Fast Company

What's Selling in America: part 4 of 5.

"We Decided to Merchandise Raised Toilet Seats in the Same Way You'd Merchandise Lamp Fixtures at Pottery Barn."

Can Take Good Care Make Hip Replacements Hip?

"What a drag it is, getting old," whined Mick Jagger in 1966. What a drag, indeed. The millions of baby boomers who once comprised the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll crowd are getting old, and they're still not getting any satisfaction. Arthritis, impotence, incontinence, and all of those other ills of aging await.

Yet just as you would expect from a group that has defied the norm at every other life stage, boomers are graying like no other population cohort before them as they frantically subdivide and redivide middle age to keep old age at bay. "Live fast, die a senior citizen," declares a recent ad for Rolling Stone, making a cadaverous Keith Richards the poster boy for debauched longevity. Approaching 60, the rockers of the '60s will soon be forced to hit the rocking chair. But as they inexorably -- and oh-so-unwillingly -- head for the geriatrics ward, they intend to make aging a deeply cool event. At least that's what Joyce Greenberg is betting on. Whether she hits the jackpot is still very much in doubt.

Greenberg is chairman and CEO of Take Good Care Holdings Inc., a New Jersey - based health-care emporium that seeks to appeal to older hipsters as well as to the chronically ill and the walking wounded of the weekend-warrior set. A 50-year-old investment banker who specialized in the retail business for 16 years, Greenberg uses the example of a boomer friend to illustrate the new kind of older-generation health-care consumer: She's a former editor in chief of a high-prestige women's magazine, and she's going to have her hip replaced -- but she's not going to do it the way our parents did. She's buying fabulous canes and a Segway scooter, and she might even get herself a jazzy wheelchair. Greenberg's editor friend and thousands more just like her represent an entirely different ethos for dealing with age-induced ailments.

Seven years ago, with backing from the venture capitalists at Warburg Pincus, Greenberg rolled out the first Take Good Care superstore, a 20,000-square-foot box on central Jersey's traffic-choked Route 22. She packed it with 10,000 health-related items for the Woodstock generation: canes that double as putters, lightweight wheelchairs (the 9000XT!), adult diapers disguised as J. Crew - style boxer shorts, paisley-covered pill dispensers, a bed cushion dubbed "Good 'N Bed." The place featured wide aisles, soft lighting, and bright displays done up in teal and gold. The goal was to show off the less-than-appealing wares in a cheerful way. Says Greenberg: "We decided to merchandise raised toilet seats in the same way you'd merchandise lamp fixtures at Pottery Barn."

To Greenberg, Take Good Care seemed like a surefire hit. Drawing on her years at two Wall Street firms where she spent much of her time prowling the mall, Greenberg believed that she saw an unserved demographic. Home health care is one of the last sectors of retailing that hasn't had a specialty chain. Stores that sell walkers and wheelchairs are, for the most part, tacked on to hospitals and industrial parks and are meager in their offerings.

Plus, there appeared to be plenty of pent-up demand. The population bubble caused by the baby boom keeps floating up: Proportionately, there are more people over the age of 50 than ever before. Best of all, there was a new openness to discussing those age-induced unmentionables. Bob Dole, a former presidential candidate, hawks a prescription drug on television for erectile dysfunction; the actress June Allison talks about incontinence.

Greenberg positioned Take Good Care as a category killer. It is to the injured and the infirm what Toys "R" Us is to the sippy-cup crowd. She confidently predicted 30 store openings within four years. But in retail, timing is everything. And Greenberg, it turned out, was ahead of her time. Boomers weren't about to flock to buy products that implied a disability. "People would walk in, see the wheelchairs, and decide that the place wasn't for them," she recalls. "Ultimately, we were too early."

To save money, Greenberg postponed plans to expand and laid off several top administrators. Eventually, she abandoned the big box and retrenched to a 2,000-square-foot space in tony Westfield, New Jersey. Greenberg's Wall Street friends are surprised that she has stuck it out for this long. "Most investment bankers would have walked away and tried something else," she concedes.

But she remains convinced of the power of her idea -- as well as the value of her target demographic. While she declines to release any numbers, she says that the Westfield location is doing well and that product is moving briskly through Web and catalog sales. She is heartened by the government's forecast of nearly 13% compound annual growth for the home - health care industry. And the stigma of shopping for walkers and adult diapers seems to be fading. Why, just the other day, a fiftysomething boomer walked into the store and without a trace of embarrassment asked about the finer points of self-administering an enema.

What's Selling in America

Part 1: "First You Get High on It, Then You Buy It."
Amoeba Music Marches to Its Own Beat
Part 2: "How Does a 900-Pound Gorilla Get to Be an 1,800-Pound Gorilla?"
Wal-Mart Thinks Outside the Big Box
Part 3: "Our Customers Can Sniff Through Any Kind of Hard Sell. And When They Do, They're Gone."
ESPN Takes Retailing to the Extreme
Part 4: "We Decided to Merchandise Raised Toilet Seats in the Same Way You'd Merchandise Lamp Fixtures at Pottery Barn."
Can Take Good Care Make Hip Replacements Hip?
Part 5: "The Lamest Question in Retail Is, 'Can I Help You?'"
How the Container Store Lays a Solid Foundation

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