Partners Debut Medical Supply Firm

August 22, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — A new minority-owned medical device and supplies business —Alternative Medical Supplies — has sprouted on Monroe Avenue, and the company’s co-founders hope their efforts will create more job opportunities for minorities here.

Alternative Medical Supplies opened its doors at 1345 Monroe Ave. NW in July and shares a roof with another minority-owned business, J. Taylor Electric, the owner of the building.

From its base on Monroe, the company has been distributing Medline Industries Inc. products. Illinois-based Medline is one of the largest domestic manufacturers of medical products for health care providers and end users. Alternative Medical’s connection to Medline gives it access to nearly 100,000 different medical supplies and devices. Product lines include durable medical goods and furniture, temperature monitoring probes, blood pressure cuffs, latex gloves, glucose monitoring systems and first aid kits.

“The medical boom across West Michigan was only one influencing factor in the decision to diversify into the medical supply business,” said President Richard Ortega, who co-owns the company with business partner Kevin Fahl. “West Michigan has very few local medical suppliers. Most medical supplies used in the region are offered via the Internet and may take days to arrive. Alternative Medical hopes to keep the dollars spent on the Internet in the local economy, while also increasing the number of job opportunities for minorities.”

Alternative Medical’s target market includes health care providers and end users of medical supplies, which could range from an individual in need of a cane or a wheelchair to a large health care facility in need of mass quantities of, say, latex gloves or temperature monitoring probes, Ortega noted. The fledgling company generated a database of potential customers and let them know of the company’s presence here by mailing advertising brochures and making sales calls.

At present, Alternative Medical Supplies has four employees, counting Ortega, and a small quantity of stock in house, including wheelchairs and walkers. Ortega said the company’s goal is to create a virtual store where customers can view and select products. Another of Ortega’s and Fahl’s plans is to move the startup at some point to the renovated former Kindel Furniture building on Butterworth Avenue SW where Bing Goei, president of Eastern Floral & Gifts, is attempting to create an ethnically diverse business corridor. 

“We kind of made a commitment to Bing to move into the Kindel building,” Ortega remarked. “He’s trying to create a mecca of minority-owned businesses under one roof. It’s a vision on Bing’s part, and it’s a great endeavor.” 

Ortega and Fahl are both skilled tradesmen who have worked together for years. Ortega has 30 years of experience as a pipe fitter and business manager, among other positions. Fahl is a licensed plumber and weld man. The two operate a commercial plumbing subcontracting company known as Alternative Mechanical LLC at 1200 Jefferson Ave., which employs 30. Alternative Mechanical, in fact, did all the plumbing for Spectrum’s recently opened Lemmen-Holton Cancer Center.

These days, Fahl oversees Alternative Mechanical and Ortega takes care of business at Alternative Medical Supplies. 

“We hope that people will embrace that fact that we’re local, we’re hiring local people and we’re providing opportunities to reinvest back into the local community,” Ortega said.

There is a motto that Ortega has long lived by: In order to create a foundation for the future, you have to build a bridge from the present.

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. 

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