The HME provider’s credo: Planning, not scanning

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

BOISE, Idaho – Ray Northouse and Kevin Joplin have nothing against bar coding per se, they just don’t think it’s necessary for their company’s inventory management system right now.

“Our accuracy is pretty good as it is because we have properly trained personnel who have been with the company for a long time,” said Northouse, manager of the medical service and rental equipment departments for Norco. “We just don’t think it would add to our business at this point.”

Joplin, vice president of Norco’s medical business, adds that the IT infrastructure installed by Billings, Mont.-based Computers Unlimited is sufficient by itself, even though the software vendor offers bar coding.

“If CU comes out with a bar coding program that offers major advantages, we’ll jump on board,” Joplin said. “But we’re not ready yet.”

The CU system is the only one Norco has ever used, Northouse and Joplin said. The reason why it has served the company so well, they said, is because it provides programming unique to Norco’s business model. The company serves the industrial gas and welding markets along with HME.

“Their equipment management modules work very well for tracking – it’s integrated with all our branches,” Northouse said. “We can buy from a corporate standpoint for a lower price and distribute products effectively because the computer makes the recommendations.”

The real strength of Norco’s inventory management, however, is in the planning, Northouse and Joplin said.

“We look at it from a yearly basis – it’s a matter of selecting the right product mix,” Northouse said. “We look for the best quality products from a variety of vendors and lines. Kevin and I work closely with branch stores; we are large enough to carry a thin inventory and still accommodate all our needs.”

Managers at Norco’s 30 branches provide considerable purchasing input. And although the company tries to standardize brands where possible, there is some latitude on choice as well, Joplin said.

“The customer is king here, so we look at the feedback we’re getting from store managers on preferences,” he said. “We consider what products they like and we try to standardize where possible so we’re not overrun with 30 different kinds of walkers. But even though we order at the corporate level, branch managers can place orders themselves, too. We just try to control it wherever possible.”