Being form-fitting is more than a matter of fashion at Grafton shop
Behind the playful pink flamingo stretching its structural steel neck in front of 1318 Hwy. C in the Town of Grafton is a serious business.
Since 2007, Cheryl Schmeling Socks-Rompelman has operated her business, Advanced Surgical Stockings and Mastectomy, from a building she shares with her husband’s business, Fred’s Fix It. The shared shop fronts their home.
Socks-Rompelman described her business as giving hope to women who have undergone mastectomies, or breast-removal surgery.
She specializes in breast prostheses, as well as surgical bras and swimming suits designed to hold those appliances in place.
Socks-Rompelman also sells an array of custom-made or ready-to-wear compression stockings, used by men and women with chronic circulation problems in their legs.
A final component of her business is orthotics, addressing such debilitating ailments as tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Socks-Rompelman traces her career in the sale of health-related items to 1972, when she worked with her first husband Don Schmeling at Port Apothecary and Ozaukee Apothecary.
“I remember Don came up to me and said we were going on a second honeymoon. When I asked where, he said, ‘To Cincinnati, Ohio. There’s a class I want us to take,’” she said.
The get-away trip was actually a training program on fitting people for prostheses and orthotics.
“It turned out to be a very intense week. I never even got a chance to go to the reception area,” Socks-Rompelman said.
“But I found out I loved it. The chance to make people feel good about what they have made me feel good.”
Her first husband died in 1985, but she remained committed to change in careers. Prior to the shift, her training was in elementary education.
Socks-Rompelman said the most rewarding aspect of her job is working with women who have had breast surgery.
“The nice thing about having a small shop like mine is that it is out of the way, and I can spend as much time as needed with each customer. I usually plan to spend at least an hour with a woman the first time she comes in,” she said.
The leisurely pace is essential to making her customers feel comfortable, especially when they are coping with the aftermath of radical surgery.
Precise measurements are needed to ensure that the prostheses are an exact match for the woman’s remaining breast or give the woman the look she wants following a double-mastectomy.
“There are various materials and linings available, but the most important thing is knowing the woman is comfortable when she leaves. By the time the customer comes to me, she just wants to get on with her life and get back to doing the things she used to enjoy,” Socks-Rompelman said.
That, in part, was the reason she began carrying flattering swim suits designed for use by women who have had mastectomies.
“Swim suits can be very expensive, but I always keep my price at $50 each, because I think it is important for women to get back to the lives they lived,” she said.
“The suits also appeal to women who are no longer comfortable in skimpy bikinis.”
Her business was recently accredited by the American Board of Certification, a key step in ensuring that her bills for prostheses and prosthetic bras are accepted by Medicare. Businesses that plan to bill the federal program for mastectomy-related services must receive the accreditation by fall.
“It was a pretty grueling review. They wanted to check out what products I carried, how I do my books, what my shop was like and the fitting procedures I use,” Socks-Rompelman said.
The accreditation process was established to minimize the risk of Medicare fraud and is granted only to shops with certified fitters.
While a proper fitting for a prosthetic device can be life changing, Socks-Rompelman said being fitted with surgical stockings can help customers recover lost mobility.
She said customers who suffer from chronically swollen legs can find simple relief with compression socks.
“You can spend as much as $350 for a pair of surgical stockings, but I’ve been doing this so long I know all the brands and what lines offer comparable value,” Socks-Rompelman said.
She rattles off the names of surgical stocking makers — like Jobst, Sigvaris, Circaid and TruForm — like fashion fanatics name-drop favorite designers.
“You can get stockings for as little as $10.95, but it may not be a bargain if you are not comfortable wearing it,” she said.
Compression socks keep blood flowing properly through the legs, and are vital for people taking long trips or who do a lot of sitting.
“They used to be really ugly, but the companies have come up with some sheer stockings that are really beautiful,” Socks-Rompelman said.
Now what about the flamingos that are scattered around the property and even inside the shop?
The explanation goes back to some artistic tweaking done by Socks-Rompelman’ daughter Jana Schmeling, a graphic artist.
“She made my first business card, which showed a blue leg. They were fine, but when I needed more I asked her if she could make them prettier,” Socks-Rompelman said.
“Jana asked, ‘Mom, what do you think is pretty?’ I said, almost matter-of-factly, ‘Flamingos are always pretty.’”
The new business logo depicts a flamingo whose body is a sideways breast cancer awareness ribbon. The dapper bird is wearing a pair of blue, surgical stockings.
“I still think it’s beautiful,” she said.
Continuing with the theme, the inside of the shop has several lit palm trees. In the fitting room, a video screen shows a seaside scene with the soothing sound of the surf.
The flamingo has also served as a form of subliminal advertising for the business.
“The town only allows us to have a small sign, but the pink flamingo really stands out and helps people find us,” Socks-Rompelman said.