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Cosmetic surgery industry adapts to the depression

Posted Dec 23 2008 9:51pm

Not every industry fared badly during the Great Depression and not everyone will suffer this time around either. One business that could go either way is cosmetic surgery. The expensive facelift, nice-to-have boob job or just-for-the-heck of it revirginization may be out. On the other hand, the Botox or Restylane treatment to better compete with the 20 and 30 somethings suddenly becomes a must-do career investment rather than an indulgence.  According to the Wall Street Journal ( Keeping Up Appearances In a Downturn ), the cosmetic industry is quickly catching on:

Wendy Lewis, a plastic-surgery consultant who sees clients in New York, London, and West Palm Beach, says she also advises physicians to adopt some of the same sales-promotion strategies as retailers. This holiday season, for the first time in over 11 years in business, she is offering her consumer clients a complimentary additional consultation if they purchase one between now and Valentine’s Day.

If high-end stores “can send out gift certificates the week before Christmas, Ritz Carlton has deals all over, and B.R. Guest restaurants offer 20%-off gift cards, it seems only reasonable that our clients deserve a bonus, too,” she tells physicians.

Doctors typically shun discussions of price cuts, but many offer them to longtime patients in a pinch. Dr. Schlessinger says he recently helped a local “news person” after she was laid off and was about to interview for a new job. He also gave Ms. Burr, the 61-year-old former sales manager in Omaha, a Botox discount. She has since landed a new job in sales for Verizon Wireless.

Unlike most physicians who are used to third-party payment, doctors who perform cosmetic procedures understand the market and know how to adjust to its demands. You can bet there will be plenty of clever marketing and wheeling and dealing. It will be a while before we sees these sorts of deals spread into the more mundane areas of medicine, like offering a free colonoscopy if you recruit two friends.

One thing I hope is that the depression will increase the availability of dermatologists for those who have medical –rather than cosmetic– issues. Right now it can take forever to see a dermatologist even for a potentially life-threatening situation such as a fast-changing mole. That’s because dermatologists are drawn to the higher-paying world of cosmetics. Perhaps with less demand for those services the situation will change.

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