South Shore Insiders: Patricia Souke and Shirley Hanlon
New England Medical Fitting on Middle Street in Weymouth, owned by sisters-in-law Patricia Souke and Shirley Hanlon, has been meeting breast cancer patients' post-surgery needs for 25 years.
By Shina Neo
The Patriot Ledger
October 22, 2014
Weymouth - The co-owners of New England Medical Fitting on Middle Street in Weymouth, Patricia Souke and her sister-in-law Shirley Hanlon, have been fitting women dealing with breast cancer with post-surgery customizable bras and external breast prosthetics for 25 years. Growing up working in the family business, Hanlon's Corset Shop, they thought the fitting of breast prosthetics should have its own niche. In 1989, Souke and Hanlon opened a store on Temple Street in Quincy and saw an immediate need for breast prosthetics. Three years later, they relocated to Weymouth and expanded their offerings to include an oncology boutique and a range of compression-therapy accessories. New England Medical Fitting now has five part-time employees. Souke and Hanlon say their relationships with health care professionals, manufacturers and product representatives have enabled them to keep up with innovative advancements in the industry.
What was your business plan starting out?
Souke: Our business plan was how much money we would need to stay in business for six months if nobody walked through the door. Of course, that didn't happen. We used our own money, so we really didn't have to have a massive business plan to go into a bank. It was basically what we needed for rent and to run and to buy the product and so on for six months. What is your marketing strategy?
Hanlon: When we first started, we advertised and we went around to see a lot of the doctors and gave them information.
Souke: We have a website, but the website itself is not there for commerce, it's there for resource. We have a big client base. A lot of it comes from referrals.
What has enabled your company to grow?
Souke: Word of mouth, certainly. When you get diagnosed with breast cancer, you enter a full sisterhood of women that help each other out. When we started 25 years ago, breast prosthetics were not covered by insurance. They were considered purely cosmetic.
Hanlon: All of a sudden, insurances started paying, and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Souke: You bring some expertise to it, but then there's that piece of luck that comes along.
What have you learned over the years about owning and managing your own business?
Hanlon: Everyone talks about, "Oh, if I could own my own business." It is great, but it's just like having another child. It's your problem always; you're not going to say goodbye. When you work for someone else, you close the door and you go home and you don't care. It's not the same when it's your own.
Souke: As you build your business, you drive your cart. Then, all of a sudden, around the five-year mark, I swear it takes off, and then you're chasing your cart. You're being reactive rather than proactive. It's just a strange thing that happens in a business as it grows and starts to take off.
What advice would you give to people who want to start a new business?
Souke: Make sure you have the expertise.
Hanlon: You need to really research the product and make sure it's something that's going work before you invest.
Oncology Boutique Expansion Geared At Making Life A Little Easier For Cancer Patients
By A.J. Bauer
The Patriot Ledger
April 28, 2008
Weymouth - Pat Souke and Shirley Hanlon have been helping women cope with breast cancer's body-altering changes for nearly 20 years by fitting them with post-surgical bras and prosthetics. Now the owners of New England Medical Fitting are hoping to make shopping for cancer-related accessories easier by expanding their product line via an addition to their Weymouth shop they're calling an "oncology boutique." The store still offers personalized fittings for breast prosthetics, as well as post-surgical lingerie and bathing suits, but now it's adding other essentials like wigs, scarves and even soaps and lotions made specifically for use by cancer patients.
"This is more of a shopping experience," Hanlon said. "We've tried to make it less medical."
Sisters-in-law, Souke, 61, a Weymouth resident, and Hanlon, 64, a Scituate resident, got their start fitting women for lingerie and corsets at Hanlon's Corset Shop in Quincy, the family business. Back then, Souke said, women who had mastectomies or other breast-altering surgeries would often come to Hanlon's looking for customized items. Sensing a demand, Souke and Hanlon launched New England Medical Fitting in Quincy 1989. Soon they found insurance companies that would pay for patients to receive their services and - through word-of-mouth and working closely with oncologists who made referrals - demand steadily grew. The shop moved to Weymouth in 1992 and has benefited as South Shore Hospital has grown its cancer treatment capabilities and more oncologists have moved to the region.
"We built relationships with the oncologists so they would know there is a professional fitting service that wasn't done in a back room somewhere," Souke said. "Which is where a lot of this was done before."
Souke and Hanlon have made their mark giving patients more of a personal shopping experience, a feature they feel has been strengthened in the six months since they've been slowly developing the boutique concept. "In medicine today, all the treatments the cancer patient needs have been centralized," Souke said. "... Instead of the patient having to go out and find all these resources, let's bring all the resources to them." That one-stop shop mentality has always made sense, they said, and when consultant Ann Carr offered to conduct wig fittings, they knew the time had come to act.
"When you're undergoing treatment, having to go around from place to place is very difficult," Hanlon said. "This makes them feel better."