Beyond Grandma’s Support Hose
Compression products suffer from an image problem, which includes a lingering association with the idea of “grandma’s support hose.” Syndi E. Salat, medical products manager of Positive Care in Highland Park, Ill., sees it firsthand every day when she meets new customers.
“People come in here with a giant chip on their shoulder,” she says. “They say ‘I’m too young, the products are ugly and they’re hot and hard to put on.’” Salat has heard the complaints so often that she isn’t caught off guard and defuses the situation with humor. “Let’s see how miserable we can make you,” she tells new customers. Then she shows them the broad range of new and colorful compression products, including many that may look similar to the socks or stockings they’re already wearing.
Compression products make up about 30 percent of Positive Care’s business and is growing, and the store has a seating and display area that communicates to consumers they are serious about compression garments. “They can see the products are not as surgical-looking as they thought,” Salat says.
Positive Care is the health care products business of Schwartz’s Intimate Apparel, which has been a family-owned business for 100 years, starting out in the 1920s supplying women’s foundations and undergarments. Evolving to serve women who had mastectomies enabled the business to migrate into health care products, and eventually into upper-extremity compression products.
Salat has watched the market evolve from surgical-looking garments to an array of patterns and colors, with the stigma of wearing compression products decreasing in the process. “It is a very large and growing market,” she says. “It’s one of the small groups that will experience growth in years to come.” Fabrics used in compression products now offer such features as anti-fungal and bacterial treatment and silver fibers purported to have therapeutic properties. New compression products also include stockings that use Velcro or interlocking devices that can be donned without disturbing the wrappings of a wound.
Salat finds that patients are more compliant if they are involved in choosing the garment and if it fits their lifestyle and needs. “We do our best to combine what the physician or therapist wants for them with what they want aesthetically—business or casual,” she says. A key to success is to be service- and client-oriented and to talk to the patient about lifestyle. Also, it’s important to work with customers to teach them to don the items, with the help of rubber gloves or other donning devices. “Education is tantamount for compliance and repeat orders.”
Because HME/DME providers are already service oriented, they are well positioned to succeed in the compression market, Salat says. But where to start? “I would suggest checking out the competition in the area. You have to be willing to have personnel trained, and there should be a private sitting area in the store so customers don’t have to expose their arms and legs in a public area. A table for full-leg measures is also helpful, as is a display area for marketing materials. You have to be determined to be in the market. All age groups can use these products.”
Educating the Customer
Although compression products serve people of all ages, blood flow problems are more common among older people, so the demographics of aging Baby Boomers bode well for future market growth according to Mike Murphy, national account manager for Alex Orthopedic. A broad product selection fosters customer confidence and can serve the needs of most people who come through the door.