By Kurt Woock
Tracy Neilson’s career is a microcosm of the culture at Southwestern Biomedical Electronics Inc (SBE), an independent service organization in Oklahoma. She began her career answering phones for the company, learning the company and its customers by name. After earning a college degree and gaining more experience, she came back to become vice president. The tight-knit culture at SBE has yielded employees who have developed long tenures there, creating a depth of institutional knowledge, especially in SBE’s specialty—Spacelabs products.
In addition to product knowledge, customer service is a primary theme at SBE. With most new business coming via word-of-mouth recommendations by longtime customers, relationships are what make SBE go. 24×7 sat down with Tracy and learned about SBE’s successful 2012 as well as new projects on the horizon.
24×7: Can you introduce Southwestern Biomedical Electronics Inc?
Neilson: Southwestern Biomedical Electronics is an independent service organization formed in 1976. Early in the company’s history, SBE became a distributor for Spacelabs Medical in the Oklahoma area. From that experience as a distributor, SBE learned the Spacelabs product in its entirety, soon becoming known as the only second source to the OEM. SBE’s owner, Larry Neilson (along with his partner at the time) bought the company and its name from Invivo Research in 1989. After purchasing his partner’s share of the company in 2000, Larry helped continue the company’s strong service presence. He then began moving the company in a new direction of selling refurbished capital equipment to hospitals that couldn’t afford to purchase new from the OEM.
A Quick Take
24×7: What is your own background at SBE?
Neilson: Larry hired me in 2001 as a customer service rep and administrative assistant. My day-to-day tasks included answering phones and providing part numbers and pricing to customers, in addition to trying to answer all questions prior to transferring the call to a technician. In addition to these tasks, I handled all the company’s receiving and a portion of the company’s shipping procedures as well as invoicing and collections. This experience allowed me to gain knowledge at an operational standpoint from start to finish.
During my employment at SBE, I went to college, receiving a BA in business administration. I left the company for 2 years in 2007 to work as a financial advisor until 2010, when Larry hired me back as general manager. With my knowledge of finance, and the knowledge I had of his company, Larry felt I would be an added asset to the management team he had in place at the time. In 2011, Larry promoted me to VP, a role within the company that is giving me a wonderful and fulfilling experience within the company that I love.
24×7: What brands do you service?
Neilson: Primarily, we continue to service and sell Spacelabs patient monitoring. Recently, we started servicing GE Dash monitors as well as Draeger and Scottcare transmitters. Our telemetry service technician, Ron Trenary, has been with the company since 2011. He brings more than 20 years of RF experience to the company, allowing us for the first time to service 1.4-Ghz Spacelabs telemetry as well as other manufacturers. His troubleshooting abilities also helps us in other areas of the shop, especially when a new issue arises we are not yet familiar with. One technician of 23 years, Jeff Arneson, provides extensive system configuration and troubleshooting knowledge. He has helped Andrew Neilson of the company to venture into a new product, providing technical support, repair and design modifications. Andrew’s entrepreneur spirit has continued to impress the software design engineers involved in this new venture. Charlie Spoon, a technician of almost 13 years, repairs many types of flat-panel monitors on the market, as well as being a complement to our extensive phone support. Flat panels are not particularly designed to be repaired. Charlie, however, has been able to repair them, providing a valued service to our customers.
24×7: Do you have a geographical focus? Who is your typical customer?
Neilson: SBE has customers in virtually every state in the country, with a large presence in Puerto Rico and a few other countries. Our typical customers are cost-conscious biomeds who have Spacelabs equipment coming out of warranty or Spacelabs equipment that has been in place for a decade or more.
24×7: With customers all over the country, how are you able to deliver personal service?
Neilson: We make an attempt not to rush a customer off the phone. We recognize our customers by name, and many times know them by their voice. SBE doesn’t have voicemail, so you are always able to speak to a live person during normal business hours, and many times after hours. Most times, our customers will hear the voice of our customer service rep, Jennifer Genoa, when calling. Every technician makes customer contact regarding repairs and phone technical support, and answers the phone when needed.
24×7: Where do you hope to take SBE in the next few years?
Neilson: We plan to focus some of our attention on a presence at regional biomedical association trade shows. Doing this will allow SBE to get a better understanding of the types of services our customers are looking for or lacking. SBE plans to continue partnering with other reputable ISO companies to provide all-around service options to customers.
24×7: What were some of your most notable accomplishments in the past year?
Neilson: In 2012, we were able to fill our largest request for patient monitoring equipment to date, shipping to a hospital in Chicago. We also teamed up with another ISO to provide a hospital with 60 rental patient monitors and cables for use while moving their NICU to a new building. We were able to ship the rental within 2 weeks of receiving the request. Our entire team worked hard and with great enthusiasm on both orders. As a reward, we took everyone on a weekend fishing trip. We rented cabins for every employee and their families. It was an enjoyable bonding experience for all. On our last night, we had a fish fry, and Larry made homemade ice cream. The kids got to help. It was a great and wonderful memory maker. We hope to make it an annual occasion. Recently, a few of us here at SBE have been involved in efforts to grow our local biomed organization, the Mid America Clinical Engineering Society (MACES).
24×7: Are there any trends or changes that your customers are asking you a lot about? How are you responding to it?
Neilson: Hospitals are, more and more, expanding their wireless technologies. They are also moving toward meeting requirements for electronic medical records (EMR). We’ve had a lot of questions about EMR integration with patient monitors. This integration has been a learning process for us all, and SBE plans to provide solutions in the near future.
24×7: What sets SBE apart from the competition?
Neilson: What really sets us apart is our name. With our 35-year life span, we get many recommendations from our current and past customers for what we know and what we are the best at, and that is Spacelabs patient monitoring. At SBE we have every piece of plastic, glass, circuit board assembly, cabling, and other components for monitors dating back to the 1980s. We also have every piece of test equipment recommended by the OEM. Recently, we added a third spectrum analyzer and Cufflink to our inventory of test equipment.
We know what our strengths are, we know what our knowledge is, and that will always be our main focus. We plan to continue to provide the health care industry with valuable service options. 24×7 June 2013 Industry Insider
Kurt Woock is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at email@example.com.