Chuck and Jenny Nobes aren't afraid of diving into something new.
After all, the Columbus couple has worked in several fields -- she as a middle school math teacher and real-estate agent, he as an accountant and banker.
Together, they've operated a tax-preparation business, while also owning, managing and flipping rental properties.
Thus, it should be no major surprise that the Nobeses would see yet another opportunity in the constantly growing health care sector. In this case, selling home medical equipment services.
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The road to Columbus Home Medical Equipment started about 18 months ago, with the pursuit of accreditation from The Joint Commission, a national group that measures quality standards for heath care organizations and programs.
That completed last fall, the Nobeses launched their company. The prospects for success look to be enhanced by the fact that the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates show roughly 62,000 of the 289,000 residents in the Columbus metro area are age 65 or older, with that number likely to rise in the coming years.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked recently with the Nobeses, discussing their leap into the health-care arena and their hopes for the company.
How did you decide to enter this field?
We've got a number of friends that are in the health-care industry. In talking with them over the years, we just kind of got the feeling that there was room for another quality provider of home medical equipment in Columbus.
Had you done anything like this before?
Nope, completely new to it. I was in the banking industry, and then my wife was a teacher. We owned another business, which is a tax business throughout the Southeast, and we own a fair amount of rental property. So we've always been kind of entrepreneurial minded.
We saw health care as a growth area and a place where there's going to be more and more need as the Baby Boomers get older. So it just seemed like a really logical business to go into.
Is this a competitive market?
It is. But what our goal has been since day one is to always place the patient first. Of course, that sounds logical. What I mean by that is our goal is to get the equipment to the patient, or customer, as soon as possible.
It doesn't matter what role you have here at Columbus Home Medical Equipment. It doesn't matter if you're in billing or are a receptionist, our goal is to get the equipment out in an hour or two hours, just as quick as we can because we know they need it. That's what we were told, is if we did that, then we would certainly have a lot of success. Even Jenny and I deliver medical equipment.
How long did it take to set things up?
We started the accreditation process, which is fairly lengthy, in October of 2011. We got accredited with the The Joint Commission. They're reputed to be one of the best. But it took us a while to get through that because we were new to the industry. So we actually opened the doors Nov. 1 of 2012.
How have things gone?
Unbelievable. We have been so incredibly blessed. The market has responded to our commitment to get the equipment out so quickly. I think it's come as a big surprise to a lot of the patients and case managers that are sending referrals to us at the hospitals ... so they're sending us more and more business.
What are the components of your business, which serves an aging Columbus population?
Number one, Columbus has just a very strong medical community. We have a lot of fantastic hospitals and doctors. So there's obviously a lot of patients and a lot of need. We do a lot with Medicare, and you have to meet the age requirement of 65 to qualify for Medicare. So most of our business is the 65-year-old plus population.
But we also sell crutches for somebody who has sprained their ankle, or a brace for ankles or wrists for somebody that has hurt themselves in athletics. We sell a lot of diabetic shoes to people under 65 that suffer from diabetes.
The biggest thing we're focusing on are power chairs and lifts, like for vehicles. We're actually installing lifts on the back of people's vehicles so they can be more mobile and take their power chair to the mall or wherever they need to go. As the population ages, that need is going to grow more and more.
This is a major area for military veterans and retirees. Does that help?
We've also been fortunate to work with the Veterans Administration hospitals. We get a lot of referrals from Tuskegee and Montgomery to serve their patients in this area.
We're kind of reaching out to all of the VA hospitals in the Southeast and saying: Hey, if you have a veteran that's in our geographic area, we would like to be your provider. What that means is if they have power chair, for instance, that the VA is actually paying for, they'll call us and they'll ship it to us and we are responsible for delivering it to the patient.
We're also doing quite a bit of business with Martin Army (Community Hospital at Fort Benning). We're definitely benefiting from the military presence here.
What have been your major challenges?
We took a little while to open because we decided that we really wanted to be a one-stop shop. That means we do everything. Let's say you need to come in and buy some tips for your crutches or cane, something that small, all of the way up to stair lifts, oxygen, hospital beds. We never wanted that reputation of: Well, don't call them, they only do a couple of things.
Another reason it took us awhile is we take all insurances. The vast majority of what we do is covered by insurance. Again, we didn't want to tell patients no.
What are the common ailments your company helps?
I would say the diseases which contribute most to people needing us would be diabetes and arthritis. Arthritis can be very debilitating. And there's COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). So there's a huge demand for oxygen.
Why do you enjoy doing this?
I think Jenny and I are very passionate, frankly, about serving other people. We've been very fortunate in our lives, and we just think this is a really great place to serve others in a way that makes a difference.
What are the skills needed for your job?
The first thing needed is a caring compassionate attitude.
The second thing is you have to have the technical expertise to actually repair medical equipment and service it. We have technicians that are very proficient at repairing power chairs, putting lifts on cars, repairing medical equipment.
And then you certainly have to know medical equipment, to know what piece of equipment serves a particular need ... Almost everybody on our staff, aside from Jenny and I, has experience in the medical equipment business. You've really got to know the products.
Whereas Jenny and I may know how to run a business -- we're business-minded people -- we needed their expertise to make it successful.
I understand you have pledged to donate 5 percent of your profits to charity?
Yes. We think tithing is very important. Our pastor said that 5 percent should go to the church and 5 percent should go to other charities. So we will dedicate 5 percent of all profits back into the community that has been so good to us.
Do you expect the next five years to be extremely busy for you and the market to become even more competitive?
I definitely know the growth will be explosive. As far as it becoming more competitive, sure. I think we've gone out there and made a name for ourself quickly, and I think the competition is responding. I don't mean to say they were doing a poor job. But I do think they're stepping it up a little bit since we entered the game because we've really kind of hit it hard.