Fitting post-mastectomy or lumpectomy patients with breast prostheses or
bras requires a certain level of understanding about the ordeal the patient has
undergone, as well as about how to best meet her medical needs. Purchasing bras
and other undergarments, however, remains an intimate — and not
necessarily medical — experience, and boutique owners must keep that in
They also must remember that most women enjoy shopping. Lesley
Pfitzenmayer, senior product manager of consumer products at Amoena USA
Corporation in Kennesaw, Ga., works with post-mastectomy fitters to identify
their patients’ “shopping genes,” and use this information to
increase sales. Based on data analysis gathered by The Haystack Group, who
handles Amoena’s public relations, Pfitzenmayer classified these patients
into four personality types: creative, savvy, harmonious and practical.
In the health care arena, sales opportunities tend to stereotype
customers, appealing to either the harmonious person or the practical person,
Pfitzenmayer said. The first thought is that the person buying these products
needs a fitter who will be caring and nurturing, and also cognizant of Medicare
requirements and reimbursements.
“I think there’s a comfort zone in selling mastectomy products
to both of these two personality types,” she said.
The harmonious person appreciates help when weighing her options and
Pfitzenmayer suggests balancing their decisions for them with statements such
as, “This is good for you because,” and “This is a time for you
to treat yourself well.” People with this personality type, however, often
have trouble declining, and may give in — purchasing an item that is not
necessarily right for her — when confronted by a fitter with a strong
personality. This is not the desired outcome, and the patient may not be
satisfied with her purchase and may not return.
“You may never know she wasn’t happy,” Pfitzenmayer said.
To prevent this, “really cater to her, listen to her needs, what her cues
are — very often it’s body language or lack of eye contact.”
The interests of the practical person, on the other hand, lie in
“This is someone who, even though she’s making a financial
decision based on her allowable, for instance, cannot be pressured into a
sale,” she said.
In fact, the best way to work with this personality type is to allow her
to browse alone and follow up with recommendations. Pfitzenmayer goes as far as
to advise her to come back another time if she wants to continue to ponder her
|© 2010 iStockphoto.com/Morten
“She respects that much more than being pressured, where she’d
leave the store and wouldn’t return,” she said.
The two other types of personalities often are not even patients, but
accompany their friends for the shopping experience. Members of the savvy group
and the creative group who tag along for support may be sisters, aunts, mothers
or daughters, but fitters must realize their potential as future patients.
“Even when she is already a patient or a customer, the social
catalyst especially is a person to pay attention to,” she said. “When
she has a great shopping experience, not only will she spread that word, but
she will continue to come back and bring people, so she’s a great
This personality also tends to have a good amount of disposable income,
which can significantly increase sales when combined with her sociable
demeanor, Pfitzenmayer said.
The creative personality type is similar. Although people with this
personality comprise only 10% of the general population, she said, they serve
as the cultural artists of any group.
These trendsetters are the most influential — and adventurous and
impulsive, which often makes them more powerful — people in their social
groups. Women falling into this group typically are more interested in how
beautiful a product can make themselves or their post-mastectomy friends feel
and look, than they are in sticking to the allowable.
They may offer to other patients a view of their bras’
“gorgeous lace straps” or model swimsuits and endorse the boutique
where they were purchased with their particular power of persuasion.
“And it’s said with such confidence and certainty that anyone
else around them is nodding their head … and they’re really going to
follow along,” Pfitzenmayer said. “This is a conversation you want to
be a part of.”
Of the four personality groups, the creative group — despite being
such a small percentage of the population — tends to spend the most when
shopping, with $7.6 million annually, Pfitzenmayer said, which demonstrates the
influence of both their confidence and their spending power.
The savvy group comes next, with $6 million in spending, and then the
harmonious type, who spends $5.3 million annually. The practical personality
type spends the least, following the natural traits of the group.
Post-mastectomy fitters and business owners stand to benefit from
recognizing these personality types and targeting their sales strategies and
in-store displays so that the different types can have their own personal
“If [business owners] want to gain that clientele, they need to
merchandize their store accordingly,” she told O&P Business
Making these changes can be as simple as adding drama to the
boutique’s look, either with warm lighting or vintage black fixtures.
