Carl Hoffman

Known for the better part of its 13-year existence as Blue Ridge Medical Imaging, First Call Parts, Salem, Va, recently underwent both a name change and an extensive rebranding process. The former official Siemens refurbishers decided to rethink the concept of parts testing and expanded the process to make sure every system receives the thorough attention it deserves. 24×7 spoke recently to President/CEO Carl Hoffman about the name change, parts, and the challenges that rebranding presents.

24×7: How would you define the company’s philosophy?

Hoffman: Our philosophy is to redefine replacement medical parts. This means that when our customers order from us, they will have confidence in their decision, knowing that their part has gone through a thorough testing process and is backed by the longest warranty in the business and on-site technical help, if it is needed.

24×7: How did the company begin?

Hoffman: I left Siemens in 1995, and in 1996 we started the company. I had a great time at Siemens; it’s a great company, but I felt at that point it was just time to do something different.

24×7: Tell us a little about the name change from Blue Ridge Medical to First Call Parts.

Hoffman: We’re located in Salem, Va, which is right in the middle of the Blue Ridge mountains. When I started this company that was just a nice, logical name to have. At that time, we had many different divisions: We provided refurbishment, relocations, deinstallations, electronic upgrades, and parts. After Siemens took its refurbishing back overseas, we thought about what we really wanted to do. We realized that there was a need for a quality parts company to service the medical industry. Also, the name Blue Ridge Medical regionalized us, but we’re a fully national, even global company. Since we were to become a parts company, it made sense to change the name. It’s a big, expensive process, however, because all of our literature and booths for shows were in the previous name, but we figured, let’s go ahead and change it anyway.

24×7: What challenges have you encountered in rebranding the company?

Hoffman: I wanted to make sure that our great reputation was kept intact, so we made a concentrated effort to send out letters to all our customers explaining the reason behind the name change. Also, we are designing a new Web site.

We are known as pretty much the Siemens specialists—we were the refurbisher for Siemens for over 7 years, and our engineers were trained in the United States and in Germany. We probably have the largest stock of Siemens x-ray parts in the country, but now we’re aggressively purchasing Phillips, GE, and Toshiba parts as well.

24×7: How difficult is it to get your techs up to speed on other manufacturers’ equipment?

Hoffman: It does take a little time, but a sharp engineer will catch on pretty quickly to the other OEM’s equipment. I firmly believe in training. It’s expensive, but worthwhile. RSTI and DITEC are both good schools. We also are aggressively looking for experienced GE and Phillips engineers who may have been let go from other companies.

24×7: What sort of technical support do you offer customers?

Hoffman: We are not a day-to-day service company. First Call Parts offers free technical assistance via the telephone, Web, etc. If needed, we will send an engineer on-site and help install the parts we sell. We do it quite often when our customers order imaging parts or specialized mechanical parts and may not have been trained on the installation and calibration procedures. We will provide on-site installation help and go through the entire calibration process.

24×7: Do you believe your parts testing method is the most efficient?

Hoffman: I would say that the efficiency comes into play for the hospital when they receive the correct part that works and downtime is kept to a minimum. A lot of companies claim to have tested parts. They’re the ones that send in a mechanical crew to deinstall a room in a hospital and they say: “Well, it’s in a hospital, so it must be working.” That’s not necessarily the case. We’re the only company that I know of who is trying to test all OEM diagnostic parts.

24×7: What are some of the challenges the company is currently facing?

Hoffman: The main challenge is that for 13 years we were known as the Siemens experts, and now we’re trying to break out of that mould and work more with Phillips and GE equipment. We are making a large investment in order to stock all OEMs. We also have to ensure that our growth is progressing properly.

24×7: Have the customers been responsive to the change?

Hoffman: Yes, they have. Our growth has been phenomenal. 24×7

24×7: What makes parts testing at First Call unique?

Hoffman: My background was with Siemens as a field engineer for 20 years. When you have a down cath lab CT/MRI that’s in very high use, or perhaps a system in the ER room, and you order parts—whether from an OEM or another vendor—it’s just never a pleasant experience to have that part come in dead on arrival.

We have always provided replacement parts as Blue Ridge Medical Imaging. We never made parts a core focus of the company, but now we’ve dropped our other divisions to concentrate on replacement parts. We thought, if we’re going to do this, let’s provide the best possible product to our customer. The only way you can truly do that is to deinstall a system; bring it back to your facility; reinstall it in your facility and put it through its paces, mechanical and electronic; check the image quality; and let it burn in for a few days. After that, we take the parts out of the system. Then we put those parts in sealed, static-tested bags and put them on the shelf. Our whole facility here is static protected, and our people are trained in proper ESD procedures.

When you purchase a room from a hospital, there may be many hidden problems. Most facilities will not put money into a system that is being removed. For example, we were on-site helping one of our customers calibrate the imaging system, and in the repair process we found fifteen problems in that system. They were just not using the options that did not work.

If someone were to deinstall that room and take it apart and put it on a shelf, they would have no idea what wasn’t working in that system. One circuit board may handle several different functions, and it may be that one function they’re not using in the hospital that is defective, and when that board is sold, maybe the new owner does want to use that defective function.

24×7: Is parts testing a worthwhile investment?

Hoffman: You can’t have a cath lab that’s generating huge revenues for a hospital just go down. Sometimes people might drive for 2 or 3 hours to go someplace for a cath, and they show up and the lab is down because a part came in dead on arrival. You can’t just think from the financial aspect, but you have to consider the patient’s viewpoint as well. Certainly, it’s a worthwhile investment because customers are still going to get the parts at the same price as they would from a company that doesn’t test them. We also offer a 6-month warranty on these parts, which no one else is offering.

24×7: How are you working to control your growth and maximize it in the way you want?

Hoffman: We have weekly meetings on this subject. Management is always planning for the future. We’re currently seeing about a 35% growth rate, and we have to be able to handle that. The key is our people. Thankfully, we have great personnel, and they are the reason for that growth being possible. Everyone is trained and knows their duties.

24×7: Does customer feedback play a role in managing growth?

Hoffman: Yes, we check up with our customers to make sure the parts have arrived and to ensure that everything is OK.

24×7: How is the company’s executive structure organized?

Hoffman: As president/CEO, I guide the overall growth of the company. My duties are to present the vision for the company, and make sure everyone buys into our quality control and that all divisions are operating as smoothly as possible. I do most of the purchasing of the systems that we buy.

Steven Bush is our controller and director of business development. I place a lot on his shoulders as far as planning and running the sales division. Our director of operations is Scott Damewood, who is in charge of plant operations, which is no small task because of how we operate. We work closely together to ensure First Call Parts is functioning as efficiently as possible.

24×7: Is there anything else you would like to add regarding the way you process parts?

Hoffman: Making sure everything is done properly is an extensive process. We have processes in place from when the equipment is deinstalled and delivered to our facility. Then more processes for the prestaging testing, disassembly, bar coding, storage, and shipping. First Call Parts is not your average parts company.

Stephen Noonoo is associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at .