Because of his company’s core principles of quality work, customer savings, and expediency, Robert Grzeskowiak, founder of Midwest Imaging Corp, St Charles, Mo, has been able to succeed in the highly competitive ultrasound service and sales markets for the last 20 years. With ever-changing technology, the company’s continued ability to service machines from multiple OEMs on an at-need basis has helped the company expand its service footprint to the East Coast and soon, the Western United States. Even with a proven track record, Midwest Imaging still encounters many of the concerns facing third-party service providers. 24×7 recently spoke with Grzeskowiak to discuss growing trends in the industry, RSNA, and how to stay viable in the competitive, changing environment.
24×7: Tell us a little about Midwest Imaging and the services you provide.
Grzeskowiak: Midwest Imaging Corp was founded in December of 1991. Recognizing the need for a non-OEM alternative, the company was formed to offer customer savings on system, parts, probes, travel, and labor. Working with several different brands of ultrasound systems, such as General Electric and Philips, enables Midwest Imaging to address all of our customers’ ultrasound needs. We have service centers in the Midwest and on the East Coast. We also have service liaisons with other screened service companies, enabling us to provide service logistically throughout the United States.
24×7: What are some of the new services that the company provides?
Grzeskowiak: Within the last several years, we have established in-house repairs of major OEM circuit boards, power supplies, and control panels. By performing the repairs in-house, we are able to pass the savings on to our customer.
24×7: What benefits does your company provide that OEMs cannot?
Grzeskowiak: Whether you choose Midwest Imaging or not, third-party service providers are able to offer customers same-day service without the hassle of the OEM process. Many times we can be on-site within an hour. We offer a dynamic parts inventory enabling us to fix the problem in most cases with one site visit.
Because we don’t have the hefty overhead of the OEMs we are able to offer competitive pricing on all of our parts, labor, travel, and service contracts, typically saving 10% to 60% off OEM prices. We are also able to provide ultrasound systems at a reduced cost and generally offer a full 1-year warranty with each complete system sold. Our degreed engineers typically have 10-plus years of experience and also have cardiac, vascular, and abdominal imaging experience, enabling them to troubleshoot image-quality problems.
24×7: How much training do you do at your facility?
Grzeskowiak: Midwest Imaging offers system training classes for hospital biomeds and third-party technicians on an “as needed” basis. Our class size is usually 8 to 10 students. The students learn system theory and architecture. The seminar also encompasses cardiac, vascular, and abdominal applications training.
24×7: Have more techs come for training as hospitals look to save money and keep repairs in-house?
Grzeskowiak: No—a lot of hospitals can’t afford to send their biomeds out, so we troubleshoot with them over the phone. Some hospitals are exploring the idea of outsourcing their biomed shops, but we have the ability to train a hospital’s biomeds and keep the maintenance in-house. We are able to expand a biomed group’s capabilities so that hospitals don’t have to outsource biomed work. By training our customers’ technicians, we are able to supply 24/7 tech support and save the hospitals hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars that they would have spent by outsourcing the work.
24×7: Do you attend RSNA?
Grzeskowiak: Yes, and the reason I go is to view the new equipment that’s being developed. It also gives us a preview of what we have in store for the future. When they start selling these new systems, OEMS offer a 1-year warranty. After that year, customers go with the OEM or a third-party service company like Midwest Imaging. We need to stock the necessary parts to support the unit. We also need to learn more about how the system works, the architecture of the system, and the problems that the system has. A lot of things are unknown until we purchase a machine and start working on it.
24×7: Where do you see the industry heading?
Grzeskowiak: Technology evolves, but the constants are always “quality” and “budget.” With third-party service and parts available throughout the United States, biomed departments are realizing the savings they can reap by utilizing companies such as Midwest Imaging. The trend is moving to partnering with quality third-party service organizations.
24×7: What percentage of your business is full service contract, first look, and preventive maintenance?
Grzeskowiak: Approximately 20% of our business includes customers with full service contracts, which are inclusive of emergency labor and travel, parts, and two preventive maintenance checks per year. About 5% of our business involves first look or biomedical screening contracts. This contract is the same as a full service contract but includes a biomedical engineer taking a first look at the problem and in some cases actually installing the replacement part. Biomed screening/first look contracts usually offer a 10% to 20% discount off the full service contract price. Finally, about 10% of our business is comprised of preventive maintenance contracts and includes two comprehensive preventive maintenance checks per year. Preventive maintenance customers also receive a preferred customer discount on parts. The other 65% of our business is system parts, materials, sales, probes, labor, and travel.
