Edition: June 2009 - Vol 17 Number 06
When Glen Currey, owner of Mission Medical Sales and Service (San Antonio, Texas), reflects on the value proposition he can bring to customers, he feels pretty good. “When we step back and look at who we are and what we can bring to the table, we see new equipment, used equipment, service and supplies,” he says. “As far as I know, no other distributor in the state of Texas offers quite the same mix. We are able to equip, service and supply the customer.
“We have always taken a hands-on approach to selling,” he continues. “We have a lot of demo equipment, which we offer to put in the physician office for customers to try out. We provide about 98 percent of our own demos.”
When Currey co-founded Mission Medical Sales and Service (originally called Mission Medical) in 1986, he admits he did so without an entrepreneurial mindset or “a great marketing plan.” But, he brought in-depth product knowledge and an ability to reach out to customers and cultivate relationships. This, he points out, is what selling is all about. “In sales, the bottom line is that we must call on the customer, cultivate the relationship and, from there, develop a sense of trust,” he says. Particularly with the economy still being in a state of flux, “we must work to maximize our presence in the physician office. That means, digging deeper for opportunity and providing customers with a lot of service.
“I firmly believe that customers want to be sold to,” he continues. “Until it is proven otherwise, I’ll stick with a hands-on selling approach.”
From equipment to service
Currey’s career in healthcare sales began in Dallas, Texas, following his graduation from a local college. Later, he was transferred to San Antonio, Texas, and assigned the south central region of the state (from 50 miles north of Austin to 250 miles south of the Valley, and 150 miles west of the Gulf region to 100 miles east of the Gulf, excluding Houston). “I covered much the same territory as I do today, so I was able to develop a lot of relationships with hospitals and medical practices over the years, which have continued today.”
At the time, Currey focused on equipment sales, including autoclaves and exam, surgical and power tables. “I handled a lot of trade-ins, and eventually I developed my own trade-in business,” he says. “I began taking old exam tables and re-selling them,” he explains. “In 1986, I joined [forces with] a sales rep from another distributor, and we started Mission Medical.” For the next four to five years, the young reps managed to continue to work at their old jobs while selling used equipment for Mission Medical. By 1990, however, their new business had evolved to the point where they could leave their full-time jobs and devote their attention to Mission Medical.
“When we started out, it was just my partner and myself in a small office strip center,” says Currey. They added a warehouse person six months later, and by 1994, Mission Medical had grown into a 17-employee outfit. They moved into a 12,000-square-foot warehouse and opened a second location in Monterrey, Mexico. “I would spend about 20 percent of my time in Monterrey,” he says. “We had two employees who lived in San Antonio and managed the seven-person Monterrey staff (which later grew to a staff of 10).” Whereas in its early years Mission Medical was strictly a used equipment company, it eventually brought on some new equipment lines as well, including Midmark and Burdick (now Cardiac Science).
In 1998, Currey bought out his partner, and sold the Monterrey location a year later, permitting him to focus solely on his San Antonio office. Soon after, he was hit once again with the bug to relocate. “I wanted a place of my own and a new showroom,” he recalls. “We moved to an 11,000-square-foot warehouse – an older building, which I remodeled.” To this day, he considers his showroom to be his best selling tool. “It’s a hands-on experience for the doctors,” he says.
In 2001, Currey joined NDC, which enabled him to add new equipment lines, as well as supplies and service. “At that time, we changed our name to Mission Medical Sales and Service,” he says. Today equipment and service remain Currey’s calling card. “Although we have been successful in the supply market as well, we continue to be branded as an equipment and service company,” he points out. Not that this is a bad thing. “Especially given the economy, we can fill the needs of customers who don’t necessarily have $6,000 to invest in new equipment, but do have $3,000 for equipment that looks brand new,” he says. “Recently, we delivered a surgical table to a local hospital OR, and the customer told me it looked like new. I said, ‘It’s supposed to.’” Mission Medical Sales and Service provides a 12-month warranty on all of its used equipment, he adds.
The company now employs a staff of 15, including four sales reps and three bio-med repair individuals. The bulk of its sales are physician-based, with about 20 percent geared to hospitals and surgicenters.
Battles and blessings
More than other medical products distributors, Currey’s greatest source of competition is the Internet. “The Internet possibly has had the greatest impact on our market,” he says. True, it offers a great means for research, training and support, he acknowledges. “But, we also offer hands-on training and support, and the Internet cannot provide this to the same extent,” he says. “We fight a battle here: Some customers want that hands-on service, but afterward search the Internet to negotiate better prices.”
The Internet is likely to remain a source of competition for some time to come, notes Currey. “But, I believe distributors that are well established in the community will continue to do good business,” he says. And, Mission Medical Sales and Service has, indeed, extended its roots deep into its local community. “I take comfort in knowing that my son, Trey, will step in one day and provide a seamless transition,” says Currey. Our employees take comfort in this as well.
“I have been blessed to have Trey working with me for the last 18 years,” he continues. “He began in the warehouse and moved into sales two years later. Although I can’t pick up a crystal ball and foresee the future, [I like to think] my experience will benefit Trey as he [assumes] greater responsibility.
Advice to others
Although Currey doesn’t recommend starting a new distributorship without a marketing plan, as he did, he believes it is possible to do so successfully. “It was challenging to overcome the business issues, but our company evolved and we managed to do very well,” he says. The key is to recognize the issues before they become a problem, he notes.
“I had to recognize that I was better at selling than at the business end,” he continues. “This was my greatest challenge, especially after I bought out my partner and lost the opportunity to communicate with someone else about the business issues.” However, joining a local business association enabled him to fill this gap. “New distributors should seek out advice and counsel,” says Currey. “Otherwise, it is easy to become isolated. Employees are not going to tell you that your baby is ugly.” Newcomers need a support group where they can bounce their ideas around, he adds.