Medical Distribution Hall of Fame
Edition: January 2013 - Vol 21 Number 01
Working closely with distributors, Saron created a little company with a big presence
Somewhere on a wall in Bovie Medical Corporation’s Clearwater, Fla., facility is a registered trademark of which President Rob Saron is particularly proud. It reads Dedicated to Distribution®.
Saron has been dedicated to distribution for years. Witness the creative promotions, the crazy costumes at the dealer trade shows, and the personal attention he and his team pay to their distributor partners. That dedication has paid off, allowing the relatively small Bovie – formerly Aaron Medical Industries – to play like one of the big boys. It is because of that dedication that Saron will be inducted into the Medical Distribution Hall of Fame.
“We figured out long ago that there was no way we could put our own sales force out there,” says Saron. “We would be a distribution company. [Distributors] had the sales force, the relationships.
“Some people in the industry have played both sides of the fence. But it was obvious to me you couldn’t do that, because how could you be trusted?”
Saron was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is proud of the fact that he has never lived north of Tampa, where he attended college. He got a degree in social and behavioral sciences, largely because his girlfriend was doing the same. “I always joke – sociology is dealing with groups of lunatics, which in our industry can sometimes be helpful.”
His father, Robert Saron, was a pharmacist and natural salesman, and started a pharmaceutical generics company before the concept was popular. In fact, Rob Saron’s first job out of school was as a pharmaceutical sales rep. “It wasn’t for me,” he says. “There’s no satisfaction of a sale,” because even if the doctor decides to prescribe a drug, he or she writes the script, which then goes to the pharmacy.
Soon the generics business became dominated by big companies, and the elder Saron’s company couldn’t compete, so he moved into the home oxygen business. It was a lucrative business and much more to Rob’s liking. “You’re taking product to the patient, so there was more satisfaction,” he says.
In the late 1970s, the business was acquired by a conglomerate, which had also acquired a company called Medical Products Development Inc. Young Saron was asked to investigate why MPDI – which was located nearby – was losing money. “When I got there, I found out that their ‘medical product’ was a disposable penlight. I looked at the process – a bulb, conductor strip, clip, spring, two batteries, a tube, a washer, a metal cap – and then you have to put it all together and package it – and you can only sell it for a dollar. It was obvious to me why they were losing money. You either have to sell a billion of them, or you have to find something similar to sell.” His idea was for the company – later named Key Technologies – to make battery-operated cauteries.
At the time, the cautery market was dominated by a company called Concept Inc. Key Technologies got its first chance in the medical market with Abco (now National Distribution & Contracting Inc.), then located in Wisconsin. But the company’s big break came when Concept was acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb, which proceeded to change its catalog numbering system. “That means you can’t find their products, and all of a sudden, our business goes nuts,” says Saron. Three months later, the company cut its distributors, which opened Key’s door of opportunity even wider. The timing couldn’t have been better, as Aaron was in Chapter 11 at the time.
“They say that success comes through hard work and luck,” says Saron. “Well, we survived long enough for luck to [kick in].”
About 13 years ago, Saron was persuaded by former Midmark executive Don Kitzmiller, who was with the sales training firm 95% Share Marketing, to come to Chicago to attend the company’s “Seeing is Believing” program. It was February. “I threw open my drapes the first morning, and the snow was going sideways,” recalls Saron. “I didn’t know snow could do that.” He didn’t bother bringing his coat to the meeting room, assuming that no one would dare go out in such weather. But Fanning did just that – with only a couple of others attending the program (the rest unable to get into Chicago O’Hare airport due to the weather).
“When I describe Scott’s class to people, I say that part of the joy and excitement is seeing things you didn’t expect to see,” says Saron. “It’s a field trip around Chicago, and at each destination, there’s a message and something for you to see, and that ties it all together.”
In a nutshell, Fanning’s four points are: 1) own the relationship, 2) tell the best story, 3) pound the beaches with it, and 4) turn your salespeople – your direct sales force or your distributors’ reps – into dolphins, that is, let them be creative geniuses. Saron never forgot the four points – and continues to apply them today.
“When Rob came back, he said, ‘Janis, I’m not going to tell you anything about it, but I want you to go to this class and pay attention,’” recalls Janis Dezso, vice president of sales and marketing for Bovie Medical, who had begun working for Key Technologies years before on a temporary basis. She attended the class. “I came back and said, ‘Where do we start?’”