24×7: How frequently do you perform on-site repairs versus bringing the equipment back to your facility?
Grzeskowiak: When a system isn’t functioning it can disrupt an entire department, from the patients affected to the biomed department to the ultrasound technologist. Our goal is to get the system up and running in the shortest time possible. Ninety percent of the time our system repairs are done in the field. Again, because of our dynamic parts inventory we are able to troubleshoot the problem with the initial call and bring the parts with us. Midwest Imaging does maintain a repair depot for laptop-type systems such as SonoSite systems. These units are repaired in-house and are usually returned to the customer within 2 or 3 days.
24×7: How long has the company had a sales component, and how have sales been affected by the economy?
Grzeskowiak: Our sales division was formed in 1991 with the start of the company and has experienced steady growth throughout the years. The recent economic downturn has resulted in increased sales of refurbished systems, probes, and parts. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are not purchasing new equipment and therefore need quality, tested parts to keep their systems running. Because of our reputation for quick, quality service and parts, we have received an increase in business via word-of-mouth referrals. We appreciate the confidence our customers place in us and continually strive to assist them with cost containment.
24×7: Have you seen hospitals trending toward buying again?
Grzeskowiak: With the economic downturn in 2009, system sales were off but our parts sales and repair services experienced a spike in business. System sales in 2010 are strong and slowly growing. Hospitals are adjusting to new policy guidelines and budgets, and are anticipating the business potential of the future.
24×7: Can you point to any other growth areas?
Grzeskowiak: We have seen a dramatic increase in our service sector as well as parts and probe sales. Our client base is varied, from doctor’s offices, to small rural hospitals and clinics, to major hospital groups. Medicare reimbursement affects our entire client base. Tight budgets do not always afford room for new systems and therefore require immediate service with reliable parts.
24×7: Back to RSNA, you are not able start stocking products immediately after the show, but rather you need to purchase a unit?
Grzeskowiak: Yes. In the case of Phillips, we bought a brand new system from Phillips just so we could have the parts and learn how the system works. That was a one-time deal because the systems were so scarce and we couldn’t purchase one from anybody. They’re really good units and people wanted them, so we had to go to the OEM to get one.
24×7: Is RSNA more useful to you than smaller regional shows?
Grzeskowiak: Absolutely. RSNA is, from our standpoint, a time to gather information on new equipment. There are not many third-party companies there that have booths because it’s mainly a showcase for the OEMs. You have some third-party vendors there, but it’s not like other shows.
24×7: With technology constantly changing, what have been the biggest issues in terms of staying up to date?
Grzeskowiak: The ultrasound industry is always evolving. Every 5 to 7 years, the OEM changes its system platform. The new platform has the latest technology and requires third-party companies to ramp up their knowledge and parts inventory to support the new platform. The biggest issues are parts procurement, training, and analyzing system problems. New systems have distinct problems that require extensive research and development time to solve.
24×7: Is there anything else you want readers to know about your company?
Grzeskowiak: Midwest Imaging is becoming a well-known systems and parts provider. We have expanded our service coverage, and with our free 24/7 tech support we are able to help diagnose the issues and send out Hero Kits the same day. We also have a loaner program for in-stock probes. This service is available while our customer’s probe is being repaired.
We’ve been in this business for a long time—since 1991—but still people doubt us until we come in and fix the problem. We bring the part with us, and they’re impressed with our service. The OEM is usually a two-step process: They come in and analyze the problem and then come in the next day and finish the call. With us, most of the time it’s a one-step process. We get the system up and running there, which means less downtime for the customer and it’s more cost efficient.
The more we work on the systems, the more knowledgeable we become. And we repair the parts in-house so we learn even more about the systems. Our knowledge base is probably a lot larger than one of the OEM’s field engineers, just because of how we work on the boards. We have more knowledge on each individual board.
24×7: What’s your strategy for earning that trust?
Grzeskowiak: We just ask them to give us the opportunity. We’ll ask a customer to describe a problem to us. Right away, if we’re not sure of what’s going on, we’ll consult with each other and try to find the best solution to the problem. Then before we even get on-site, we’ll already have a solution in mind for the customer and have the parts on hand. That’s how we try to be one step ahead of the OEM: having the parts on hand.
We have thousands of customers we can refer them to, but it’s your action that earns you the business. If you do what you say you will, you won’t have any problem.
Chris Gaerig is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at .