Friday, February 16, 2007

Women's Health Store

During my research in Ghana I felt one of the most exciting possibilities of a microfranchise would be a women's health store. In focus groups and interviews with women the idea was always met with enthusiasm. Many women we talked to, and I would suspect similar feelings in many traditional societies, did not feel comfortable going to the local male-run chemical shop to describe womanly problems they are having and asking for proper treatment. Most woman simply live with various rashes, infections, and uncomfortableness.
The idea of a women’s health store was always received warmly and I would anticipate it being successful financially. More importantly, I think it can be empowering to women in that it can be a channel of information about their own bodies and also a simple solution to small little problems that can have a dramatic effect on their day-to-day quality of life. It also has great potential for growth as far as expanding product lines and partnering with education and as a potential resource in the future to get access to an audience of women of childbearing years.
Products might have to focus on non-drug items due to government regulations. Possible products could include:
ABSORBENTS: Based on the difficulty I had getting women to talk about any sort of woman’s problem I really didn’t delve into the specific products that women are currently using. There are alternatives to disposable pads or tampons that should be considered, such as different cups or sponges. There are a number of solutions that are reusable and environmentally friendly such as Sea Pearls sponge. It might also be a business for a woman to sew reusable cloth pads (designs and instructions can be found online).
MENSTRUAL CRAMPS: There must be some medicines or herbal treatments that are more specific to menstrual cramps than a generic pain killer. Cost would have to be very low to compete with the generic drugs.
WAIST PAIN PRODUCTS: Perhaps the most common problem and most cause for complaining among women was the day-to-day ‘waist-pains’ (lower-back pains) and body pains. The most likely culprit of their waist pains is the method of bending at the waist to work and to lift heavy things on their head. The products I would push would be LONG-HANDLED BROOMS AND HOES, and WOOD MASSAGE TOOLS. All would be very easy to make in-country. The long-handled tools would require extensive salesmanship, demonstration and education in order to be adopted but they would help prevent some of their problems. The massage tools are recommended over any sort of massage service. Additional products would be heating pads, or something like a homemade heating pad (rice in a cloth pillow that is heated and retains heat). You could locally make some sitting pillows that mimic cushion pillows designed to minimize lower back pain. You could also sell back supports or knee braces in they secured cheaply enough.
There are a whole number of other products that could quickly be adopted including clean-birth kits, ORS packets for their small children and so forth.
On a side note I thought a business entitled “Stop that Itch” would also be quite successful based on the things I was hearing in focus groups. This could be part of the women's store or it could be its own little package business. The simplicity of the model and product line make it appealing as a separate business, it would be so easy to market as well. I would predict the best seller to be EYE DROPS for itching eyes. Other than that, the rest of the products could treat any of the various itchy problems (skin rashes, insect bites, genital or underside of breast itching, etc.)


Aman said...

Definetly a great set of ideas. In case you have not heard of them, there is a successful model in India:

Your post also reminded me of a franchise in Kenya -

David Stoker said...

Thanks Aman, those are both great models. I had not yet discovered Janani but had spent some previous time looking at the cfw model.

I think the particular strength of the Janani model is the integration across different levels of care and a built in incentive program. Janani had also discovered the power of having women operators.

The recommendation I was giving to Freedom from Hunger (the organization I was interning with) was to go down a step further, below a store front shop to a "business in a backpack" model that their microfinance clients could run. This would be a somewhat portable business that could be set up in the daily market, particularly in rural areas where the daily market changes from village to village. But I do feel that long term success would depend on an integration across different levels of care culminating in clinical services.