ConnectiCare opening retail stores in Bridgeport, other locales

By Kevin Zimmerman

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ConnectiCare has become the first insurance company to open a retail store in the Nutmeg State. Following the Oct. 14 unveiling of its first location, a 6,000-square-foot standalone in Manchester, the company plans to open outlets in Bridgeport, Newington and Orange by the end of November, according to Senior Vice President, Strategy and Product Innovation David Gordon.

“The impetus for taking this step came from listening to our customers,” Gordon said. “The key thing that we consistently heard was how they want a choice in how they engage with us. We felt that this was a way of addressing that need.”

Historically ConnectiCare and other insurance carriers have primarily worked telephonically, adding mobile apps and other digital offerings as technology allowed. Opening retail stores somewhat flies in the face of general retail trends, with major retailers alone shuttering thousands of stores over the past couple of years, but then ConnectiCare isn’t challenging the Macy’s and Best Buys of the world; rather, its outlets are more like Verizon stores.

“This is meant as a way of providing face-to-face interactions with our members, and our non-members, who feel their relationship with us would work better if we were sitting across a table from each other,” Gordon said.

Both individual customers and those who purchased their policies through their employer are welcome – as are new customer prospects, of course.

“The product that they’re buying can be complex, and their situation can change” in the current legislative environment, Gordon said. “Our stores will offer a comfortable, confidential environment for them to discuss their questions and concerns. All of our services can be undertaken at our retail centers – everything from helping them understand the plan they purchased to how they can find the right doctor to getting a flu shot.”

Customers can also purchase policies at the stores, he added.

Manchester was chosen after an independent study looking at the location of current members, traffic and drive-time patterns, and general population figures was completed. “Fourteen percent of our members live within a 30-minute drive time to Manchester,” Gordon said.

The flagship Manchester location is staffed by 12 people, and includes an area for seminars on Medicare Advantage and other health topics as well as space for yoga and Zumba classes, according to Marketing Director Kimberly Kann. “Sometime in the first quarter we’ll also have a nurse/coach residing there to help them learn about and manage conditions like diabetes and cardio issues, as well as nutrition and healthy eating,” she said.

ConnectiCare staff who were familiar with the company’s products and health care in general trained at the outlet to learn best retail practices — and were almost immediately attracting inquisitive customers. “This was with no advertising,” Gordon said. “We took that as an early sign that the general public had a real interest in this.”

Although health insurance exchange Access Health CT operates stores in New Haven and New Britain, no other insurer offers such a service here; United HealthCare and a number of Blue Cross Blue Shield providers are among those operating retail outlets in New York City, Los Angeles, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The Bridgeport store, like its brethren in Newington and Orange, will be a much smaller operation: about 1,000 square feet and staffed by two people; hours will be 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Again, the selection of Bridgeport was based upon proximity to significant numbers of ConnectiCare members, traffic and the like. It will be attached to, but have a separate entrance from, the CliniSanitas Medical Center at 4551 Main Street. ConnectiCare announced a partnership with CliniSanitas in September, designed to offer bilingual facilities for the state’s growing Hispanic population.

The insurer declined to say how much construction of the stores cost.

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