mounted buttons, medication schedules).
“Typically we receive completed orders from our contracted affiliates, and then the systems are drop-shipped to the end users, and then we interact with the family caregivers to walk them through the setup. In many areas we have home health providers who deliver and test the systems, plus we use a growing syndicate of licensed subcontractors to assist us if installation support is needed.”
The company’s monitoring partner is Rapid Response Monitoring Services, Syracuse, N.Y. “Our mission is to make sure our customers’ pain and suffering during an emergency is reduced. The products we offer can affect the quality of a senior’s life and help to extend the amount of time a senior can live independently.”
Dohrmann’s company has activated a total of 11,000 monitored subscribers on various plans — and offers a comprehensive PERS system, a telemedicine plan in which seniors can access a board-certified physician 24/7 from the comfort of their homes.
Dohrmann says one area that dealers should pay attention to is the “tele-health” (the use of medical devices and communication technology together to monitor health issues) industry. According to IHS Technology, Englewood, Colo., the tele-health industry is expected to grow by more than a factor of 10 between 2015 and 2018. Why? Because medical providers are increasingly employing remote communications and monitoring technology to reduce costs and improve the quality of care.
Dohrmann encourages dealers to pay attention to all the new technology coming into the PERS market. “In senior health, mobile devices and app creators are a force to be reckoned with, because medical device manufacturers are companies with deep pockets, setting out to further develop the tele-health industry. I believe this is a natural progression of where all our technologies are heading. Think about it — iPhones can now check glucose levels and more.”
SIDEBAR: Have You Joined MAMA?
The Medical Alert Monitoring Association (MAMA) was founded by its president Kenneth Gross, along with other PERS dealers, including Acadian’s president, Blane Comeaux. The association began in 2007.
“For the most part it was five guys in a hotel room,” Gross describes. “But today we have over 100 members.” The association offers dealers educational classes, two conferences (one in the spring and one in the fall), and more. According to the MAMA website, its members provide services to more than 80 percent of medical alert customers in the United States, to date.
“People are living longer every day, and that fact makes our business very favorable. We are excited about the future, especially with the introduction of the mobile products. Interested dealers should check out MAMA and see what we have to offer,” Gross shares.
To learn more, visit, www.medicalalertmonitoringassociation.com.
SIDEBAR: 4 Reasons a Cellphone Is Not Better Than PERS
We asked Josh Garner, CEO of Freeus, why end-users can’t just use their phones to make a call for help. Garner gave us four good reasons to stick with PERS products.
1. Mobile phones cannot be used in the shower, but some mobile PERS, such as eResponder, are shower-safe, enabling two-way voice communication wherever the user goes where there is cellular coverage. The bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms a the home for seniors. According to the National Institute of Health, more than one in three people aged 65 years or older falls each year, with the bathroom being the most common location for falls.
2. Cell phones generally need to be charged daily, sometimes even more, but there are mobile PERS devices available, including eResponder, that feature a rechargeable battery that can go up to two months between charges. With so many things for seniors to remember, from taking various medications to charging different electronics, a low-maintenance mobile PERS device with a very long battery life is one less thing for seniors to worry about and makes life easier.
3. Mobile PERS are very simple to use. A cell phone requires pressing multiple buttons in an emergency, but a mobile PERS device only needs one button to be pressed to be connected via two-way voice with an emergency care specialist.
4. With mobile PERS, call center specialists know who the user is right away. When a cell phone is used to dial 911, the 911 operator does not know who the user is or any of their medical information. Mobile PERS devices can show care specialists information about the user and user-provided medical information, including allergies, medications and preferred hospital, to enable rescue personnel to help quickly.