There is Texas ‘BIG’. And then there is Prairie Medical of Meridian, Idaho, ‘BIG’.
The territory this highly specialized durable medical equipment provider serves (wound care, lymphedema and mastectomy products) is enormous. It includes Hawaii, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. That’s a lot of geography to cover for an independent DME. But Prairie Medical founder and president, Tink Prairie-Newcomb, has proven to be more than up to the task.
Tink didn’t intend to provide service to so many states. But word of mouth about her expertise and patient service traveled fast. And when she traveled on vacation to scenic destinations such as the Hawaiian Islands, she kept her eyes peeled for new business opportunities. While vacationing in Honolulu, for example, she observed that many locals were suffering from venous insufficiency. This prompted her to make a few phone calls and physician visits. She found a demand in Hawaii for exactly the products she was selling in Idaho. Her business snowballed.
Tink started Prarie Medical out of her Idaho home eight years ago. She had achieved a strong sales background working for the giant bio-tech pharmaceutical company, Amgen. And she had worked for a company where she had learned a lot about lymphedema, a swelling caused by excess buildup of fluids under the skin.
Building a business from scratch is not easy. To learn how she did it, Home HealthCare TODAY (HHCT) interviewed Tink after she recently moved into a new store front in Meridian, Idaho. We also talked about her vision for the future, which includes adding portable oxygen concentrators ( POCs) to her Prairie Medical product lineup.
Here is how Tink made it happen, in her own words.
HHCT: Please tell HHCT a little about Prairie Medical. Your company has had a focus on supplying healthcare products to patients dealing with health issues such as lymphedema, breast cancer, peripheral arterial disease and venous insufficiency. How did you decide to specialize in those areas?
Tink: Prairie Medical was founded on the belief that we could provide patients and physicians in the Intermountain West and Hawaii advanced DME equipment to help increase healing time as well as improve quality of life. As the founder of Prairie Medical I have always had a passion to help people and I always wanted to own my own business and put my MBA to work for me!
I briefly worked with a company based back east that provided equipment that promoted increased healing time in patients with chronic leg ulcers, venous issues and lymphedema. During this time, I made the decision that I could provide these products to patients in my region of the United States, which at that time this equipment was not being provided to.
So I sort of found a gap and filled it.
The results patients get from pneumatic compression pumps and arterial compression pumps are absolutely amazing and patient compliance is exceedingly high. Having a product that affected patients in such a positive way and that simultaneously promoted a healthier, active lifestyle, while healing, has quite honestly been very personally rewarding.
So, I guess the answer to your question is partly the region was under-served by compression pumps at the time I started Prairie Medical and because I wanted to serve patients in our region.
HHCT: Prairie Medical serves a huge area in the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain states. It includes Hawaii, Idaho Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming. How do you service such a large area?
Tink: Proudly, Prairie Medical is based in Meridian, Idaho-right next to Boise. Initially, I did not start out with the intention of providing service to so many states, it just kind of morphed into itself. Idaho, like many states in the west, has ‘pockets’ of populations; the states are so large that in order to keep revenue up, the need to grow became imperative. I was also lucky that word of mouth about our products and excellent patient service spread very quickly.
When we ‘develop’ a new area that is in need of the products we provide we then hire nurses to help service those areas. Nurses play a crucial role in our company as they are interfacing with our patients while providing our physical offices with medical information. We do have a regional sales manager who provides most of the clinical outreach and education regular basis.
Most of our business comes from word-of-mouth and that is one of the ways we stand out from other companies providing similar equipment. I personally believe that our core value of providing exceptional service to physicians and patients will reap its own reward in the end.
The type of equipment we currently provide really is an emotional service. A lot of our patients are suffering from cancer, chronic wounds and amputations due to arterial insufficiencies. We are very selective in the types of people we choose to employ at Prairie Medical. Our equipment really requires a personal experience and finding the right fit for the job can pose a challenge.
HHCT: You started your healthcare business eight years ago with a background in bio-tech pharmaceutical sales. Please tell us about that background and how it helped you?
Tink: My background in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry was instrumental in my formation of medical office decorum and physician interaction. The pharmaceutical and biotech industries spend a great deal of time and money training us to interact with office staff and promote products effectively.
My background was a ‘springboard’ for marrying my vision of DME sales while mirroring some of the pharmaceutical ‘best practices’. I was always comfortable calling on medical providers and switching over my sales focus to the products we provide was an easy transition, especially since our products really speak for themselves.
HHCT: Who was your first customer and how did you get that customer?
Tink: My very first customer was a wonderful medical professional and all-around great individual. Dr. Baker was a hyperbaric and wound M.D. in the eastern part of the state of Idaho, Pocatello. I say ‘was’ as unfortunately he passed away a few years ago, after retirement. He attended a medical show where compression pumps were being discussed and how they promoted long-term healing and increased quality of life. He then contacted the manufacturer of the compression pumps, Bio Compression U.S.A., and they contacted Prairie Medical and I made the sales call to his office-some four hours away!
HHCT: How has your business grown since you first started it eight years ago from your home?
