The business case of spending more to pay less
by Ken Edmunds

The old adage that “You get what you pay for” is generally true. However, when it comes to incontinence products, sometimes paying more means spending less in the long run.

A wet bed was Mary’s wake-up call every morning, her morning routine is a mad rush to get John up and showered, strip the bed and start the washing machine for the three loads it would take to wash linens and pajamas, and take the soiled disposable incontinence products to the outside trash to start reversing the odor in the bedroom.

All of this had to be done before Mary could get their house ready for babysitting the grandkids each weekday. It was even worse on the days that she and John had a doctor’s appointment or other outside commitment.

How lower-quality products affected the daily costs of incontinence care:

  • Cost of laundry (water, electricity and detergent): Estimated at $ .75 per load between the washer and the dryer. Mary averaged three extra loads from John’s soiled clothing and linens. She washed these soiled items quickly and separately to avoid lingering odors.
    Daily cost: $2.25
  • Cost of incontinence products: Mary usually shopped at the giant chain store near their house and tried to stick with the name brands, believing they were her best chance of preventing leakage and keeping John comfortable day and night. She tried asking an employee for advice, but they knew less than she did about these things. There were “sales” all of the time, but she generally averaged a cost of $ .55/each. She usually used between from six to eight of these each day. Daily cost: $3.85 (Average of seven products)
  • Cost of additional absorbent products: Mary found leakage to be common no matter what brand she bought. She had heard that putting an absorbent pad inside of John’s protective (disposable) underwear could help reduce this recurring leakage. Costs varied greatly on this pad depending on what was left on the shelf when she went to the store. Daily cost: $1.75 (Average of seven products)
  • The total daily cost for Mary and John comes to $7.85.

To keep the math simple, related items that Mary often used such as room spray and candles (to mask odors) or disposable underpads to try and protect linens and furniture weren’t included in this cost analysis. Other personal or household cleaning items that Mary purchased (when leaks occurred during the daytime) were also not included.

Similarly, Janet watched her husband Bob’s worsening incontinence and she was determined to fight the inevitable loss of dignity that usually accompanies this condition.

Like Mary, Janet started off shopping at the giant chain store near their home. She would bring home a new brand of protective underwear every week hoping that it would be her champion. Every week those hopes would be dashed as Janet, too, gathered soiled linens in the morning or Bob’s third pair of pants for the day into the washing machine.

One week Janet stopped by a small store that had been in their neighborhood for years. She knew that they sold power wheelchairs and canes, but she thought maybe they would have some advice for her on helping her husband.
An employee listened as Janet told her story. The employee quickly explained some alternative strategies for the situation. There were higher quality products available that, while more expensive on a unit basis, reduced the need to change. These incontinence products actually lowered the overall cost, while returning Bob’s dignity and independence and Janet’s normal daily routine.

How higher-quality products affected the daily costs of incontinence care:

  • Cost of laundry: The wet linen situation was completely gone. Minor leakage made it to Bob’s outer clothing too few times to count, and when it did occur, it usually only affected Bob’s pajamas once in a blue moon. Daily cost: $0.00
  • Cost of incontinence products: Janet switched Bob’s brand to a higher quality and more absorbent brand that she had never heard of before her visit to the supply store. The cost of this product was more than twice what Janet had been paying. But as the supply store employee had predicted, the need to change as frequently declined sharply (along with the leakages that they had carefully planned their days around). The cost of these products did not fluctuate with intermittent “sales” and was always around $1.25/each. She found that four of these protective underwear would easily thwart leakage over the course of 24 hours. Daily cost: $5.00
  • Cost of additional absorbent products: Again, as predicted by the supply store employee, the need for these “booster” pads had diminished. The higher quality product had completely eliminated the need for additional absorbency beyond what it offered. Daily cost: $0.00
  • The total daily cost for Janet and Bob comes to $5.00.

Janet’s daily routine returned to normal. She and Bob both enjoyed a full night of sleep culminating in a bright new day. She didn’t need to light candles or wave room sprays around every room Bob was in anymore, either.

Customers Are Not Incontinence Experts

The difference in experiences here has nothing to do with the devotion either caregiver had to their respective spouses. The reality is that your customers are not incontinence experts. They make their choices on these products the same way they do with most goods and services: a mixture of price, brand familiarity and recommendations.

In the giant chain stores currently enjoying these sales in your town, product recommendations are unlikely. This gives your family-owned store the advantage—if you take the time to educate your staff on how to help the Johns and Marys in your community.

As a health product professional, you have the power to change someone’s life. It starts with changing your product offering.

Look for partnerships and resources through your manufacturer contacts and distributor relationships to help enhance your company’s approach to incontinence care.

You just have to tell them that you are ready to focus on your store and how it can be different from the chains or your local competitors. How loyal to that supply store do you think Janet will be now? How many other products do you carry that you think she or Bob will need to age in place over the next decade?

Renew Your Focus on the Incontinence Product Category

You’ve known for quite some time that your store needs more sustainable cash business. You can build that segment by simply educating your staff, showing people that better solutions exist, and investing in letting the community know that you are there to help.

This article is the fifth in a seven-part series. Each article will focus on a particular concern of the retail incontinence marketplace. Read the full series here.