Your desire to become a physical therapist likely didn’t stem from an interest in sales. More likely, you went the PT route because you wanted to help people, and those altruistic intentions can discourage some therapists from doing anything that might be perceived as “salesy.” But here’s the thing: offering high-quality items that help patients achieve their therapy and fitness goals—from physical therapy equipment to protein powder and supplements—does help them. And in a world full of detox teas and other questionable health solutions being slung left and right—often by people who aren’t even qualified to give health advice—your patients will appreciate some direction from a real healthcare expert. Plus, retail is an easy way to add cash-based revenue to your practice.
With that in mind, here’s how you can start selling retail products in your PT clinic (and get the most out of it).
Before you dive in, make sure you have all of your legal ducks in a row. Some states (and cities) may require you to obtain a license or permit to sell your items. So, reach out to your state’s physical therapy association or review your state practice act before you start stocking up. You may also want to reach out to your local business-licensing bureau to see if there are any other applicable laws you’ll need to comply with. And there may be additional laws to observe depending on what you plan of selling. For example, if you’re interested in selling products containing cannabidiol (CBD)—which is legal at the federal level—then you should research any state-level rules pertaining to CBD sales, as some states enforce special restrictions.
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Now for the fun part: deciding which items you want to carry. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you select your stock:
- Fill your retail shelves with products you can use during treatment sessions. This will make it easier for you (and your team) to sell them to patients, as you’ll have a chance to show those patients how they can use the products at home.
- Think about the products your patients are the most likely to use—and ones you know will actually benefit them.
- Consider items that patients can’t easily get elsewhere. You want your patients to come to you—not some random Internet store.
- Choose products that align with your practice’s culture and service offerings. For example, if you offer nutrition services, having high-quality supplements, protein powder, and other nutrition products can remove a lot of the guesswork for patients who are trying to make healthier choices.
Placing the Order
Once you know what you want to sell, it’s time to purchase your stock. First, we recommend
- thinking about the kind of products you want to carry,
- researching brands or making a list of the ones you already trust, and
- contacting the distributors to let them know you’d like to sell their products in your practice.
You can either contact the manufacturer directly or reach out to a wholesaler. To figure out the best option, try running a Google search for health, wellness, or physical therapy equipment wholesalers or asking around your professional network. If you’re a WebPT Member, you can order many products at discounted rates through the Marketplace.
During these conversations, you’ll establish pricing and ordering requirements. Here are some things to be aware of ahead of time:
- The distributor may require you to order a minimum quantity in order to receive the wholesale price. There may be special pricing for small businesses, so be sure to inquire about that, too.
- If this is your first time ordering or selling a product, start by purchasing the minimum quantity so you can see how well it sells. Remember: You can always order additional stock later on, but you typically can’t send back your leftovers.
When it comes to pricing, be sure to account for the initial wholesale cost plus the cost of shipping. You can also look around online to see what other retailers are charging and use that as a point of reference.
The company you order from should also provide you with suggested retail prices. According to Jean Shea, President of BIOTONE, “Since the client is not having to pay for shipping, the therapist can sell the product for MSRP [manufacturer’s suggested retail price] and add what the client would have to pay for shipping to the cost. This can add significantly to the daily revenues.”
We live in a self-service era: people can buy their weekly groceries, a brand-new wardrobe, or even a car without getting off the couch. This means brick-and-mortar retailers have to make the in-store buying process as easy as possible in order to remain competitive. (Fortunately, physical therapists have an advantage when it comes to selling therapy-related products in the clinic: their clinical expertise.) That’s why it’s so important to have an attractive retail display that makes it super easy to figure out the purpose and ideal user of each item.
As this article from Meyer PT suggests, “Dedicate a wall to retail items using some nice display shelving. Even a quick trip to IKEA can give you some really nice display space without breaking the bank, but the most flexible systems are wall-mounted slat walls that allow you to add, remove and space shelves, hanging space for apparel, and more.” When you place items in a prominent place, patients can easily see what you have on hand, and it creates the opportunity for your staff to talk to them about the items and their benefits. When you’re putting your display together, consider the following best practices:
- Group similar products together.
- Keep the display clean, uniform, and facing forward.
- Make sure your shelves are fully stocked—but not cluttered.
- Use professional signage.
- Visit stores you like and use their displays as inspiration.
- Keep your bigger items on the lower shelves and smaller items up high. This prevents small items from getting visually overpowered by bigger ones.
Selling Your Stock
Okay, so you’re not a salesperson—but you’ll still want to keep a few sales principles in mind.
Sell what you believe in.
In an article for Massage Mag, Minnesota-based physical therapist Jonathan Reynolds, PhD, PT, CWCE, speaks to the importance of believing in the products you sell. “While clients are waiting, they have the opportunity to learn about, examine and, in some cases, actually use products that may help them between their sessions with the therapist,” Reynolds said. “These products are not meant to take the place of the therapist, but will enhance the results the therapist wants to see the client achieve, all while building trust and rapport.”
Don’t try to sell people on things they don’t need.
Doing so breeds distrust, and that’s definitely not something you want in a patient-provider relationship. However, if you only try to sell people on things that’ll actually make a difference for them, then they’ll come to trust your word even more.
The American Medical Association (AMA) agrees. As explained in this article for Physician’s Practice, under the Code of Medical Ethics, “the AMA states physicians should not sell health-related products whose claims lack scientific validity and should rely on peer-reviewed literature and unbiased scientific sources to review products. Additionally, physicians must take steps to minimize financial conflicts of interest by disclosing financial arrangements with a manufacturer or supplier and by letting the patient know where else the products can be obtained.”
Get employee buy-in.
Of course, you’re not the only person who can speak to the value of the products you offer. Encourage your staff to try out these products and become familiar with them. This isn’t limited to your clinical staff, either! Your front-office employees can also bolster retail sales by discussing their experiences using the products with your patients (excluding any items that require clinical decision-making, of course).
From the patient’s perspective, buying supplies directly from his or her provider is incredibly convenient. However, that convenience becomes diminished if your shelves are always empty. So, be sure to perform regular inventory checks and restock supplies as needed. (If you’re a WebPT Member, you can create repeat shopping lists and set reminders within the WebPT Marketplace.)
Make payment processing a breeze.
To up the convenience factor, make sure you’re equipped to handle payments of all types. Keep enough money on hand to make change for cash payments, and use a point-of-sale system that instantly processes credit or debit payments. Even better: Use a system that’s fully integrated with the EMR you already use—like WebPT Integrated Payments.
Marketing Your Merch
Finally, don’t forget to spread the word about your new goods! Be sure to include a description of your retail products on your clinic website, as this could attract business from people in your area searching for those products (or related services) online. You can also promote your products through marketing emails (which is super easy to do when you use physical therapy marketing software like WebPT Reach).
Furthermore, consider offering discounts or rewards to loyal customers. This is especially great for folks who buy consumable products that need to be refilled once or twice a month (e.g., vitamins and supplements).
So, there you have it: the basics for adding retail items to your physical therapy practice. Have any questions—or any tips of your own? Let us know in the comment section below!