Tink: It seems like so long ago that my vision for Prairie Medical was started in my home office. I quickly learned that I needed to lease an actual office in order to obtain a Medicare license. I leased a very small office space and quickly grew out of it. My next move was a purchase of a business condo where again continued growth and increased numbers of employees made me realize I needed to move again!
I always wanted to provide other products, but maintaining our core belief of providing excellent patient and physician service was always a challenge.
When I started Prairie Medical it was never my intention to provide medical equipment to such a vast area. Our reputation, excellent patient outcomes and referrals just pushed us into expanded growth. We don’t necessarily service a whole state but rather ‘pockets’ where there seems to be product needs.
HHCT: You attended Medtrade to look for retail products but ended up opening a new storefront. How did that decision come about?
Tink: The decision to move to the storefront was one made out of growth necessity. I attended Medtrade to get ideas of what medical equipment would “fit” our current business model. In the end we decided to go in a little bit different direction and open up the mastectomy/prosthetic boutique. We currently offer the largest selection of breast forms, bras, compression garments, venous and arterial compression pumps, hats and headscarves in the state of Idaho and we hope to become the flagship for this type a boutique service in the state of Idaho.
HHCT: Looking down the road, what other products might you add when you the time is right?
Tink: An area that we are looking into for future expansion, that I saw at Medtrade, is portable oxygen devices. We feel that this would be a great opportunity to service those patients who have to be on oxygen but would also like to travel and enjoy their life, free of large cumbersome oxygen tanks. We will also probably look at diabetic testing kits, that’s a fast growing market I saw at Medtrade also.
HHCT: Please tell us about wound care and what has been most helpful to you in serving wound care patients?
Tink: I think it is imperative to have excellent products and medical professionals who have seen the clinical outcomes of the products you provide. If the products produce a positive clinical outcome and ease of patient use, the medical community will support them.
Wound Care and Lymphedema—upper and lower extremity—has been our focus because these types of patients have chronic issues. Chronic venous ulcers affect over 70% of patient population, that is a large percentage. Open wounds, weeping legs, chronic swelling and constant physician visits greatly impacts a person’s quality of life.
Being able to provide non-invasive products that promote wound healing and decreases in lymphatic swelling is wildly fulfilling. Our patient testimonies and feedback is really valuable to us at Prairie Medical. If our products did not work, we would not be here 8 years later.
HHCT: What was the driving force behind going all-in on mastectomy products and building a storefront that put them on center stage?
Tink: My mom and a great friend of mine really influenced my decision to expand my business into mastectomy products: bras, prosthetic breast forms, head wear, full line of compression and post-op garments. Watching my mother go through breast cancer a few years ago was a real eye opening experience for me, especially on the medical side. My mom would continually say, “I am so sick of going into sterile physical offices for all these appointments.”
Fast forward a few years and I am sitting with my friend while she is getting chemotherapy and I chatted up a gal who was next to us, also getting chemotherapy, and I asked her about her journey. She commented, “It would be nice to go to a medical office and get some care/medical products such as hats and bras that do not seem so ‘sterile’.”
I knew then I needed to bring a boutique DME storefront to Idaho, providing all things related to breast cancer that a patient might need during their cancer treatments and after.
My goal, provide great patient service and the growth will follow.
HHCT: What would you say has been the number 1 factor that has allowed your business to grow?
Tink: Besides our excellent service I would say surrounding myself with excellent employees. They are the engine that keeps Prairie Medical moving forward and their commitment to patient excellence is really a testament to our culture as a team.
HHCT: Your mentioned you wanted your business to become an enjoyable patient destination, not just a home healthcare provider of products and services. Could you please explain?
Tink: We believe that our boutique DME will provide a comforting and relaxing place for our mastectomy and wound patients. Our breast cancer patients deal with cancer every single day, whether during the acute phase or 10 years out. My goal is providing them with a nice DME experience, because let’s face it, cancer sucks!
HHCT: I think many of our readers will be envious that you have been able to grow sales and serve patients in Hawaii. How did you come to see opportunity in Hawaii and how many business trips a year do you make to Hawaii?
Tink: I was on vacation in Hawaii and I noticed that numerous locals suffered from venous insufficiency, wounds and swelling. So, while on said vacation I decided to go visit some wound care offices and DME stores. I found there were many people in Hawaii who were in desperate need of our compression pumps. They included upper and lower extremity lymphedema patients as well.
Doing business in Hawaii is really challenging! It’s hard to get to, expensive to ship product over and the cost of living is higher in Hawaii. We have been fortunate to make it work, and I know our products are helping them maintain their island way of life.
HHCT: Tell us a little about yourself.
Tink: I am an Idaho native. I have a undergraduate degree in business administration and marketing and a graduate degree in business administration. I’m a certified wound care market specialist, and a certified compression therapist.
Most important is the loving support of my husband, Shane, who was exceedingly supportive when I came to him with the decision over eight years ago to start a medical equipment company. He has always been supportive of my business endeavor, even the expansion and building of the new boutique.
I reside in Eagle, Idaho with our daughter Lily, two horses, and a mini poodle. We love to camp, travel, and enjoy the outdoor activities Idaho has to offer.