Frustrated? Start a business

Medical supplier a fountain of great service, satisfied employees

Studying to be a nurse and supporting herself as a PCA, Mary Benhardus was frustrated. She was spending way too much time calling different medical supply vendors to get the things her clients needed. She was also uncomfortable with vendors’ lack of knowledge, which translated into poor customer service. Benhardus saw a need for a ‘one-stop’ vendor that would carry most everything a person with medical needs would require for day-to-day living — run by informed, friendly staff.

So, Benhardus started a business. Her grandfather, a successful entrepreneur in his own right, lent her the money to get going. In 1988, Benhardus quit school and opened Handi Medical Supply. Its first location was in a Golden Valley strip mall.

The young entrepreneur’s goal was always to be a customer- and employee-driven business. Benhardus’s dedication to the customer is famous. In the late 1990s, reimbursement for ostomy supplies was slashed by Medicare. When most of the other home medical suppliers and equipment companies exited the ostomy business, Handi and Benhardus stayed with it. Benhardus believed that her customers (who she considers her friends) deserved an organization that would do its best to take care of each of them. She intended to be there for her customer friends, many of whom have been with her from the beginning.

She knows how to build worker loyalty. “Mary lets me take work time to attend my continuing education functions,” said one employee. “She is very supportive of people’s professional responsibilities.” There are several employees who have been with the company for fifteen years, at which point they are given an all expenses paid trip for themselves and their families.

When asked if Handi Medical will continue to grow, Benhardus put its size in perspective. She says that if customer service suffers, “then that is too big.” If they lose sight of why they are in the business, “then that is too big” as well.

Handi just hosted its 11th annual conference. The event provides educational seminars for health-care professionals who want to gain further knowledge on the medical supply industry. The happy hour — complete with a chocolate fountain fondue — might also be part of the draw. This year’s event was the largest yet.