Orthopedic Softgoods: Branching Out

With excellent revenue potential and increasing customer needs for joint relief, orthopedic softgoods are key DME items that work well in pharmacies.

orthopedic softgoodsOrthopedic softgoods, a joint support category that includes ankle braces, knee braces and back and neck supports, have excellent revenue appeal, making them key offerings for DME pharmacies. And if you add orthotics, a category closely related to orthopedic softgoods that includes compression hosiery and soft joint wraps, pharmacies can become one-stop shops for today’s very active and busy patients.

“A lot of our DME pharmacy customers — especially independent pharmacies — are seeing patients with needs outside of prescriptions, such as ankle braces, or a doctor may have told their patients to go get compression hosiery because they have venous disease,” says Ernie Hahn, national account manager for orthopedic footwear company DJO Global.

According to Brad Wimsatt, director of business development for manufacturer of orthopedic and compression goods SAI Therapeutic Brands, orthopedic softgoods are excellent in-store products because they customarily command a 40 percent to 50 percent profit margin.

“Carrying orthopedic softgoods requires low overhead and minimal startup costs,” he says. “They enhance the business’ image as a provider of a wide range of professional services and products to the community. This practice allows the pharmacy to increase their customers’ market basket, and stimulates the relationship between the community and surrounding physicians. As average lifespans continue to grow, it’s important to service the traditional patient, with an understanding that these products continue to move more toward preventative measures.”

In-store displays

Hahn says that many DME pharmacies, especially those just getting started carrying DME products, will likely allot space on their wall. These products are typically in-line displays versus a standalone unit. Typically used is a two-foot or a four-foot planogram.

“That distinction is based upon the amount of space they have in the store,” he says. “Of course you’ve got some stores in New York that have only 600 square feet of space — so space can be limited. With that says, you want to look at body parts. Most body parts where we see injury include the wrist, the knee, the ankle, the neck and the back. Basically anywhere where there’s flexibility. So if you look at a typical two-foot planogram, you’re going to see wrist braces, knee braces, a couple of ankle supports and some back supports. The four-foot display will probably have a few more skews.”

Wimsatt pointed out that regarding retail appeal, most orthopedic softgoods are in product specific packaging with appealing graphics and photography that provide:

  • Valuable information regarding features and benefits
  • Medical indications
  • Instructions on product application and usage
  • Laundering and care instructions

“The majority of these products require minimal training on the part of the staff,” he says. “In the area of compression hosiery, these items tend to become an annuity business. Stockings need to be replaced on a regular basis, and a customer is often a customer for life.”Underscoring the importance of compression products in a DME pharmacy is Melissa Gwozdz, marketing manager for compression goods maker SIGVARIS.

“They [compression products] can be a great cash business,” she says. “For example, just about anyone walking into a DME or pharmacy can benefit from wearing graduated compression every day. You often have two different groups you can target: the patient and the caregiver. For example, an elderly patient may need graduated compression because they have tired, achy legs. Someone might bring them in who travels for work. In one visit, you have two different people who could greatly benefit from wearing graduated compression.”

Orthopedic braces for ankles, knees, wrists and neck

The basic difference in orthopedic softgoods (braces) and orthotics (soft wraps) is braces are typically used for a more severe joint ailment or injury. “If your knee bothers you while you’re walking and you’re not a weekend warrior but you’re just looking for a little bit of relief from some knee pain, you probably want to wear an elastic knee wrap,” says Hahn. “If you’ve torn your meniscus or a ligament in your knee or you’re recovering from surgery, you probably want to be in a hinged knee brace that is going to provide more support and give
you more relief in terms of pain. The main difference is the severity of the support that you’re getting.”

Hahn says that tennis elbow and recently carpal tunnel are popular injuries in which comRxpeople seek out orthopedic softgoods. Back braces are popular, too, as well as a walker boot for patients who have just come out of a cast.

“The fact that patients are younger and older patients are more active and the number of injuries the physicians are seeing these days due to activity is relatively high, a pharmacy should carry the orthopedic family of products so patients can buy all these products under one roof,” he says.

According to Wimsatt, must-stock orthopedic softgoods include:

Prime categories are wrist and wrist-thumb supports/splints, knee braces and wraps with flexible and rigid support, ankle supports, (tennis) elbow straps.

Secondary categories are back supports, abdominal binders, rib belts, hernia supports, cervical collars.


One of the most important aspects of selling orthopedic softgoods is training. Patients have choices and may not know what would be more appropriate for the injury, for example, a soft knee wrap or a hinged brace.

So a trained pharmacist or pharmacist tech would be able to explain to customers the differences and benefits of using a hinged brace versus a wrap. But without that knowledge, the sale could be dead at the counter.

Also, there are abundant cross-selling and up-selling opportunities with orthopedic softgoods, but again, it depends on the knowledge of the pharmacy employees.

“They have to be trained the right way and attend training classes to make sure that they can recommend the appropriate product to the patient,” says Hahn. “Many times you have to visually see patients to see if they are limping or if they currently have a brace or if there’s a patient in which the doctor has previously prescribed compression hose. You may want to ask customers if they have any joint issues. Do you have any issues where we could talk about some some extra support for you? The biggest key to sales is having a dedicated person trained to understand these products and that’s where we see the most success.”

Wimsatt points out that mobility aids, hot/cold compresses, bathroom safety equipment, anti-inflammatories, and pain relievers are excellent cross-selling items for orthopedic softgoods.

Gwodzdz says that compression garments have a wide assortment of fabrics and styles that invite up-sell opportunities to customers, including active individuals, business travelers, service men and women, retail workers, moms to be and people who stand for a living.

“Each business should be familiar with the demographics of its community and tailor its services accordingly,” Wimsatt says. “If near retirement communities, emphasis should be on back, abdominal and hernia supports, along with wrist and knee braces. If near a high school or university, emphasis should be on sports-related supports. If near industrial area, emphasis on supports for work-related injury, such as wrist and back supports.

Hahn says that when it comes to compression, patients with venous disease, a condition where the flow of blood through the veins is inadequate, have a need to continually buy compression products. He says patients will buy anywhere from four to eight pairs of stockings per year and the profit margin on compression hosiery is from 50 percent to 60 percent.

“If you’re selling some type of a pain reliever to construction workers or people who are on their feet all day, you may want to mention that you’ve got a line of compression hosiery that can help with your veins,” he says. “Those people who are on their feet all day typically have not just venous disease issues but orthopedic issues as well, from back to knee to ankle.”

Finally, talk to your orthopedics softgoods manufacturer or distributer representative for training and literature that helps you sell the products in your DME pharmacy. Many have on-line and in-store training that will help you move product out the door.

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy April 2017 issue of HME Business.