Maintaining mobility

Peter McGuinness, Homecare Medical Supplies

As longevity rises, one of our greatest concerns is in maintaining our mobility.

Mobility brings independence, which in turn brings freedom. Homecare Medical Supplies Ltd stands at the front line in helping to provide this.

A 20-year-old family business with its HQ in Mayo, Homecare Medical Supplies covers Ireland’s 26 counties with 50 staff and has established retail outlets in Terryland, Galway, and in Ballyhaunis.

Coming from an HSE community care background, MD Peter McGuinness was well positioned to appreciate the needs of the elderly, and of those who needed temporary or permanent extra care in their lives.

“I worked in community care administration in Mayo and Galway for eight years, before taking the leap to self-employment in 1988. Times were tough then, but supporting a young family gave me the motivation to work hard,” Peter recalls.

From very humble beginnings, distributing products from the family home in Lake Hill, Knock, Peter saw demand grow to the level where larger premises were essential.

“My brother Noel joined me a year after start-up, and stayed for over a decade. We established a limited company and began servicing providers in the non-acute sector — nursing homes and public health services. Along with my wife Mary we did everything ourselves, from planning to purchasing to distribution.”

A 20-year-old business that has grown from family home to major operation

“We literally moved from the kitchen to the garage, which we used as a warehouse until 1993, when we bought external premises in Kiltimagh. We operated from there for 10 years before buying our current premises in Ballyhaunis.”

Peter has extended his Mayo premises over the years to its current 60,000sq ft facility, which boasts warehouse, showroom, retail, and offices.

“We recently hosted an open day at our new facility for our retail customers and are delighted with the awareness and business that was generated. We’ve doubled our staff and our turnover over the past five years, due to our in-house investments.”

In the company’s early days in a pre-internet era, Peter determined stock by visiting providers in the UK and Europe to see what was on offer.

“Our customers also told us what they needed, so we were both demand and supply driven. Dusseldorf’s Medica trade fair is the gold standard in this industry, and I continue to attend that every year to gauge new developments.”

Homecare Medical Supplies’ products may not be glamorous, but are often the difference between someone being able to live independently at home, rather than in residential care.

The company is currently piloting a home delivery scheme in Roscommon, allowing the housebound to take personal delivery of supplies. This scheme is due to extend into Mayo in 2009 and other counties in the years to follow.

A major player in 26 counties supplying public and private healthcare

“We supply public and private hospitals, nursing homes, charities, and private individuals. We sell a wide array of health products that covers everything from bed and bath aids to footwear and furniture. We currently have contracts with all HSEs for a variety of care products.”

Homecare Medical Supplies’ products are not strictly for the elderly. Sports injuries and accidents can leave us temporarily incapacitated and in need of mobility aids. In these instances, products are available that help us carry out our daily tasks more comfortably.

“A lot of our products, such as commodes and wheelchairs, are available free of charge through community care and the health boards, which we supply, but if the necessary equipment is not available then people can buy direct from our company.”

Homecare Medical Supplies’ large warehouse allows the company to offer competitive prices through bulk buying. Retail outlets such as pharmacies do not have the space to stock bulky goods, but are able to stock Homecare Medical Supplies’ catalogues from which customers can select. Customers can also buy direct from the company’s website, www.homecaremedicalsupplies.ie “Business is growing across the board, and typically we hold a large amount of stock in our Mayo warehouse. We guarantee next day delivery, so distribution is very active in this company. It’s also vital that we are open to new ideas and concepts, in order to offer people what they may not even be aware they need yet.

“The trick is to balance a huge stock with fast turnover. Our products may not have ‘sell-buy’ dates, but they take up warehouse space, and that means money.

“Sales representatives in Dublin and Cork take care of the bigger conurbations, but we sell into every Irish county. Ongoing feedback from our customers in Galway and Ballyhaunis helps us to be on top of patient needs.”

Nursing homes in Ireland have increased in number and in bed allocation and are now run as competitive businesses in a way that was not the norm in the past.

“Government tax breaks have increased the number of private nursing homes to 450, and in some locations there is actually an over-supply of beds. At the same time there are still waiting lists for other homes.”

Homecare Medical Supplies has fitted out a number of new nursing homes from scratch, as well as providing for upgrades, but renovations and new openings are, according to Peter, on the decrease, due to the current credit crunch.

“Nursing homes are not ‘cash cows’, it can take years before they become financially viable, and with less disposable income around now everyone is feeling the squeeze.”

Homecare Medical Supplies maintains strong relationships with bodies representing nursing homes, enabling the company’s management to gain a clearer understanding of the issues facing this customer group.

“There are clear differences in rates between counties, resulting from land prices and associated running costs, but in general this is a challenging time financially for both nursing home owners and homes’ occupants.

“In a similar vein, those over-70s who may no longer be entitled to the Medical Card may now find themselves having to pay privately for our products. Many choose to do this anyway, to secure the exact mobility aid they need as quickly as possible.”

Peter is quick to emphasise that the ‘grey pound’ is still strong and that the elderly now afford themselves a greater level of comfort.

Our products allow people to live independently at home

“There is no stigma attached now to mobility aids, so people are more willing to invest in everything from recliner chairs to scooters. Quite often sons and daughters provide these items for their parents to secure peace of mind. For a comparatively small sum, one’s home can be made ‘mobile friendly’, and is certainly a cheaper option than residential care.”

Government Mobility Grants cover large home items, such as stairlifts and bathroom conversions, but the number of applications exceeds funding by the local authorities.

“The Minister for Health supports people living at home as the sensible way forward, but in reality there is insufficient funding to provide for this. There are quite separate markets for residential care and for independent living at home; we service both of these, but I believe that the Government must offer better financial incentives to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible. That would then allow some people in hospitals to move to nursing homes, thereby freeing up hospital beds.”

To complement its retail and internet marketing, Homecare Medical Supplies forms active associations with like-minded businesses, such as pharmacies and GP surgeries, which showcase the company’s products.

Homecare Medical Supplies’ service and repair division of nine staff members is proving crucial to the company’s future. The company services all its large items of equipment using its in-house service team, two of whom are Peter’s sons, Simon and Paul. Peter’s third son, David, also works with the business, in distribution.

Servicing equipment is a growth area for company

“Equipment that has been loaned by community care to patients must be cleaned and serviced between patients, which is proving to be a growth area of the company.

“We have a substantial number of nursing homes customers on contract, which involves service, repair, installation, and decontamination.”

Peter reckons that his work/life balance is at last on track, after two decades of heavy input, leaving him time to enjoy the McGuinness family passion for Gaelic football.

“I now have a great management team in place, led by my general manager John Doyle. I have managers in all key positions, such as warehouse, sales, and finance, and our weekly management meetings allow us all to discuss our key performance indicators and work on these.

“I don’t need to know every detail of what is going on; the company benefits far more by me concentrating on my own forte, which would be company strategy.”

Homecare Medical Supplies enjoys great customer loyalty, and its attributes were recognised by Mayo Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which awarded the company second place in this year’s Business Growth Award.

Despite the recession, Homecare Medical Supplies is enjoying steady growth, but less disposable income, claims Peter, affects everyone.

“Nursing homes form a large share of our market, but if their residents are unable to pay as quickly this impacts the homes’ maintenance and expansion plans, and this directly affects us in turn.

We help to make a real difference in people’s lives

“Like many businesses we are particularly stringent now about stock control and credit control. Our business plan is simply to continue to do what we do right. We must keep the customer happy at all costs, and it gives me tremendous personal satisfaction to know that our products actually make such a huge difference to so many people’s lives.”

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