Nunn's Home Medical Equipment: 'We take pride in what we do'

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Though the owners have updated the name to Nunn's Home Medical Equipment, there are many around town who still call the company Nunn's Hospital Supplies because that is how people remember it.

The full-line home medical equipment company goes back 67 years to 1942, when late founder Martin J. Nunn started the venture on a whim. As son-in-law Joe Ryan explains it, Nunn operated a funeral parlor at the time and saw an opportunity for medical equipment when he ordered a dozen wheelchairs from Everest & Jennings. The hospital supply company became just one of Nunn's many enterprises taken over by family members, which included a telephone answering service, ambulance service and school bus transport company.

"He was my idol," Ryan said of his late father-in-law. "He was a legend in this city."

Ryan married Nunn's daughter Nancy in 1965 and the couple, along with Nancy's sister Sheila, has run the HME company since 1970. Now Joe and Nancy's son, Brendan, and Sheila's daughter, Erin, are involved with the business as well, making it a true family affair.

HME News: How did you learn the the business.

Joe Ryan: I started out as a deliveryman and also worked at ambulance service. When I became a sales rep, I took orders from physicians for table paper, otoscopes and exam tables. I was on a first-name basis with every doctor. It was a cash business back then. People would buy their wheelchairs and crutches.

HME: What do you remember most about your first few years in business?

Ryan: A nursing home ordered 100 wheelchairs, and I promised that we would get the chairs to them the next day. I called Lumex in New York City and they agreed to fill the order if we came to pick them up. I rented a Ryder truck and drove six hours in the early morning to get there. I had never been to the city before, so I got lost by Shea Stadium. After meandering around the city for a while, I finally found the place, picked up the chairs and brought them back on time. It was the biggest sale we ever made.

HME: What has been the key to your longevity?

Ryan: We have meetings once a week to explore ways to save money. We belong to purchasing groups and do the things necessary to offset Medicare cuts without losing an employee. Retail has helped tremendously--we have a 10,000-square-foot facility and our showroom features a women's health section, ostomy, post-mastectomy and compression therapy. We're bringing in more cash products all the time. We also do stair glides and sell a lot of them.

HME: How have you managed to stay independent? Were you ever tempted to sell out?

Ryan: Once a month we get a call from someone who says there is a buyer interested in the company. The nationals would either like to buy us or have us go away. But we now have the third generation in the business and we all take pride in what we do, so we're here to stay.