"I was not sure what to expect when traveling to Marietta, GA to the headquarters of one of Thelma’s biggest suppliers, American Breast Care (ABC). After working with breast prostheses and bras at Thelma’s for the past 10 years, I honestly wasn’t sure what I would be learning about. I quickly realized that I lacked an appreciation for the design and creation process of these products. It was also nice to learn more about ABC as a company and their passion for the industry in addition to meeting other mastectomy fitters and boutique owners from across the nation.
Tina and I had an early morning flight from Rochester that Sunday. After a quick layover in Baltimore we arrived at the Atlanta airport early that afternoon. ABC had a driver waiting for us with a Cadillac limousine to take us to the hotel. We felt quite spoiled especially after receiving a thoughtful gift bag filled with snacks at the hotel check in. After a quick rest we started getting ready for cocktails and dinner at Co-CEO’s, Jolly Rechenberg, gorgeous homestead. Jolly and Jay Markowitz (Chairman & Co-CEO) greeted us with a warm welcome at the front doorsteps. The remaining ABC crew greeted us inside with smiles and cocktails. This was the first chance we had to converse with the ABC employees and the 12 other boutique owners, managers and fitters. We quickly fell to our common topics of how insurance companies are continuously making it difficult to run these small businesses, and the overall shrinking number of boutiques in our nation. Thelma’s is currently the only mastectomy boutique left in the Greater Rochester Area. Almost every other boutique owner and employee in attendance said that their establishments were the only ones located in their respective cities as well. After some chatting, Jolly led us on a nature walk around his property on the nicely groomed mulch path in the surrounding woods. Dinner was then served as a casual buffet style and was delicious. After some more wine, coffee and conversation we were shuttled back to the hotel to rest up for an early morning.
Monday was going to be an even busier day. We started off with a fabulous breakfast buffet (the hotel was a Mariott in case anyone was wondering), and then we took an 8am hotel shuttle to the ABC headquarters. I was expecting some sort of industrial looking factory, but it ended up being a typical looking brick office building. After an enthusiastic greeting from ABC executive assistant, Louise Pomeroy, we were offered more coffee and then escorted to the conference room. Jay and Jolly gave their welcoming remarks, and again I was blown away at the compassion and drive these men have for their company and breast care industry. They truly want to cater to their consumer and want our feedback as the fitters who work with these breast cancer survivors. After the welcome, we were split off into groups of five to tour all of the facilities in the ABC complex.
Tina and I were in separate groups so my first stop was the breast prosthesis factory to learn how a silicone breast form is manufactured. From the engineering/design to the final product there are more steps than I could count. We worked one on one with a factory worker to make our very own prosthesis to take home. Because of this I was able to experience being questioned by airport security on the way home as to what was in my carry on bag. I cannot believe that each prosthesis is handled so much by people and not machines. We also toured the custom breast prosthesis area, which until recently had been done with plaster. Thanks to technology, there is now a 3D scanner that is used to take images of the chest wall with an iPad. A designer at ABC then creates the pattern to make the mold to then make the prosthetic. The prosthesis is also hand painted to match the skin tone to give it an even more customized look. There is an incredible amount of detail put into all of these products that was more complex than I had ever imagined. The group then made our way back to the office building to meet the other employees in the finance and customer service departments. It was great to be able to put names to faces of those we frequently talk to when we have questions for the company. The last place to tour was the warehouse which contained shelves stocked from top to bottom with all of the products to be used to fill retail orders. This tour opened my eyes to the amount of dedication and work put into making these products available for our customers.
Lunchtime gave us another opportunity chat as a whole group. Everyone was so open about how their own business is run and willing to share the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry. It’s amazing the number of similarities there are between the different boutiques despite our geographic differences. Everyone shares a commonality in that we help women feel whole again after their breast surgeries. It is not uncommon for us fitters to hear almost daily about what a wonderful service we all provide. That honestly is the engine that drives these businesses. After lunch there was a significant amount of time spent with Jay and Jolly to discuss the ABC product line. They wanted to share some new innovative breast form design ideas. We were also able to vote on possible new seasonal colors for some of their most popular bras. Again, I was just impressed with how Jay and Jolly were genuinely interested in what we have to say, because we are the direct link to the women who use their products. It is nice to have a voice that is heard.
After the round table discussion, it was time for our trip to end. Tina and I packed up in the Cadillac limo again and started to absorb the information we just received in the past 36 hours. Overall, it was well worth the trip. Sandy had gone on this tour years ago, and I am grateful that she wanted to extend the opportunity to Tina and me. The breast care industry is unique in that there is a genuine desire to provide the best service and products to the customers. It was nice to be able to see that first hand.
When travelling to Marietta I was not sure what to expect, or what I would be learning. However, the value, and sense of worth, I witnessed being created in the environment of American Breast Care re-taught me the passion that people such as myself have when helping survivors of breast cancer."