Incontinence: All about service, samples

Friday, March 22, 2013

Incontinence supplies have earned a reputation over the years as being a commodity item, with huge pallet loads of disposable undergarments sold for penny profits at big-box stores. But with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, HME providers can make a decent margin on incontinence supplies by using their service expertise to cater to the generation known for its high expectations, says Tom Wilson, president of The CareGiver Partnership in Neenah, Wis.

“Incontinence is anything but a commodity,” he said. “New customers need a lot of help finding the right product for them—it is typical for a first-time buyer to go to the store and stare at all the colorful packages on the shelf, wondering which one works best.”

Wilson’s research has determined that a new customer will spend $130 on incontinence products before finding the right one.

“So there is a great need for information to short circuit that $130,” he said.

By learning each patient’s condition, size, weight and routines, he said providers can also help customers make the proper choices.

For HME retailers to succeed in incontinence sales, they need to have a three-pronged approach: sales expertise, product sample provision and companion product promotion, said Jack Evans, president of Malibu, Calif.-based Global Media Marketing.

“When you let people try out different products to find the one that is best for them, you create loyalty,” he said. “They come back repeatedly for those products and will most likely buy related products as well.”

The sensitivity factor

The HME provider should serve as a “safe haven” for incontinence patients, providing a sanctuary where customers can shop in privacy while getting expert advice, Evans said.

“There is still an embarrassment factor in shopping for incontinence supplies,” he said. “Selling these items requires empathy and compassion to help customers feel more comfortable.”

Product placement should also reflect sensitivity to incontinence customers, Evans said.

“I can’t tell you how many providers I’ve seen place these products by the front door,” he said. “They should be toward the back of the store and there should be a fitting room where customers can try them on in private.”

Discretion in packaging is a trend for incontinence products in recent years, but Wilson says the stigma associated with incontinence has waned and that the “plain brown wrapper” concept is overblown.

“We’ve been surveying customers about this since 2006, asking them about what is and what isn’t important,” he said. “When we asked them about the importance of unmarked packages, most respondents rated it very low.”

‘Moving the needle’

Manufacturers are responding to the demands of consumers for incontinence garments that accommodate more active lifestyles. This has led to products that are lighter, more comfortable and easier to wear.

“The mantra is very simple: Keep moving the needle closer to regular underwear,” Wilson said. “In the last 10 years, product design has grown from underpads to pull-on underwear. The trend will continue in that direction, with better absorbance and thinner materials. They also have become more fashionable, available in a wide variety of colors.”

HME providers have several options for complementary products to merchandise with incontinence. Skin care is the major companion category and there is a plethora of creams, ointments and protectants that can be promoted to customers. Wipes are another important product and they are undersold by retailers, Wilson said.