Flyin' high in Hollywood, Fla.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Doug Sherron owns a resort on Great Harbour Cay in the Bahama's Berry Islands. His Tropical Divisions air charter service flies all over the Caribbean. And his yacht business makes boatloads of money. But these days, Doug Sherron spends most of his time running a full-line home medical equipment operation called TD Medical.
In November, the 19 year-old company moved into a new 15,000-square-foot location and in the past year more than doubled its business to $2 million annually. But the success of TD Medical doesn't mean Sherron has turned his back on tropical diversions. TD Medical routinely flies power chairs to a number of destinations in the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, the Caymans, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
"I don't know that we make that much money on it," said Sherron. "We do okay. I'm sure it'd be more profitable to just stay here, but it needs to be done."
Delivering HME offshore is not likely to be a growth opportunity for many companies. Since TD Medical's sister divisions in air charter and boat charters have accrued essential knowledge such as how to get in and out of a country, how to clear customs and how to get there, TD is leveraging that expertise in its medical business.
But American companies all along the international boundaries are flirting with cross border business.
"I do some, though it's not considerable," said A. May Villarreal, owner of Wheelchairs and Stuff in Corpus Christi, Texas. "A long time ago, I tried delivering into Mexico but I hit a brick wall as soon as I crossed the border. Everyone one wanted a piece of the action."
Now, Villarreal said he simply meets his Mexican customers "halfway." Like Sherron, he doesn't make much money, but these companies pride themselves on doing something that 'needs to be done.'
Sherron pilots some of the flights to the Caribbean islands; his service manager is a pilot, and so is one of TD's rehab technology suppliers. But eventually, nearly everyone in the company gets to make the trip over the azure waters, whether to help deliver some medical equipment or for the company's annual Christmas bash on Great Harbour Cay.
Most of TD's offshore business comes from referrals at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, where wealthy islanders are sometimes treated for injuries to the brain and spinal cord. Usually, the patients are discharged and return to their homes overseas before TD can build a wheelchair that occasionally costs as much as $30,000 or $40,000.
While the delivery costs are high, payment is guaranteed. In fact, TD receives a 'letter of guarantee' before providing service. That letter is all-important since there's no other recourse in the event that anything goes wrong with the payment.
"We couldn't go down and repossess a chair if we ever had to," said Sherron. "The governments would never let us take it back out."
Although the air and boat charter business makes for more glamorous enterprise, the former veterinary school student yields deeper satisfactions from the medical side of his livelihood.
"In this business, I get letters from people we helped," said Sherron. "The only time we hear from people in the travel business is if something bad happens or it rains."