“In a sea of nude and beige and white bras, black fixtures add just
enough drama, and still keep it clean,” she said. “That can appeal to
some of these more fashionable, more influential personality types.”
By catering to the different personality types in this way, business
owners will be able to gain more sales.
Of the most frequently sold items at post-mastectomy facilities,
silicone breast forms and shapers and bras are the main products covered by
insurance, Patrice Sobcznski, breast care specialist at American Breast Care in
Marietta, Ga., said. Business owners quickly realized, however, that these
items should be no less comfortable and stylish than other women’s
“All of the manufacturers now provide updated bras in colors,”
Sobcznski said. “This is great for the survivor’s psychological
recovery to be able to wear bras similar to what she wore before surgery.”
Boutiques offering cash items also will have a selection of hats,
swimsuits, tank tops with built-in bras and nightwear, Sobcznski said, as well
as jewelry items and “non-cancer” products, to bring some of the
focus back to the woman’s life before breast cancer.
As a breast cancer survivor, Sobcznski has experienced both sides of
“I was complaining to a fitter that my insurance only allowed me
four bras per year. She said, ‘You bought bras before surgery, what makes
you think you can’t buy them now?’” she said. “It never
occurred to me because I was thinking I could only get what my insurance
The overall attitude and demeanor of the fitter significantly impacts
the process of purchasing these intimate items, and therefore, also affects the
actual sales, she said. Fitters who are uncomfortable asking women to spend
cash for an upgraded bra or breast prosthesis may see their sales suffer.
Likewise for fitters who are conservative in their own clothing and unwilling
to offer bras in additional colors and prints.
“It’s difficult to keep your own opinion out of the choice of
products for the customers, but it certainly has an impact on what you provide
and how you sell it,” Sobcznski said.
Being able to expertly fit women is an important aspect of selling the
products. Thanks to media exposure from celebrities, the pendulum now swings
toward being fit by a specialist — both for post-mastectomy patients and
women wearing traditional bras, Pfitzenmayer said. This eliminates the need for
extensive marketing campaigns because women already seek the experts.
“If they demonstrate that they have that expertise, that’s
half of it right there,” she said.
This interest in specialty fitting, however, raises questions about fit
consultation fees. This controversial topic has split the population of
fitters, business owners and other retailers. The fear, Pfitzenmayer said, is
that a fitter will spend an hour fitting a patient, only to hear the patient
say that she can buy the item for less money at another store or online.
To avoid this awkward situation, many post-mastectomy boutiques charge a
consultation fee that can be applied toward the purchase. Others, however, are
reluctant, because the fitting is not a billable service by any third party
“The key component is remembering her buying behavior,”
Pfitzenmayer said. “She’s looking to the fitter as the expert to
guide her in her purchases and in her wardrobe needs, and [to know] what’s
going to suit her and work for her best.”
Sobcznski emphasized the need to commit to providing quality products
that are appealing to patients.
Fitting patients with bras and breast prostheses is not a
“one-size-fits-all” experience, Sobcznski said. “You can’t
just dabble in this business.” — by Stephanie Z. Pavlou
For more information:
When a woman arrives for a fitting, her focus is on the purchase of bras
and prostheses. If the fitter does not take the time to point out other items
like swimwear, lingerie, just-for-comfort apparel and gift items, you will lose
out on these potential cash sales. Displaying products is not enough. Have her
try on a soft leisure bra or pocketed camisole to create awareness about the
value of alternative garments for comfort. The customer doesn’t know what
she doesn’t know until she is educated.
A satisfied customer who has a positive fitting is your best form of
advertising. By providing a warm and friendly environment, a caring and
experienced fitter and a variety of quality products, you can be assured she
will return for her own future purchases as well as recommend your business and
services to others.
— Linda Jackson, CFm
Founder and president,
Ladies First Inc., SofteeUSA.com, Ladies First Choice