Midmark Regroups For Future

Edition: September 1999 - Vol 7 Number 09
Article#: 472
Author: Repertoire

Attention, distributors. Midmark loves you. Always has. Always will.

Though buffeted by changes within its executive ranks, the Versailles, OH-based company isn't about to depart from the formula that has meant success for so many years.

‘We are going to stay with what's made us successful, and that is, our relationships with the dealer salesperson and management,’ says Jim Eiting, long-term president and CEO, who recently came out of retirement to take command of the ship once again. ‘We're not going to walk away from a winner.’

Midwestern Stability

Perhaps distributors could be excused for wondering about Midmark's course in the market, given the loss earlier this year of two of its key sales and marketing executives -- Don Kitzmiller and Scott Fanning. Further complicating matters were the recent departures of Lou Fischer, who had been president of the company for five years, and Chris Smith, vice president of sales and marketing.

‘We have lost some key people,’ admits Eiting. ‘But I challenge anyone to find a more stable, dynamic company.’

Eiting exemplifies the stability of the Midwestern company. A third-generation family-owner, Eiting was president of the company for 25 years before stepping aside for Fischer five years ago. He returned earlier this year upon the request of the company's board.

And he brought with him his long-time second-in-command, Denny Meyer, who had retired early this year. Meyer oversees all operational areas, including engineering, manufacturing and distribution.

The management team is supplemented with two other long-time Midmark employees: Dick Wuebker, vice president sales and marketing, who has been with the company 24 years; and Dick Moorman, vice president of sales for primary care, another 24-year veteran.

‘You're looking at an executive team with over 100 years experience in the medical equipment industry,’ says Eiting. There's some new blood too. In July, the company brought in Richard Bunce to serve as chief financial officer. He brings with him 10 years experience with Gillette, a company that has maintained the ‘same dealer and financial orientation we have always had,’ says Eiting.

And Midmark has brought on a company medical director -- Eiting's own daughter, Anne Eiting Klamar, a physician who has traded in her practice to work full-time for the company. She'll be the fourth generation to be involved with the company, Eiting points out. With training in economics as well as medicine, Klamar could very well be with the company for some time to come. But for now, her job is to visit with dealers and customers to try to identify products that both will find useful. ‘With her as medical director, we will be able to come out with more in-depth medical products,’ says Eiting.

A Medical/Dental Company

Although Fischer and Eiting differed in some aspects of how the company should be run, Eiting credits Fischer with bringing the company into the 21st century in terms of information systems. With a background in information technology, Fischer ‘brought us a digital thought process we didn't have before,’ says Eiting.

Fischer was at the helm when Midmark acquired Knight Manufacturing, an Asheville, NC-based manufacturer of dental equipment. It was one of the best acquisitions Midmark ever made, according to Eiting.

‘It's a direct hit for us,’ he says. The product lines -- chairs, lighting, seating, casework -- overlap with Midmark's existing brands. More important, the dental sell is a dealer sell, he says.

That differs substantially from a business that Midmark is exiting -- hospitals.

Sixteen years ago, Midmark bought a stretcher company. Then, in 1990, it purchased surgical equipment manufacturer Chick Medical Products. It was part of Midmark's bid to become a full-service supplier. But the plan didn't work out.

‘We've always felt that our customers were dealers,’ says Eiting. ‘But in the hospital market, it ends up being a process sell, and that's a sale we're not used to.’ Multiple decision-makers and long lead times were foreign to Midmark reps.

‘The hospital sale takes a long time, vs. the dealer sale,’ he says. ‘If we can get that dealer in our corner, treat him right and keep him motivated, he will make us successful. The people in the hospital business don't understand how to motivate that dealer.’ What's more, Midmark was butting up against some companies with hundred-year-old franchises in the hospital market.

At press time, Midmark had the hospital business up for sale. But at the same time, the company is moving the entire dental business to Versailles.

‘Not only do [Knight and Midmark] understand the thought process of the dealer,’ says Eiting, ‘but we have an airport, golf course, hotel/ restaurant, all the machinery set up here, and the Riverwatch Conference Center, which is one of the finest training facilities in the country. The compatibility of the move is incredible.’

The Future

Despite the departure of some of its biggest players, Midmark is upbeat about its future.

‘We are in a stronger financial position than ever before, and we intend to keep it that way,’ he says. ‘I have never been more optimistic than I am now. The dental move is so synergistic. Why we didn't do it 20 years ago I don't know.’

For his part, Eiting intends to stay on as long as he's needed. And with daughter Anne in the picture, the family will continue to play a key role in the company.

‘If you want to be successful as a private company, you'd better run it as a public company, only a whole lot faster than they do,’ he says. ‘We're moving faster, building up speed.’