Island Paradise Is Home to Success

Edition: June 2003 - Vol 11 Number 06
Article#: 1551
Author: Laura Thill

Living and working on the Virgin Islands may not be all it?s cracked up to be. Oh sure, the scenery is beautiful, the temperature is just right and spirits generally are high. Running a business through hurricane season, however, might unnerve even the most practical entrepreneur.

But Leslie White, president and owner of St. Thomas-based Supply Resources, has managed to ?weather the storm,? so to speak. Through a side business that many healthcare distributors might consider somewhat unorthodox, she has managed to survive the worst of storms. ?We sell solar hot water heaters, PV panels and wind generators,? says White. In fact, Supply Resources has 42 PV panels on its own roof ? a source of power for the company?s phones, refrigerator, computers and lights. ?We never know when the electricity goes out because it automatically switches over to PV,? she explains. ?After the last big hurricane in 1995, we didn?t have power for three weeks, but we were fine.?

Supply Resources provides a range of products to the homecare and hospital markets, including wheelchairs and beds to glucose test kits, walkers, orthopedics and other supplies. In addition, the company sells medical/surgical and lab supplies to cruise ships and physician practices, and milk-testing lab kits to local dairies.

Hurricane Hugo

White, a native of Tampa, first came to the Virgin Islands as a medical technologist in 1983, and knew she wanted to stay. She began work with a local hospital and later made the transition to a medical supplies company, where she developed its lab supply business. It was smooth sailing until 1989, when Hurricane Hugo struck.

?Hurricane Hugo came through that September and destroyed St. Croix,? recalls White, who admits she wasn?t very happy in her job at that time. Given the state of the island, it seemed a good time to make a change. ?I moved to St. Thomas to be with my future husband,? she says. ?I started a [medical supplies] business out of my home in October 1989. And I was happy working at home until there were too many boxes around!?

Today, Supply Resources is a four-person company with $1.9 million in sales. Its territory covers the United States and British Virgin Islands, including St. Croix, St. Thomas, Antigua, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis. Puerto Rico is off-limits due to a language barrier and the fact that it has its own network of suppliers.

Less Is More

At one time, White had eight employees, but she discovered that she really didn?t need that many. For one, Supply Resources conducts most of its sales over the phone, making it unnecessary to employ any outside sales reps. ?We found that [phone sales] work better for us,? says White. ?Sales have since gone up.? There are other benefits to maintaining such a small staff. ?We all know each other?s jobs,? White continues. ?We can easily cover for one another, which makes it easier to take care of customers.? So White handles outside affairs while Tonya Berry acts as warehouse manager, Simone Letang works in purchasing and Jackie Ortiz is the in-house sales manager.

An all-female-run company? In the past, Supply Resources did employ men, notes White. It?s a coincidence that only women currently work there. However, the present situation works ? both for White and the company. The current staff is extremely productive by White?s standard, giving her no reason to change the status quo.

Indeed, the Supply Resources family takes its work ? and its customers ? quite seriously. ?We have excellent customer service,? says White. ?There may always be someone who can offer lower prices, but we take very good care of our customers. We always do exactly what we tell them we?ll do.

?There have been many times when one of the girls gets a call [from a customer] on her cell phone on a Saturday morning,? continues White. ?She must drop whatever she is doing and run to the office and round up any supplies the customer needs.? No one at Supply Resources has ever let down a customer, according to White.

Transporting Supplies

Keeping customers well-stocked is a bit different on an island than, say, in Chicago, St. Louis or even Atlanta. ?It happens two or three times each week: The hospital finds it is completely out of something,? says White, referring to the one hospital located on St. Thomas ? R.L. Schneider Hospital. Similarly, there?s only one nursing home and only a few physician practices. ?We try to stock the most commonly used items,? says White, whose intention is to load the needed supplies in the car and rush them to the customer within half an hour.

Getting products to customers on other islands involves shipping them via airplane ?as often as the customer needs,? according to White. ?We also offer free delivery to our customers on St. Croix,? adds White. Supply Resources delivers products by boat to the island, and then its driver picks up the shipment and makes door-to-door deliveries to customers at no extra cost. ?The customer doesn?t have to meet the shipment at the port as [he or she] must do on the other islands.?

While delivering orders to the customer is no problem for Supply Resources, getting medical products sent to Supply Resources from the manufacturer is a bit trickier ?We rely on containers, Fed Ex and inter-island boats [to bring supplies], which can be a challenge and very expensive,? says White. It doesn?t help that the one hospital on St. Thomas and the one on St. Croix are each government-run. This just adds to the inefficiency of the system, she notes.

White is happy with the status quo of Supply Resources. ?We?re not looking to expand [if it means] having to hire and get more warehouse space,? she says. ?But, we would like to increase sales and drop-ship business.? For now, however, business is good, the scenery is beautiful, the temperature is just right and spirits are high.