December 2014

Specialized custom and customized brace fabrication sets company off from competitors

TownsendLogoBy LER staff

In the orthopedic bracing market, Town­send Design’s position can be compared with the local neighborhood grocery store competing against giant retailers.

As a smaller company with personalized customer service and specialized fabrication capabilities, Bakersfield, CA-based Townsend has carved out a nice niche and strong reputation for manufacturing some of the world’s most effective bracing technology. Members of Town­send’s executive team are grateful the company has developed a solid core of loyal supporters who recognize the value-added patient benefits of braces hand fabricated by skilled US technicians.

Townsend’s Vice President of Sales, Kurt Townson, estimates that about 90% of the company’s revenues are from 15 to 20 products. He noted Townsend is best known for its ligament instability and osteoarthritis (OA) knee braces, as well as custom specialty locking braces and knee-ankle foot orthoses (KAFOs). Most sales are to O&P practitioners, who tend to be particular about a brace’s fabrication and technical features, he said.

“We don’t sell cookie-cutter braces made in Mexico,” added Mike Huston, chief operations officer, who has overseen Townsend’s fabrication services since 1994. “Our specialized fabrication of custom and customized braces sets us apart from our competitors.”

For example, Townsend is the only company that routinely fabricates off-the-shelf ligament and OA knee braces from three leg measurements instead of the industry-standard thigh circumference measurement. This creates a more customized fit, right out of the box, for patients who have disproportional leg sizing.

OA knee bracing is the company’s leading product category, with a variety of carbon graphite, aircraft aluminum, and soft-shell unloading-type braces. According to Townson, who directs the company’s US sales force, these braces effectively relieve pain by reducing compressive forces on the damaged knee compartment, enhancing mobility and overall quality of life. The company is gearing up to introduce two new OA braces designed to increase patient compliance and improve ease of application, he said, noting that Townsend will also publish extremely positive results of an independent patient study of its number-one selling OA brace, the Rebel Reliever, during the first quarter of 2015.

For the executive team at Townsend, “Made in the USA” is of vital importance. Huston said the company’s culture puts the interests of customers, patients, and employees ahead of increasing profits through off-shore manufacturing.

“Nearly fifty percent of our employees have worked for Townsend at least ten years. Four fabrication managers, with over eighty years of collective tenure, have spent their entire careers here,” said Huston.

“The legacy knowledge and employee tenure isn’t something our competitors can match. Whoever is assembling their braces in Mexico or other countries wasn’t making their braces five, ten, or twenty years ago,” he said.

Townsend only sells braces to qualified medical professionals and organizations, including certified orthotists, physician-run clinics, and physical therapists.

“We have never billed even one brace to Medicare or a private insurer,” said Townsend CEO Rick Riley. “So, unlike other brace companies, we don’t have revenue-generation strategies that compete with our customers.”

Riley said the company’s cornerstone technology includes its well-known roll-and-glide knee joints that mirror natural knee movement, as well as patented anti­migration features that keep Townsend’s knee braces ideally positioned on the limb. An exceptional fit and superior function during extreme sports and activities of daily living help patients achieve optimum performance and a greater willingness to wear braces daily.

“It is gratifying to see braces in our Repair Department being refurbished with new straps and pads. These braces are often five or even ten years old. The routine wear and tear shows the brace has become a critical part of the patient’s routine physical activities,” he said.

In 2011, Townsend was purchased by Thuasne, a family owned European manufacturer and distributor of medical products. While Thuasne (pronounced “Two Ann”) isn’t a recognized orthopedic brand in the US, the company is a leading provider of textile braces and compression garments in France and other European countries. The owner, Elizabeth Ducottet, and her three children (Anne-Sophie, Matthieu, and Delphine) are the fifth- and sixth-generation owners of a business founded by their family in 1847.

“Thuasne has helped Townsend gain a stronger presence outside the US. But the core of our business is still here in the US market, where we are developing a wider range of products and expanding our domestic strategies. Our goal is to continue to be a leading supplier to the O&P industry, while increasing awareness of our products among orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists, pain specialists, and rehabilitation professionals,” said Riley.

Townsend has historically utilized commissioned independent sales representatives to promote its products and provide local field support to medical professionals. In recent months, the company has taken initial steps to create a hybrid sales force that includes direct reps (employees) in select markets.

In addition to knee braces and specialty braces, Riley said Townsend offers a range of upper and lower extremity postoperative braces, walking boots, night splints, and an expanding range of spinal braces. The company will also utilize its new direct reps to launch sales of Thuasne’s high-quality softgoods in the second quarter of 2015.

Article sponsored by Townsend Design.

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