Women's health: Feel good, look good products
Providers stand to gain a greater volume of business as women of all ages search for products that promote wellness, dignity and style, market insiders say.
The majority of women's health operators are single-owner boutiques that carry low inventory and focus on specific aspects of women's health. Before they can capture this burgeoning new client base, these providers need to reassess their operations and figure out if they should expand their products and services, along with developing a more comprehensive promotional strategy.
Jan Erickson, founder and president of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Janska, says while boomers are leading the way for market success, younger generations are also a key factor in the women's health field.
"Some women under 40 who participated in our focus groups expressed the need to be as normal as possible when buying for themselves and they didn't look to HME stores to carry clothing," Erickson said. "We learned, however, that caregivers to aging parents already shopping at HME stores were grateful to find attractive and comforting clothing that worked. Focus group participants shopped--with some frustration--for clothing in mainstream fashion outlets for garments that would simply accommodate their physical or health requirements, so the convenience of pre-selected clothing solutions was a welcome idea."
Regardless of generation, "the women of today are younger-minded and are demanding fashion," said Valerie Esquilla, medical product manager for Kennesaw, Ga.-based Amoena USA. "We are listening to their needs and bringing the latest fashions and colors to the market. With strong market feedback, we have created post-surgical garments that have aloe and Vitamin E in the fabric, as well as garments with easy access and fashion colors."
A potential inhibitor of segment growth is customer confusion about products, added Helen Rockey, owner of Seattle, Wash.-based Wildbleu.
"Consumers still don't understand how products work and where to find them," she said. "Retailers are still struggling with how to best service the consumer and communicate product benefits. It takes work to educate the buyer and it takes work to educate consumers on how performance products improve their lives."
Historically, clothing designed to meet specific health and medical needs "tended to look clinical, cheap, unattractive and dull," said Erickson. There were few truly fashionable choices for women who wanted and needed specifically functional clothing, she said.
Wildbleu's pajama line, originally developed for hot flashes and night sweats, is a good example of a product that originally had a technical application and has since expanded to be "a good-looking and comfortable garment that works well for everyday use," Rockey said. "I think we are seeing more and more technical products migrate to everyday life."
Post-mastectomy clothing is making great strides in fashion and style, Erickson says. That can aid in the recovery process.
"When our clothes are comfortable, appropriate and stylish, we tend to feel better," she said. "When our clothing is ill-fitting, inappropriate, or dated, we feel self-conscious. Recent research shows that this is especially true during times of medical and physical hardship. People in care facilities, for example, are treated better when they look better; and contrary to previous assumptions, people with dementia were shown to be comforted by the clothes they wear."
Diversification is an essential strategy for women's health providers to grow and thrive, says Cindy Ciardo, CEO of Knueppel HealthCare Services in West Allis, Wis.
"We can't have all our eggs in one basket," she said, pointing to compression/lymphedema management and wigs and hats for hair loss as two important and logical adjuncts to breast form fitting.
Diabetic footwear is another important product area, she said, citing American Diabetes Association research that shows 11.5 million or 10.2% of all women aged 20 years or older have diabetes.
Compression hosiery is a garment not usually associated with women's health, but fits into the category perfectly, said Tom Musone, marketing manager for Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio-based Juzo.
"The compression category has seen tremendous growth with new technology in the treatment of varicose veins," Musone said. "The procedure has been very popular with women cosmetically treating varicose veins or with treatment of venous disease and compression stockings are the post-treatment standard of care."
Once thought of as an unstylish clinical garment, today's compression hosiery is more fashionable with a variety of color and material choices, Musone said.
"Ten years ago a pink or blue compression garment wasn't an option--you had beige as a choice," he said. "You also have options in material-- we have a new product called Naturally Sheer that looks very similar to a department store stocking."
Esquilla sees a movement brewing among boutique stores to expand their shops to be an "all-inclusive" provider and are bringing in partners to help with the overhead.
"They want to carry not only recovery care items to help a woman after her surgery but they also want to keep that woman coming back over the years and are providing everything from everyday bras, sleepwear and swimsuits to fashion camisoles and leisure clothing," she said.