Like many successful businesses, NorthShore Care Supply grew from the vision of a leader passionate about meeting an identified consumer need.
Founded in 2002, NorthShore was started by Adam Greenberg, Board Certified Patient Advocate, after he saw his own family members struggle to manage their incontinence with retail adult diapers. Today, NorthShore is the leading direct-to-consumer brand of high absorbency adult diapers and incontinence supplies in the US. In addition, NorthShore and Greenberg are committed to #EndHealthStigma for incontinence, in support of the 80 million Americans living with some form of bladder or bowel dysfunction.
“I started NorthShore because I saw first-hand the importance of living life worry-free by staying dry,” says Greenberg. “At NorthShore, we provide high-absorbency products and the caring support many people need to live life confidently while managing loss of control.”
Since its founding, the company has developed its own private label in response to direct customer feedback. The company was an early adapter of the online retail model—a very different delivery system than used for most consumer paper goods, particularly private label—yet it has been a great fit for NorthShore customers.
“Thousands of (online) specialty shops have been started, and gone out of business, since we began, due to changes in health care, products, and the markets. I believe we have survived by closely listening to customers,” says Greenberg.
A GROWING MARKET
According to a report from Global Market Insights Inc., the 2018 disposable incontinence products market was valued at US$9.5 billion dollars; GMI analysts expect that market to see a 7 percent CAGR (reaching about US$15 billion) between 2019 and 2025.
The biggest contributing market factor will be the growing prevalence around the world of incontinence as a health/lifestyle issue. A rise in geriatric population in the developing regions will witness rapid growth in the disposable incontinence products market, notes the report. (While all ages may be affected by incontinence, it is more common in the older population.) Protective incontinence garments, such as those carried and designed by NorthShore, are the most common product available in the market.
The report notes that retail stores captured the largest market share in 2018, with a value of about US$6.8 billion. This leaves a lot of room for growth in e-commerce; GMI predicts that the sector will expand at a CAGR of 10.1 percent during the forecast period. “Various advantages associated with e-commerce over offline stores such as reduced product costs, lesser travel time, and availability of comprehensive range of benefits to retailers and merchants will propel the growth of e-commerce in disposable incontinence products market,” the report says.
As Greenberg notes, while incontinence products are readily available in a variety of brick-and-mortar outlets—including grocery stores, convenience stores, big-box outlets, and even small markets—the range of products they offer are, by necessity of mass-production, designed to meet the “lowest common denominator” of need.
By contrast, NorthShore’s direct customer contact offers the company unique insights that they can translate into private-label products customers prefer. Based on the number of online sales and website visits each year, NorthShoreCare.com was rated one of the “Top 1000 Internet Retailers of 2019 in North America” by Internet Retailer.
WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT
NorthShore stays focused on that intimate “customer connection” to drive its business decisions and brand development. “We don’t own any manufacturing facilities,” Greenberg says. “Instead, we work with about a dozen suppliers all around the world. This allows us to carefully ‘curate’ our brand to respond directly to the needs of our customers. Our NorthShore brand has been growing at a rate of about 30 percent for more than three years now.”
The company’s close customer relationships create an innovation pipeline that major tissue product manufacturers simply cannot replicate at their operating scale. Greenberg says that market distance has created a gap between the products that tissue manufacturers are developing and the products that his customers actually need and request from NorthShore.
The customer connection is a boon for the manufacturing companies that partner with NorthShore on their private label products. “We essentially work hand-in-hand with their R&D departments to provide them with a flow of new ideas that might lead to new innovations—even some they may be able to patent, giving them a first-mover advantage over their competitors,” Greenberg says. “They need to have the ability to make the types of products we’re looking for, so we’re very selective before we share those ideas. We’re looking for partners that are willing to be flexible, with an R&D structure that can constantly approve new products based on changing consumer needs and changing materials.”
