Compression: Learning a Key Category

How Sydel Howell made compression products 30 percent of her revenue.

Sydel Howell, owner of San Diego Homecare Supplies, says approximately 30 percent of her revenue comes from selling compression products. Although she calls compression an excellent product category to consider as part of a retail strategy, she adds she is adamant that providers invest time in understanding the category and why it’s relevant to their customer base before launching a compression strategy.

“Compression is not something that you can just put on the shelf and people say, ‘Oh, I want to buy that,’” she explains. “You have to know your product, and you have to understand the differences between the manufacturers, between the fabrics, between why one sock would be beneficial to a certain patient and why another sock would be beneficial to a different patient. You also need a good fitter who’s well trained, knows how to measure, and knows how to recognize what type of fabric would be relevant to particular leg issues.”

Howell recently sat down with HME Business to discuss what it took to create her successful compression business:

How do you acquire your compression customers?

About 90 percent of our customers are referred to us by their healthcare providers. Another 10 percent or so were told by friends, family or someone else referring compression. There are also people who come in our store for a knee brace, and we’ll recommend a compression sock because from our own personal experience and those of our family members and friends, if you wear a knee brace without a compression sock your foot is likely to cramp up and get uncomfortable. Again, it’s knowing your product and what the limitations are and what the results of wearing it are.

How do you get your referral sources to recommend patients for compression?

Your referral sources are your most important asset because if they don’t know you exist, they will tell their patients to go to your competitors or a drug store. You must convince and educate your referral sources on why they should send their patients to you. What is it about you that’s going to help their patients be more compliant? Referral sources are really concerned about compliance. If they send you patients and you put them in the wrong product and they end up hating compression, that’s it. You get once chance to convince someone to wear compression socks.

I can’t tell you the number of times, especially men, come into the store just looking downtrodden, and then you show them what the possibilities are for compression. And they say, ‘Oh, I get to wear that! You mean I don’t have to wear my grandma’s socks?’ When you show them a micro-fiber dress sock, ribbed dress sock, or athletic-looking sock, their eyes just light up. You have to convince your referral sources you are their best option to take care of their patients.

What would you tell a provider wanting to start out in the category?

I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to do something, you need to do it right. From my own personal experience, I carry very few over-the-counter, low-compression socks. Probably 80 percent of my business is 20 to 30 compression, another 10 percent is 30 to 40, and then 10 percent is 15 to 20.

My No. 1 suggestion is wear the product. Get samples from all the different manufacturers that you’re considering carrying and wear them. See how they fit. See how they make your legs feel. See if they fall down. See if they make you itchy or hot or sweaty or stinky. You really have to know your products.

Everyone in my store wears compression, whether they are selling it or not. They have tried it and they love it and they see what a difference it makes in their life. And unless you really believe in a $75 pair or socks, you’re not going to be able to sell it.

You also have to understand who is coming in your store. You likely need a good man’s sock, a good woman’s sock, and a good athletic sock.

How do you acquire your referral sources for compression?

I work with the vendors and manufacturers because they call on the doctors and tell them where they can find compression products. But again, manufacturers want you to know their products well enough to choose the right one. If patients get the wrong product, and a patient complains to the doctor, then manufacturers have a hard time convincing the doctor that their product is good.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of HME Business.

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