Little company with a big presence
“One of the things Scott and Jim [Niekamp] made us realize was that, even though we were a small company, we could have the presence of a big company,” says Dezso. “We could make a name for ourselves and increase our profile through advertising and doing promotions that make people want to do business with us.” Creative booth design helped. “We decided to go all the way with this,” she says.
“He drank the [95% Share] Kool-Aid early and often,” says Mark Seitz, president and CEO of NDC. “And he never waivered from it.” Seitz recalls when Saron mailed stuffed animals to valued customers, including the corporate team at NDC. “Word got to him that the customer service people had been left out. So he gathers up some bears, gets on an airplane, flies to Nashville, doesn’t bother going to the corporate office, but drives to the warehouse, delivers the bears, then turns around and flies back home.”
In order to keep the lessons of 95% Share fresh, Saron has gone through the program multiple times. “We don’t keep track of this, but I’m pretty confident Rob would win the award for the person who has attended the program the most,” says Jim Niekamp, 95% Share Marketing. “All the things we talk about in the program – Rob literally lives them in the real world.”
“When you’re president of a company, you can forget how to have fun,” says Dezso. “But Rob just went back for a refresher class, just to keep honed. We try to tweak what we do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Scott Fanning recalls that at the conclusion of Saron’s first program that snowy February, Saron told Fanning that he wouldn’t just tell him he understood the message, but he would show him. “Things kept happening to me that told me he really got it,” says Fanning. At one point, a sculpture of two leaping dolphins was delivered to Fanning’s house in suburban Chicago. “He’s amazing,” says Fanning.
The 95% Share philosophy meshed with Saron’s personality, which, according to those with whom Repertoire spoke, is – in a word – generous.
“He’s the most selfless person I have ever come across,” says Seitz, who recalls Saron coming to a Nashville hospital when former NDC CEO Jim Stover needed some surgery. “He didn’t tell anyone he was coming, but he sat there the entire day while Jim was in surgery, then got on the plane and went back.
“Rob is one of the most unassuming individuals I’ve ever met,” he continues. “In the eight years I’ve interacted with him, not once have I heard him make a derogatory statement about anyone. Not a single exception.”
“The most valuable thing we have in our life is time,” says Niekamp. “Rob spends the vast majority of his time thinking about others.”
That selflessness has led Saron to be a leader in the industry. He served on the HIDA Educational Foundation board and, in 2008, was awarded the HIDA Industry Award of Distinction. He also served as president of the Healthcare Manufacturers Management Council.
“Rob is one of those manufacturers who really cares about the industry,” says Cindy Juhas, president, Hospital Associates, Anaheim, Calif., who served with Saron on the HIDA Educational Foundation board. “He always gave 100 percent; always volunteered for committees, always wanted to do the right thing; always stated his opinion – which is what you’re supposed to do on a board.”
Saron was supportive when Juhas and others formed Professional Women in Healthcare in 2004. “We were a fledgling organization,” says Juhas. “His group was very supportive. He gave us money, his time, anything. That’s Rob. If he cares about something, he gives you 100 percent.”
Willingness to try new tricks
“Rob came back from the 95% Share Marketing [program] totally focused on figuring out a way to work with distribution better than he already had,” says Juhas. “He has a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to learn new tricks. He listens and learns, and never sits back on his haunches.”
“In business, you have a lot of opportunities to improve your own position at the expense of somebody else’s,” says Seitz. “Rob has never done that. We’ve dealt with some difficult issues,” he continues. “Never once has he failed to make sure the discussion was in person and that every stakeholder was in the room at the same time. He lives by that.”
Saron’s business ethics aside, he reaches people on a personal level, says Seitz, who speaks from personal experience. Having been appointed president and CEO of NDC in December 2005, Seitz was still relatively new to the industry when he attended the HIDA dinner in 2008, when Saron was presented with the Award of Distinction. “I was 2-3 years in the industry and felt a little out of place,” he says. “But I really knew I was accepted when Rob asked me to join him and his family at his table.” Saron, he says, is always thinking, “What can I do for somebody else to make them feel a part of what’s going on?”