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Niche Focus: Servicing a Healthy Medical Niche

Here’s how decorators can grab a piece of the growing healthcare pie.

By Deborah Sexton, Contributing Writer

Scrubs are a staple in the healthcare industry, and departments within an organization often are assigned specific colors to make them instantly recognizable to other staff and patients. Photo courtesy of SanMar.

January 27, 2022

Healthcare is one of the hottest niches for decorated apparel for one simple reason, regardless of the state of the economy: Everyone wants to be healthy.

United States national healthcare expenditures reached $3.8 trillion in 2019, or $11,582 per person, and is estimated to reach $6.2 trillion by 2028, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Over the past year, the industry has seen an increase in demand for medical and healthcare apparel,” says Barb Herman, director, channel sales, SanMar.

Len Naumovich, founder and president, Primo Designs, Springfield, Illinois, agrees. “Healthcare has been increasing, especially in the fourth quarter when we provided employee incentives and Christmas stores.”

Getting a piece of the growing healthcare pie means knowing what this niche wants. In addition to traditional workwear such as lab coats and scrubs, this industry loves T-shirts, full-zip jackets, polo shirts, caps, beanies and fleece. There also is a big demand for promotional products such as blankets, lunch bags, tote bags, stress balls, hand sanitizer, drinkware — and even identification products, such as retractable badges.

Choosing the Right Products
You’ll find healthcare encompasses lots of sub-niches and, ideally, you’ll choose one or two in which to specialize. Each has its own requirements and preferences that you’ll want to be aware of before you make contact.

Just a few examples include hospitals; doctors’ offices; rehabilitation centers; nursing homes; home-healthcare services; pharmacies; specialty clinics; urgent-care companies; acupuncture; wellness services, such as massage and yoga; healthcare conventions, fairs and other events; and, of course, any company that offers drugs, vitamins, equipment or industry services.

Naumovich says he works with many of his hospital clients’ marketing and HR departments to come up with an array of products that have appeal. “The hospital will bring some ideas, and then my job is to find products that will fit their budget,” he says.

Natalie Hopkins, senior merchandising manager, trade and retail brands, alphabroder, offers some guidelines when choosing products. “It’s crucial to understand the healthcare industry’s four product preferences — antimicrobial, waterproof, easy care and performance — prior to presenting ideas,” she says. Also trending in this niche are sustainable styles; retro, athletic, cool options; novelty patterns; and yoga lifestyle.

“Comfort is key,” adds Rhea Aslin, senior director, brand management, SanMar. “Scrubs are the go-to, but the front office want polos and quarter-zips. Because many facilities have lower temperature settings, options such as full-zip jackets are often needed to keep staff comfortable.”

According to Herman, one way to help your medical clients stand out is through color. “Decorators can create clear identifiers by medical department using color and design,” she says. “It makes all the difference to the customer.

“Right now, inventory is a pain point for everyone,” she continues. “As a general rule, pre-COVID, two issues are ever-present: security and patient satisfaction. With security, those who have access need to be clearly identifiable. Think maternity wards and medicine distribution. When it comes to patient satisfaction, there’s nothing worse than thinking you are asking the nurse for pain medicine and instead it is someone from the cafeteria. So, having clearly identifiable branding, colors and uniforms will help patients understand who they are speaking with and increase confidence in their care,” she says.

Online Stores at Your Service
For decorators wanting to service clients with medical uniforms, employee recognition and gift-giving opportunities, online stores are a must. Says Naumovich: “The days of just delivering 12 cases of decorated apparel, and they sort it out, [are] over.”

Naumovich has built a solid business offering webstores to his clients, with some being active for only two weeks while some are perpetual. “Each employee gets a code, they choose one item and put their code in,” he says. “The code ensures the employee doesn’t order 10 things. They don’t pay anything. The hospital picks up the entire bill.”

Tom Rauen, president, 1-800-TSHIRTS, also offers webstores for doctors’ offices and similar healthcare companies. “We set it up as a corporate store, and it’s ongoing,” he says. “When they’ve got new employees, the person just gets on and orders whatever he or she wants for work.

Rauen says another way the webstores are being used is for employee recognition and awards. “When the company hits a goal or there is some kind of internal contest, either the team or the individual gets a $100 gift certificate to the online store,” he says. “Employees also get rewarded for work anniversaries this way.

“We had medical clients who were giving a lapel pin or a plaque, but we persuaded them that apparel is an incentive that people enjoy more,” he continues. “In addition, it helps promote their brand, and it creates loyalty among employees, as they feel more a part of the culture when they are wearing logoed merchandise.”

Capitalizing on Events
Create a calendar of upcoming healthcare and wellness events, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and reaching out to past and potential clients about how you can fulfill needs to promote their fundraisers, says alphabroder’s Hopkins.

Rauen gets his company on newsletter e-lists for doctors’ offices and healthcare companies. “These types of events come up at the same time every year,” he notes. “And they are usually announced in a company newsletter, so get on that list. On the back page is often a calendar of events. In fact, you might even see a photo of a team that ran a charity 5K and realize you didn’t do the shirts for it. This way, you have a heads up to contact them next year about doing their racewear.”

The biggest reason you should be considering the healthcare niche, says SanMar’s Herman, is because it’s such a goldmine of opportunities. “This growing market includes so many segments, from retail medical and non-acute (surgery centers and outpatient care), to acute care (hospitals). Within each of these categories are many departments, which all have a need for a wide assortment of apparel and promotional products.”

Naumovich says he likes the healthcare niche due to the professionalism and preparation of the clients. “The people you work with have their act together,” he says. “They have a marketing department and, in general, they have artwork to present to you. They also understand how purchasing and POs work. Once you have worked with them for a while, you gain their trust, and they start to appreciate your time and efforts as much as you appreciate theirs.”

Deborah Sexton is the former editor of Impressions. Since 2001, she has run her own marketing company, Saracen Communications, doing press releases, newsletters, ghostwriting, web copy and social-media management for companies in the decorated-apparel industry. For more information or to comment on this article, email Deborah at

Hauling in Healthcare Biz

Rauen met a marketing group specializing in dentists at a conference and now is collaborating with the agency to get his name in front of its list of 1,000 dentists. He says all specialties within the medical field have their own conferences, conventions and events. In the past, he has provided promotional products, such as water bottles, bandage kits and stress relievers, for his clients to distribute to attendees.

Also, when a medical client comes to you with a need, why not find out if similar customers have the same requirements? In the case of 1-800-TSHIRTS, a dentist approached Rauen about doing children’s apparel as part of a Kids’ Club promotion. When children go a year without a cavity, they are awarded a free shirt. Rauen now suggests this to all his dentist clients.