Mastectomy fitting boutique struggles during COVID-19 crisis
WARREN — For women, there are so many options for bra sizing, it can be intimidating. Finding the right fit is often harder than it seems — especially for women who have had mastectomies.
But the staff at Franklin Health Care Inc. and Unique Boutique in Warren? They strive to help those women.
While Franklin is a durable medical equipment and supply company, the Unique Boutique portion of the business is a post-mastectomy fitting boutique. Both offer compression stockings, orthopedic bracing, bathroom aids, ambulatory aids, diabetic testing supplies, wheelchairs, transport chairs and CBD products. They also provide seat lift chairs, and other home medical equipment and supplies.
In addition to post-mastectomy fittings, the boutique carries swimwear, post mastectomy supplies and bras.
Owner Lee Manios said recently that he wishes it was something they didn’t have to provide, but he also said it’s a necessity for women who have already undergone breast cancer surgery.
At his store, employees have a code not to push any particular products or lines on customers, but instead, they are encouraged to find the right thing for everyone, even if it has to be specially ordered.
“We make sure that they are taken care of, it’s a personal thing,” Manios said. “It’s a traumatic experience and we don’t want them to feel bashful.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, he said they are not able to do hands-on fittings for personal items such as bras and prostheses provided to breast cancer patients.
Linda Mangle, office manager and fitter, said finding the right fit for women can make them feel happier, more comfortable and confident. Not being able to do hands-on fittings has been difficult, Mangle said, because they have to guide customers through measuring themselves from behind the counter and a protective glass.
“It’s hard not to walk around the barriers and help them do it,” she said. “It’s a change of mindset and it feels like you’re not able to help them to the full extent.”
She then added that despite recent struggles, her job can be very rewarding because she’s helping people “on their road to recovery and a happy, active, healthy life.”
Opened in 1995, Franklin Health Care and Unique Boutique will celebrate 25 years of business this year. It’s been family-owned and operated since the start.
These days, while Franklin typically has four employees, the business is down one because the child care industry in Ohio was forced to shut down as a result of the outbreak.
Because Franklin provides medical equipment and supplies, however, the business is still open even though Manios said they had to “rethink the way we operate to protect employees and patients.” Complicating things further was the movement of events the business had initially set for spring.
“Our big events we were planning for April and May have had to be rescheduled and that is a bulk of our revenue for the year,” Manios said. “That is being pushed to possibly fall.”
He added that the store has struggled to secure “normal stuff” like hand sanitizer and thermometers. He said before the COVID-19 outbreak, a box of 10 paper masks cost $5, but now a single mask can cost as much as $2.
Those masks are coming from overseas, Manios said, and some are stuck at customs.
One item that has been selling well for Franklin are lift chair recliners, which are delivered by delivery men decked out in protective wear. Franklin Health Care has also started to deliver supplies to customers’ homes if those customers can’t get to the store or are unable to come in.
Manios said business has mostly been conducted through phone calls and walk-ins for refills of supplies.
“When we’re here, we’re brainstorming. If something is priced higher than normal, it’s not a reflection on us; it’s a reflection on who we’re buying from,” he said.
Along those lines, he later explained that Franklin is not making any profit currently and is struggling just to keep itself above water.
“We’re trying to sustain to get through this where we can pay the electric bill, the insurance, and [the employees] can get their paycheck,” Manios said. “That’s the goal right now.
“We’re not here to make money,” he noted. We’re here to help.”