Distributor profile: Standing the Test of Time

Edition: March 2011 - Vol 19 Number 03
Article#: 3668
Author: Laura Thill

Clock Medical Supply is barely reminiscent of the small local pharmacy it evolved from. Yet, the Winfield, Kan., company has managed to retain its sense of family, in spite of the various markets and technologies it has pursued through the years. Indeed, the current day owners trace the company’s roots to 1886, when a man named W.H. Somermeier opened a mom-and-pop pharmacy. “The pharmacy was eventually sold to A.K. Snyder in 1909,” says Dennis Clock, president. It wasn’t until 1957 that the Clock family entered the picture. At that time, Clock’s father, Robert Clock, was hired as a stock boy. Soon after, in 1960, Snyder Pharmacy was passed from father to son, and A.L. Snyder took the helm.

“My father went to pharmacy school at Kansas University, and then returned to Winfield to work full time with A.L. Snyder,” says Clock. “He purchased the business in 1971, renaming it to Clocks Pharmacy and Medical Supply in 1976. At that time, he moved the company across the street to a larger location, and we became more involved in medical-surgical products and Part B billing.” In 1981, the elder Clock sold the pharmacy portion of his business and Clock Medical Supply Inc. was born. “My dad didn’t want to count pills for the rest of his life,” says Clock. “He knew it was time to expand and incorporate.

“Our evolution into medical-surgical supplies, billing and distribution grew from a consulting position my father had as a pharmacist for the local Good Samaritan nursing home,” Clock continues. In the early 1980s, the home’s administrator, Bob Bloom, expressed his frustration with service levels from his distributors, he explains. Clock’s father and mother, Ginny Clock, who by then were providing part B billing services for over 30 long-term-care facilities in the area, saw this as an opportunity to expand their services to include medical and surgical product distribution.

Growing up in the business

It was hard not to be involved in his parents’ business, Clock recalls. “It was all we ever talked about at the dinner table,” he says. “My sisters, Kristin and Charcie, and I all grew up working there. I remember coming to work with my mother and father as a young child, sweeping floors and later running deliveries and cleaning equipment.” And when his sister, Kristin, married, she brought her husband, David Fields, into the business as well. “Even my grandmother was helping out with the billing,” he says. With so many family members involved, “I really didn’t see a place – or a need – for myself.”

So, following high school, Clock went to Kansas State University, and took a brokerage job with American Express Financial Advisors after graduation. But, as fate would have it, Clock Medical Supply did indeed have a very big need and place for him. In 1997, he was “at a turning point” in his career. The family business had just lost one of its top sales-people and several key accounts, he notes. Brother-in-law David was considering returning to his former military career, along with sister Kristin, who was studying for her PhD in physical therapy and wanted to focus on that career.

“I came back to Clock Medical Supply as a full-time salesperson and learned the business from the ground up,” he says, pointing out that from 1997 until 2005, he and his parents ran the business together. “In 2005, I became president of the company, beginning the transition to owner. My dad remained the chief executive officer and my mom was the chief financial officer until her passing in 2008.” That same year, Kristin returned part time to the business to assist with a variety of projects. The youngest Clock sibling, Charcie, works in Portland, Ore. as an OB/GYN for high-risk patients.

At the very core

The last three decades have been about growth and expansion for Clock Medical Supply. But, their customers have always been their primary focus, says Clock. “In 1981, when we incorporated, we made $100,000 in sales and had one full-time salesperson,” he points out. “My dad was on the road every chance he could get, trying to grow the business.” Today, company sales have reached $6 million, and five sales reps oversee six states, including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. If anything, its success has brought Clock Medical that much closer to its customers’ needs. It presently services long-term-care customers, as well as hospice, home care, MRDD groups (mental retardation/disabled patients living at home), government clients and small hospitals.

“Our core value has always been to serve our customers,” says Clock. “We continually evaluate what that means. We embrace our goals by working closely with our customers.” That means getting to know each and every one of them on a personal level, he adds. While he and his staff have always believed in the value of face-to-face selling, they appreciate that selling today has become augmented by changes in technology. Still, “we try to play more of a consultative role, rather than simply sell a box of supplies over the Internet,” he says. And, when his customers call, they always get a person on the phone, he adds. Not only that, “my employees know their customers by the sound of their voice, because we have such longstanding relationships with them.

“We work to stay on top of the challenges our customers face, particularly in terms of changing regulations,” Clock continues. Indeed, those challenges have changed over the years, he notes. “We must consider the level of regulation our customers face, as well as changes in the reimbursement structure. We also must pay attention to changes in technology with regard to the delivery of care, and the goods and services that enable our customers to provide that care.”

This year will be especially difficult for Clock’s customers, given substantial state funding cuts, together with the increased regulation, such as competitive bidding and changes to Medicare Part B, he says, adding that he expects these types of trends to continue for some time. These changes in regulation not only affect long-term-care customers, but those who service them, he points out. Between austerity programs and a growing population of aging baby boomers, providers will have to make changes in the way they provide care, he says. Among other things, “we’ll have to grow our business around an understanding of insurance and billing issues,” he points out. “Today, patients look to their insurance card, not their credit card, when they are paying for healthcare.”

To run a successful business, “it always comes back to understanding your customers and the challenges they face,” says Clock. “You also must understand your employees and know what motivates them. Then, you must combine all of this in order to become an efficiently run company.”

No regrets

If he had to do it over, he wouldn’t change a thing, says Clock. Looking back at Clock Medical since returning to the business 14 years ago, he’s more than satisfied with the path he chose. “We’ve always been a small family-owned business that works to service our customers to the best of our ability,” he explains. “That’s what we enjoy doing, and we are happy to have taken this journey.” Just as importantly, he appreciates how much he has learned working with his parents. “It has been amazing working with my parents,” he says. “I’ve learned quite a bit from them, as did my dad working with the Snyders.

For Clock, running a smooth business is not only about understanding the customers’ challenges. “You also must understand your employees and know what motivates them,” he says. It’s important to ensure his sales reps stay close to – and connected with – their customers, he points out. “For us, it’s about providing our sales reps with the tools they need to service our customers, and this calls for a lot of time and training. We train within the company as well as take at least one outside training trip each year. And, all of our reps are AMS-certified with HIDA.” The training and investment in his employees has paid off, he notes. “Most of our employees have been with us for about 10 years, and two of them have been here for over 20 years!”