One of the top requests from NorthShore customers is demand for products made with TCF pulp. Greenberg says that, even though only a small percentage of customers report severe skin sensitivities, there is a strong perception that TCF pulp is preferable both for the customer and the environment.
“Our customers are becoming very environmentally, socially, and health conscious, and they have identified chlorine as a concern for them,” he says. “They are specifically asking us, if possible, please remove the chlorine dioxide from their products.”
Greenberg says that he’s done the research to compare ECF and TCF pulp; consumers, however, won’t understand the differences and, since more and more companies are offering products identified as TCF, consumers are viewing them as preferable. “Over the past year, both Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble have launched a line of baby diapers that are marketed as TCF; our customers are asking, ‘If it can be available in baby diapers, why not in adult incontinence products?’ I would love pulp producers to work together to see what is needed to make TCF more widely available. Even if it’s slightly more expensive, our customers say they’re willing to pay a little more for products that are meaningful to them. There is consumer demand.”
In addition, Greenberg says he’d love for manufacturers to help move these products from plastic-based packaging and shipping materials to more sustainable packaging and shipping bags. It would be a tremendous opportunity for manufacturers to please customers while demonstrating what paper-based packaging can do.
“Hygiene product manufacturers are set up for polybags; their whole supply chain is established around polybag packaging,” he notes. “Very few have taken significant efforts to determine what would be necessary to transition to more sustainable packaging that can make sure the contents remain sanitary and won’t fall apart in transit. E-commerce is very tough on packaging.”
To be worthwhile, the sustainability benefits of new products or packaging will need to be clear, Greenberg says; this sector has already suffered the effects of misinformation about its products’ environmental performance.
“We don’t want to move to products or packaging that give a false perception of being sustainable. And we don’t want to go too fast or too soon, because we are very careful not to make marketing claims that aren’t really providing benefits. We saw that in the flushable wipes category a few years ago,” he explains.
Consumers are also very aware of what Greenberg calls “the landfill effect.” According to the GMI report, around 20 billion sanitary products are dumped in North American landfills each year; the report cites growing consumer demand for reusable products as the top factor that may “impede the disposable incontinence products market growth.”
According to Greenberg, there has been a lot of research on both sides of the equation. “The consumer perception is that disposable products fill a landfill, therefore they must be more harmful for the environment than washable products like cloth diapers. It’s not clear to me that that’s actually true; there are environmental implications for washable products, and for the bleaches and harsh chemicals that must be used to wash those products. The environmental problems are different, and it’s hard for me as a merchant to make those decisions. We want to work with all the industries to reduce any environmental impact.
“Yet the other impact—the reason why I choose to provide disposable incontinence products—is because of the direct health benefits to the patient,” Greenberg continues. “Washable products are nowhere near able to keep the skin healthy and reduce the chance of infection like disposable products can. The superabsorbent polymers we can mix in with the fluff pulp cores of disposable products also neutralize the pH of wetness coming back onto the skin, which has much less impact on the skin.”
EXPANDING THE BRAND
This focus on private label brand performance, led by customer demand, has been key to NorthShore’s growth. It has taken the brand in a different direction than many of the big names. “In the diaper industry, there is a big push for ‘thin.’ Our customers say, ‘Not at the expense of leak protection.’ They’d err on the side of a product that is a little thicker if they feel more protected. So far, the thin products that have been on the market have failed to convince the public. Our customers are specifically saying they don’t want thin products; in their minds, thickness equates with a sense of security.”
The strategy must be working; this spring, NorthShore moved into a new 173,000-square-foot building that will house the company headquarters, fulfillment center, research and development, and quality control lab. The new facility more than doubled the company’s space. “It’s going to be an exciting year for our company as we bring online our new fulfillment center, with heavy investments in automation and robotics,” says Greenberg.
When it comes to business sustainability, no issue is more critical for NorthShore Care Supply than customer health and quality of life. “Unfortunately, when we lose customers, it is often due to end-of-life,” he says. “As a business, NorthShore’s goal is for our customers to have the best health possible, for as long as possible.”