Elements of a Successful Compression Business
Staff and customer education are key to a successful compression business.
- By Joseph Duffy
- Mar 01, 2016
As providers seek strategies to expand their cash flow, compression products are offering an attractive opportunity to generate new revenues by serving the needs of several growing patient demographics.
According to Melissa Gwozdz, marketing manager of SIGVARIS North America, there are more than 2 million lost work days annually because of poor circulation. This points to employees who might be standing or sitting for long periods of time, such as school teachers, retailers, and factory workers. Venous disease, lymphedema and diabetes are prevalent among the elderly, which makes up one of the largest target markets for compression products. In addition, athletes are turning to compression products for recovery and performance. Rob Heglin, product manager of Dr. Comfort, notes that the compression therapy market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 5 percent by 2019.
“Medical grade compression is used primarily for venous disease, lymphedema and diabetes,” explains Caroline Pinney, education and training manager for compression garment maker Juzo USA. “If you think about venous disease alone, age and obesity are high risk factors for this chronic, progressive condition. The Administration on Aging estimates that 19.2 percent of the US population will be aged 65 and older by 2030, while the Center for Disease estimates that 42 percent of our population will be obese by 2030. This is a big opportunity to provide solutions that will affect so many of our customers.”
What Should You Carry?
Compression products can be loosely divided into two categories: over the counter (OTC) products for mild issues and products for patients with a medical need, such as diabetes, poor circulation, chronic venous insufficiency, wound care and some types of cancer.
“For most brands, compression products at a milder level are sold over the counter and worn to help promote overall well being or an active lifestyle,” Gwozdz says. “We find that a lot of people who work in retail end up trying the products themselves. Once they experience how much better their legs feel while standing all day in a retail environment, the products pretty much sell themselves.”
OTC compression offers an opportunity to add a package solution for customers, Pinney says, and investing the time and effort in training and educating your sales staff has never been more essential to the growth of your business in this ever-changing environment.
“Customer service will separate you from the big chains and big box retailers,” she explains. “An essential part of customer service is education.
Your staff needs to be proficient at explaining features and benefits of products so that customers can make educated decisions on what products will be best for themselves or the loved one they are buying for. It is important to think of offering a package solution for disease management. Education and ongoing support to help your customer have the best chance for successfully managing their condition and will equate into repeat business.”
Also, Gwozdz offers some additional potential customers for OTC compression products include expecting mothers, people who travel, retail workers, service men and women, factory workers, construction workers, teachers, healthcare workers and active adults, including runners, walkers, and various other athletes.
Along with the OTC compression products, Pinney says it is important to carry medical grade compression to tailor individual customer need to the appropriate product.
“For instance, if you are concentrating on the breast cancer-related lymphedema community, it would be wise to carry many different arm sleeve designs and colors,” she notes. “Customers like to have options so they are invested in making decisions involving their health, and will more likely be compliant.”
Ultimately, your product mix depends on the area in which you are trying to sell compression products.
“I know one of our accounts is close to a high school and the cross country team buys a lot of our performance socks and performance sleeves,” Gwozdz says. “Another location might see a lot of senior citizens who might be interested in sheer knee highs and cotton socks. Think about who you typically see walking into your store. You want to partner with a compression company who is going to work with you to get everything you need to make your compression business a successful one.”
And offering compression doesn’t stop at the garments. Providers need to think about the additional products they can offer that add value for compression patients. Gwozdz says that donning devices and washing solutions are good cross-selling opportunities, with perhaps the best cross-selling product being a second garment, because you need at least two — one to wash and one to wear at all times.
And manufacturers are responding to the need for providers to upsell. Dr. Comfort recently released a compression line that lends itself to value added selling opportunities, because patients can purchase multiple patterns to match their clothing styles, Heglin notes. Also, since compression hosiery is beneficial for patients with diabetes, diabetic shoes are an ideal cross-selling item.
Pinney said another key to successful up-selling is education.
“Our customers are looking for one-stop expertise to help them achieve a successful outcome,” she says. “Your staff will separate from the rest if they concentrate on education, product expertise and ongoing support. It is important to know the features and benefits of key category products and to be able to effectively communicate that with customers.
“It is good to have a basic understanding of disease states that are involved in those key category products,” Pinney continues. “When we have a basic understanding of what a patient is going through it gives us perspective and empathy that will allow us to offer solutions that can truly contribute to a customer’s quality of life.”
The referral sources for compression are as varied as their patients. Some referral specialties that providers should target to expand their compression business include wound care specialists, vascular centers, lymphedema therapists, breast cancer treatment centers, and vascular surgeon practices.
“Positioning your business as a resource to these specialties is essential,” Pinney says. “Let them know you are the go-to expert for anything compression. Schedule a ‘lunch and learn’ or an ‘in service’ to educate and train the staff on what services you will offer to their patients.”
Gwozdz advises partnering with local vascular doctors, orthopedic physicians, OBGYNs and general practicers to build your compression business. Physicians want to be confident that their patients are well taken care of.
Heglin adds podiatrists and diabetes educators as excellent referral sources. And like other major compression manufacturers, his company offers authorized providers marketing literature that they can personalize and hand out to local referral sources.
Along with marketing literature, many compression manufacturers offer webinars, in-store training and knowledgeable customer service reps that will help providers learn more about their products, compression technology and matching patients with product. With that knowledge you are better armed to help patients and capture referral sources.
Spreading the Word
Finally, awareness is critical. Many compression patients are not aware of the options that are available to them. Bearing that in mind, marketing is a key concern for compression providers — they must get the word out.
Pinney says key marketing objectives for compression providers are:
- Be the expert in compression.
- Try to offer a full service, one-stop shop experience for customers.
- Your staff needs to be educated on compression to offer customized solutions to improve each individual customer’s condition.
- Follow up with your referral sources and create open lines of communication.
Heglin adds providers should take advantage of marketing materials that manufacturers offer to help build your referral base and to educate your staff on which compression levels are best depending on the patient’s conditions. Also, create cross-selling opportunities by placing compression products next to products that treat similar disease states.
Gwozdz recommends that providers partner with compression manufacturers that offer education courses and the support you need to help grow your compression business.
“Mailers, flyers, email blasts, social media and direct cold calls are great ways to get your name out there,” Pinney says. “Your business can further separate itself from others by offering educational events for customers. Some great educational opportunities include presentations given by field experts on products, a health fair, BBQ with vendor tables set up, an open Q&A forum with a healthcare professional from a specific field, or even an open house night at your facility. These educational events are a part of customer service that show you are willing to go the extra step and that you care.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of HME Business.