Incontinence and skin care offer new retail horizon

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Incontinence products have always been around, but changing demographics are causing vendors to look at a new sales venue to reach them: independent HME providers.

Institutions like hospitals and nursing homes remain the biggest customers for incontinence and companion skin care products and wholesale channels remain the major supply line, manufacturers say. But the general public has become a burgeoning new market with shopping preferences that are tailor-made for an HME retail center, said Simon Shavanson, director of home care for Great Neck, NY-based First Quality.

“Everyone in the industry is talking about the growth of incontinence relative to the aging population,” he said. “Where the market has traditionally been the elderly, the demographic has grown much younger. As far as the home care part of the marketplace goes, we are trying to focus on helping independent providers develop a total package of incontinence products.”

Likewise, Eddystone, Pa.-based SCA Personal Care sees great potential in the home care outlet and has developed its TENA flex-i-fit line of undergarments specifically for this clientele.

“While the bulk of our business remains the long-term care and institutional market, we’re closely examining the retail segment, specifically HME/DME and over-the-counter sales through pharmacy and drug wholesalers,” said Spencer Deane, SCA vice president of marketing for North America. “It is becoming increasingly relevant.”

For SCA, the independent HME provider “definitely fits into” the retail picture, Deane said, because they are healthcare specialists who can provide pertinent information for prospective consumers.

“Right now the major retailers like Wal-Mart are carrying the product, but what’s lacking is the personal attention to the customer’s needs,” he said. “They don’t offer any advice or information about the subject matter. Conversely, the HME provider doesn’t just sell the product, but provides the information about selecting the right product. This is clearly an opportunity for the independent HME provider to go above and beyond what the general retailers do.”

In order for HME companies to make an impact in the retail sale of incontinence and skin care products, they first need to know about this new generation of product users, said Diane Whitmer, director of marketing for at-home and retail for San Dimas, Calif.-based Paper Pak.

“These are people who want to remain active – many of them are independent to the point where they are still working,” she said. “That means they need a new breed of product, one that is geared toward an ambulatory lifestyle, is less bulky, is discreet and offers superior protection and odor control.”

Although retail represents only “a teeny-tiny smattering” of Paper Pak’s business at the moment, the company sees the market as a promising new horizon for its Attends brand of incontinence products.

“Attends has built up a lot of brand equity over the years, but the new Attends is not for the nursing home,” Whitmer said. “The traditional products aren’t delivering what people want anymore. HME is the perfect place for it to grow and evolve.”

Manufacturers agree that HME retail shops should position themselves as incontinence resource centers – a place where end-users and/or their family members can come to get clinical information about the nature of incontinence and subsequent product solutions.

“Consumer education is so important,” Whitmer said. “They don’t know what they want and are embarrassed to ask. The first thing to do is make them comfortable.”

Manufacturers contend that the new lines of incontinence products have technological advancements that take incontinence products beyond the “commodity diaper” designation. For instance, the TENA flex-i-fitT features two layers – a porous Air Dry Layer attached to soft textile material that allows for all-around air circulation while locking fluid into an absorbent core.

“This helps to maintain a natural skin environment, keeping skin at a lower humidity,” Deane said. “It’s very breathable, minimizing heat generation.”

Paper Pak offers a Total Incontinence Protection System (TIPS) that includes a chart on the package to help consumers determine which product is right for them. The program also includes counter displays with brochures that describe each product’s benefits, such as protection levels. It also provides comforting messages, such as “Do what you want to do.”

Product samples should also be a key component to the retail strategy, manufacturers say, because consumers can test for themselves the comfort and protection level of each garment.

First Quality has put together a total incontinence retail program as well, focusing not only on the “retail shelf,” but on various aspects of cash sales, such as “back door business” that reaches independent seniors through home delivery and sales to assisted living centers. Through this channel, the products are wrapped in discreet packages.

“There other opportunities beyond the retail shelf,” Shavanson said. “Our program allows providers to take advantage of these sales options as well.”

The First Quality program also helps HMEs offer product formularies that fit the criteria for state Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

Skin care products are also an essential part of the incontinence package, manufacturers say. Without proper protection, skin irritation can cause enormous discomfort, Deane said. SCA’s line of wash cream and skin wipes is designed to replace nutrients in the skin and keeps skin moist to prevent chafing.

“Market these products in tandem with each other,” he said. “They are part of an incontinence management system. Promote these products to educate consumers about the importance of hygiene.”

Likewise, Paper Pak has a skin care line, including disposable treated and dry washcloths. The moist washcloths are alcohol-free to keep skin from drying out and contain aloe-based emollients to cleanse and sooth the skin. The dry cloths can be used in conjunction with other solutions, even plain water.
Category: Incontinence and skin care
Key Products:

Undergarments (especially those designed for an active lifestyle), skin creams, wipes and wash cloths.

Marketing strategies:

- Target baby boomers who want an undergarment that allows them to remain independent and active.

- Position the business as an incontinence resource center where customers can get information from experts on the right products. Market undergarments and skin care products as part of an incontinence management package.

- Offer product samples so that customers can try out each style’s comfort and protection levels.

- Seek out other cash sales opportunities “beyond the retail shelf,” such as home delivery and assisted living centers.