The three founders of Topline Medical each brought with them decades of experience in the critical care equipment field when they opened their doors in 1998. Vice President and Cofounder Owen LaRue worked at a regional distributor for Narco Medical Services when he realized that opportunities in remarketing critical care equipment were worth a serious look. The company now specializes in refurbishing and remarketing multiparameter monitors, monitoring systems, defibrillators, EKGs, and ultrasound equipment; and is growing its reputation as a good source of hard-to-find parts. LaRue is proud to have started a “little company that does a good job” that has a national reputation for quality and service. 24×7 talked to LaRue about where his company, and the industry, is headed.
24×7: How did joining DMS affect Topline?
LaRue: Topline Medical was acquired by DMS Health Group out of Fargo, ND, in June 2003. DMS has been a tremendous source of support, and we have tripled in size. We have grown not only in the sale of all types of monitoring, EKG, and defibrillators, but have added refurbished ultrasound equipment and probes to our inventories. DMS let us keep the Topline name because of our reputation and market recognition. Also, they really had a hands-off management style that kept us feeling that we were still running our own company.
24×7: What would you like to see Topline do in the next 5 years?
LaRue: I look for us to double in the next 5 years. It is not out of the question that we also grow through synergistic acquisitions. The other thing that is happening is we have a lot of customers, including hospitals, that have equipment that is out of factory support, so there are no parts available. When they call and realize they can get a part from us, they are very happy. The world is kind of pulling us into the parts business.
24×7: Do you see your company moving more into parts since people are starting to know you for that?
LaRue: We like the parts business, and I see the parts business growing for sure. We need to be very careful. When you say you’re a parts company there are issues, such as different versions, generations of the same equipment, different software levels—subtleties that would make one circuit board from one unit not work in another. So you have to proceed cautiously. We don’t like to play back and forth with parts. It just creates heartburn for the customer. We really like the parts business, and we proceed cautiously as to how we describe what parts we have, what’s available, and what we recommend to the customer.
24×7: What direction do you see the market taking?
LaRue: As pressure from changing Medicare and private insurance reimbursement continues, the idea of hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers purchasing at least some refurbished equipment is now readily accepted. The growth in freestanding ambulatory surgical centers will continue as countries around the world have an ever-increasing demand for equipment that will help clinicians provide improved health care. Good refurbished equipment can be delivered at price points that help this happen. This adds up to a whole lot of opportunity for medical-equipment remarketers that choose the right products and market niches, combined with sound strategic planning. There are a lot of good remarketing companies out there, providing services in their area of expertise. The medical remarketing equipment community provides solutions that are needed worldwide.
24×7: As the field expands, how are you differentiating yourself among your competitors?
LaRue: I don’t think we say anything different; we just do what we say. We listen to the customer; recommend products that meet or exceed the customer’s clinical requirements; and ship clean, safe equipment that is a good value. Our sales and biomedical equipment technician staff average over 20 years of experience each. I think we develop credibility and trust as our customers quickly realize that they are talking with someone who has years of in-hospital experience. Customers can feel comfortable working with us. It is really sort of amazing, the number of people who know who we are. We get phone calls from all 50 states, and a lot of times we don’t even know how they have found us.
24×7: That seems like a nice surprise.
LaRue: It really is. If you have nice equipment, and you have certain things available, it is not difficult to have a happy customer. They have a need; they only have so many dollars to spend; and when they open up the box and they see what we shipped to them, they are happy, and it works.
24×7: If you could tell readers one thing about Topline, what would it be?
LaRue: Topline Medical is a high-quality, customer-oriented company that is committed to customer satisfaction. We have a wide array of refurbished equipment available for shipment. Give us a call. We’ll do the best we can to make you a happy Topline Medical customer.
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