For approximately three decades, Lynn Barcroft had been working as an orthotist and prosthetist, fitting people with artificial limbs, braces, and other components of treatment plans. As part of her duties, she regularly had to fit women with breast prostheses and bras after mastectomy. This typically required the woman to undergo a deeply private consultation and fitting in a clinical setting where patients with a wide variety of prosthetic needs were served.
“You might have a man being fitted with a [prosthetic] leg next door. It just wasn’t a good situation,” she says Barcroft and her sister, Susan Tanner, who had been a practicing nurse for 30 years, saw an opportunity to open a boutique that would cater specifically to women who were facing or had undergone mastectomy, providing a private, comfortable, feminine place for them to get the products and services they need after surgery.
The result has been a notable success. The sisters opened Pink Ribbons in Memphis, Tennessee on November 1, 2011. In their first year, without hiring additional employees, the duo provided service to more than 600 women.
1. Understand the market. As they looked into the specific needs of women after mastectomy, Barcroft and Tanner found that there was no business in the Memphis, Tennessee market that catered to them. But when they opened their doors, they hit the first roadblock: It took longer than expected to get their Medicare number, which would allow them to start processing insurance claims. Since many of their products and services are covered by health insurance policies, this left them “dead in the water,” Barcroft says. However, they continued to get the word out, and women visited to see what the shop had to offer. Because there was such a need for this personalized service, more than 70 women who visited the store agreed to wait until Pink Ribbons received its number so they could use the shop for their post-mastectomy needs.
2. Know your customer. Both women had been working for decades with breast cancer patients who had undergone mastectomy. As a result, they understood the process of fitting patients, as well as their concerns, questions, and ancillary needs. For example, many women who undergo mastectomy experience lymphedema, a type of swelling caused by lymph node removal or blockage. Because of their insight, they were able to stock their shop with products their customers would need beyond the immediate breast prostheses, better serving them and providing additional revenue opportunities. Because of the sisters’ experience, they also understand the deeply emotional nature of the services they provide. Their empathetic approach, sometimes combined with a bit of humor, helps make the experience a bit easier, Barcroft says.
3. Separate responsibilities. The sisters are effective in part because they separate responsibilities and avoid duplication of effort. While they both fit customers for prosthetics, Tanner’s nursing experience allows her to answer medical questions, as well. She’s also in charge of bookkeeping, which is one of her strengths. Barcroft handles ordering, public relations, and marketing, and general business operations tasks. By maintaining these boundaries, each woman knows her responsibilities and nothing slips through the cracks.
Pink Ribbons: Prosperous in Pink
Building Your Brand | 2013
4. Assemble your team. Any thriving business has a strong team behind it. Pink Ribbons has five suppliers who provide all of their mastectomy supplies. They work with The UPS Store located in their hometown of Bartlett, using the store for printing, direct mail services, and shipping. Owner Bob Brown is also a notary public, which comes in handy for some of the company’s paperwork. He also helped them reconfigure their prescription pads so they cost less to print. “[The owner] gives us lots of direction on flyers, mailings, and things we want to do, and helps keep costs down on them. He’ll point out better ways to do some things, like going higher in numbers so the unit cost comes down, and we can use the pieces for our next mailing, or reducing the number of colors so a piece doesn’t cost so much. He’s so much help to us,” she says.
5. Target your promotion. Initially, the sisters marketed their boutique by simply going to where the customers are: doctor’s offices. They took their printed materials and hit the pavement, delivering brochures to oncologists and surgical groups, and talking to nurses about their boutique. Since Tanner had been a surgical nurse, she knew several surgeons from the hospital, which gave them a foot in the door, Barcroft says. They also worked with The UPS Store to coordinate mailings to local doctors using the lists they built themselves. As more doctors and nurses became aware of the boutique and more satisfied customers began talking about it, word-of-mouth and referrals have become an important source of new business. They also did some advertising in local newspapers and a magazine for cancer patients.
6. Grow strategically. Because of its focused, effective marketing and excellent service, Pink Ribbons has grown to serve eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and western Tennessee. Barcroft says some prosthetics providers in the area were dropping mastectomy services, so they are truly filling more of a need than they initially anticipated. And while Barcroft and Tanner could probably hire more employees and rent the open space next door that’s been tempting them, they are careful about growing too quickly and sacrificing the personalized service they provide. “Right now, we can handle it, but as it grows, we realize we’re going to have to grow with it,” Barcroft says. Until then, they’ll keep providing customers with the caring approach that has become their hallmark.