Tips for tapping into this market to grow your brand
by Ken Edmunds

You will have to wade through a bit of backstory here, but there is a reward at the end. For many readers, this will be found money—a new revenue stream in a tired and beat up product category that hasn’t had anything exciting to say since the days of the Clinton administration.

During the last 20 years, new openings for assisted living communities have surpassed nursing homes by a ratio of almost 2:1. Over an even longer span of time, the industry has seen the acuity levels of those able to remain in assisted living rise higher and higher. With the senior population rising so quickly, assisted living options have never been more relevant to such a large portion of the population.

This is important to your growth in the retail sector. But first, let’s divide the incontinence market within the assisted living realm into two distinct halves:

  1. Private pay/private insurance
  2. Medicaid

The good news here is that, of the two halves, private pay/private insurance provides a much better profit margin—and you are not forced by falling reimbursements to use product lines that you know are below your standards.

The primary payer source tends to vary by state or region. For example, in Minnesota, many assisted living communities have a Medicaid payer source. However, in Ohio, most assisted living residents are private pay. It is important to identify which payer source is prevalent in your community before you can determine your approach.

Let’s dig in by getting better acquainted with the problems that you will be solving for local assisted living communities with a private payer source.

The Run-Out

Bob’s father is in an assisted living facility. The facility regularly calls Bob because his father has run out of incontinence briefs, because either Bob is forgetting to buy these products on a set schedule or his father goes through them faster than anticipated.

Bob’s father lives in an assisted living community that allows the family to provide their own incontinence products for their loved one living there. A large number of assisted living communities either permit—or in many cases require—the family to provide personal items like incontinence supplies. Unfortunately, the family frequently doesn’t get the incontinence products there in time. In some instances, this can force staff at the community to drop what they are doing to go out and get the  needed product.

These shortages occur frequently. Sometimes they are caused by the patient using more product than they normally do; sometimes the family just forgets. It is not uncommon for the assisted living staff to resort to “borrowing” products from a neighboring resident’s room to cover the shortage.

This, as you may have guessed, will cause problems in the neighbor’s room at some point. This domino effect is not exactly the pinnacle of efficiency.

The Roller Coaster

Let’s pick on Bob some more. Bob is not a health care expert. He tends to shop for incontinence products in much the same way he chooses gas stations—by price. Bob is assured that the best price on his Dad’s incontinence products will be at the local chain store. Ultimately, this leads to Bob delivering his father a truly mediocre incontinence product.

To be fair, there are family members who spend time researching the products that they bring to their loved ones living in assisted living. They look at different performance characteristics and, through trial and error, arrive at what works best for their loved one. But when you look at the situation at large, it creates an absolute roller coaster of quality. Some are bringing in high-performing products, while others provide Bob-level products—and there are quite a few in between.

All this product diversity creates havoc for the caregivers. Bob’s father needs to be changed all the time due to the product leaking so easily, while others wearing more effective products don’t need help as often. Caregivers are forced to remember product limitations or capabilities for each resident, and the standard of care varies as a result. Those with lower quality products consume more of the direct care staff’s limited time due to the increased need for changes.

Briefs by Bob

Let’s talk about the economy products for a moment. In his defense, Bob doesn’t realize the implications of his product choice. By allowing the family to choose the incontinence product, the assisted living community has unwittingly made the following choices:

  • Now families are determining how frequently the staff will have to change a person. A poorly performing product will add a significant amount of labor and may require higher staffing levels.
  • Family’s selections impact how frequently linens or clothes will have to be changed. Most of the attractively priced products leak. This will increase costs on laundry, the labor associated with laundry, and the usage of electricity and water.
  • Poorly performing products will need to be disposed of more frequently, creating more waste, which could drive up costs.
  • Poorly performing products often don’t manage odor well. Odor isn’t pleasant to live with, nor does it send the right message to visitors.
  • Leakage and odor are embarrassing for the resident. I’ve seen it lead to residents isolating themselves in their rooms due to a lack of confidence and/or embarrassment.
  • Poorly performing products often lead to skin breakdown, which is painful and expensive.

You Are the Solution

Let’s go over how your business can solve all of these issues and form relationships that not only increase retail incontinence sales, but also give you a platform to sell through other disposables and even larger ticket items.

Before we get started, we need to discuss how you choose the “horse” that will be pulling your “cart.”

You’ve already read about the problems associated with the usual store brands. These are likely the same brands that your competitors are already offering. You aren’t going to be able to waltz into an assisted living community and offer solutions with the same brands that they’ve seen fail time and time again. You need to offer something else—something different.

In order to solve the issues you’ve just read about, you need a product line that’s better than what they’ve seen or used in the past. It’s time to do your research and partner with a brand that can deliver better patient outcomes consistently. Seek out a manufacturer that offers:

  • Higher absorbencies
  • Lower re-wet values (this is the measure of how much fluid comes out of the product when pressure is applied)
  • Pricing that allows you to be competitive with online retailers
  • A little bit of exclusivity in your general area (won’t offer all of your competitors the same products/pricing)
  • Supportive sample programs

What About Bob?

So you’ve found a unique brand and it’s time to announce this to your target audience. All that is left is to develop a simple marketing program for your local assisted living communities. Keep in mind that this does not need to be complicated.

Here are some steps to creating this kind of program:

  • Meet with your local assisted living communities and let them know that you have a new product. Ask them if they would be willing to take some samples and give you some feedback on how these new products fare with their residents. Because you’ve chosen wisely, your products will be very likely to handle even their more challenging incontinence situations.
  • Once you’ve received positive feedback, offer to provide an ongoing supply of samples for existing and new residents to try out.
  • Set up a system that allows residents who like your new products to call you to order, or perhaps the staff or their families can assist.
  • Develop some simple flyers that you can hand out that describe your new program. Be sure to point out the issues that this program will solve. I would suggest one flyer that appeals to the staff and one that is more directed at residents in terms of messaging/content.

Branch Out

This type of program will also be helpful to other health care providers in your area. With just a little bit of effort, you should be able to identify other potential partners that would be equally intrigued by your new products and the program that you are offering.

Keep in mind that once these relationships are formed, you can also slowly introduce some of your other relevant products that these agencies need.

Ken Edmunds is a 26-year veteran of the adult incontinence industry. His focus has largely been on teaching durable medical equipment providers and long-term care facilities how to develop and sustain person-centered incontinence care. He currently works as an incontinence specialist at ABENA North America. Connect with him at