Discretion gives providers edge in growing incontinence market

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Thanks to an aging demographic, the retail potential for incontinence and skin care product sales has grown at a steady rate, say vendors serving the marketplace. With the right approach, they contend, HME providers are primed to capture a major portion of that business, even against some stiff competition.
With the oldest baby boomers now turning 60, incontinence is becoming an issue not only for them but also for the huge generational swell following close behind. Market analysts expect the demand for all types of incontinence and skin care products to grow exponentially due to this expanding base of prospective clients.
Retailers who are poised to take on the deep discount mass merchandisers will provide customers with comprehensive information about the nature of incontinence and the wide variety of products available to treat the condition. They will also provide discrete, sensitive and optimal service. By positioning themselves as experts in the field, independent HME providers should have the advantage against the "big-box" retailers, say incontinence vendors.
"It is the independent homecare provider offering the local service that creates a strong bond between provider and consumer," said Keith Johnson, director of sales for Marietta, Ga.-based Coloplast. "However, the small providers will have to continue adding value to the process in a way that creates a compelling reason for consumers to base their decisions on factors other than just price or breadth of offering."
Adult diapers, briefs and skin emollients have been staples of the HME business for many years, but they are taking on a new sophistication as manufacturers improve their quality and as consumers become more interested in the different types of products available, said Serena Williams, director of marketing for Dunbridge, Ohio-based Principle Business Enterprises.
"Understanding the overall condition of incontinence and the psychological and social impact on the individuals experiencing incontinence is essential in merchandising incontinence products," she said. "Successful merchandising recognizes that incontinence is often very difficult to discuss due to its stigma. Individuals need high performance products that enable them to continue to lead a normal life without worrying about embarrassing leaks or accidents, skin breakdown, odor or wetness.
Providing customers with products that effectively meet their individual absorbency needs while enabling them to choose a style of product that they are most comfortable with is a key to success."
Therefore, it is imperative that HME retailers actively promote and convey this message to consumers: One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to adult undergarments, Williams said.
"It is very important for consumers to understand that the typical mass-merchandised products that they are most familiar with are not always the highest performing," she said. "There is a major difference between high performance absorbent products and those with lower absorption capacities. Frequent changes, odor, wetness, leakage and skin breakdown can all result from an inferior product. High performance incontinence products provide exceptional levels of neutralization, odor elimination, absorption capacity and effectively maintain skin integrity. Educating the consumer is not only a method for successful merchandising it is also essential for improving the quality of life."
What's more, providers who concentrate solely on undergarments without folding in skin care and wound care products are missing half of the category's sales potential, Johnson said.
"Providers should use incontinence as a way to reach consumers about related products, such as skin care," he said. "Incontinence can cause severe skin breakdown that can be prevented with the right applications. There are some ideal cross-selling combinations that providers can offer with incontinence briefs and pads--these include skin cleansers, moisture barriers, anti-fungals and long-lasting moisturizers, as well as wound care products such as support surfaces."
To be sure, skin care and wound care products are an essential part of the sales package, agreed Patricia Oatman, marketing manager for Minneapolis-based 3M Skin Health.
"Pressure ulcers are also a part of skin breakdown and these products should be part of any cross-selling program," she said. "There are various compatible products that can be sold together, such as skin cleansers and barrier/protection cream and film, tape and specialty sacral wound dressings with skin protectants."
Nighttime products should also be an essential part of the incontinence inventory, Williams said. Bed pads, linens and overnight undergarments are part of managing the patient's condition, ensuring they get a good night's sleep, she said.
Diabetes is another condition that provides a cross-selling platform, Williams said, so providers should actively market diabetic testing supplies, insulin and nutritionals in tandem with incontinence.
"Diabetes is associated with the increased risk of incontinence," she said. "High performance incontinence product manage the condition and improve quality of life by enabling diabetics to continue leading a normal and active life without worrying about embarrassing accidents."