Webb Medical Systems: Success one customer at a time

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As is the case with many modern HME companies, the roots of Webb Medical Systems are in retail pharmacy.

Sharon Webb's parents founded Reading Medical in 1971 as a corner drug store and a decade later she stepped in to expand it. A marketing professional, Sharon sensed the potential of durable medical equipment in the early 1980s, and together with her husband Dick grew the company into a comprehensive rehab and mobility business with a strong retail component that now anchors a shopping plaza in the Reading area.

Married 33 years, the Webbs took a modest operation of four people (including themselves, a driver and bookkeeper) and built it into a $6 million enterprise with 42 employees. Dick serves as CEO and heads up the adaptive driving and home modification segment while Sharon is an assistive technology professional and works with rehab clients. While the company has grown substantially since the Webbs took it over in the early '80s, Sharon said it wasn't really their intention to build a corporate powerhouse.

    "Our success was not meteoric--it came one customer at a time," she said. "Our vision did not consist of operating a chain of 10 or 15 stores. It was a desire to work in the business rather than on it."

HME News: How did you get into business?

Sharon Webb: When my parents retired, my husband and I were living in western Pennsylvania doing very different things. He was the director of a chamber of commerce and I was in marketing.  We decided we wanted to return to the eastern side of the state to be closer to both our families.  We purchased Reading Medical with the idea that we would try it for a while, and if it didn't work out, we would move on to another venture.

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

Webb: I remember how difficult it was to develop a referral base as we had several very good DME businesses in the area.  I also recall we took more chances and tried new products in order to find our niche, which turned out to be the specialty wheelchair market.

HME: When it comes to your business, what was your most successful move?

Webb: When we purchased a former home repair and lumber yard building in Shillington, it gave us the opportunity to show working vehicle lifts, turney seats and stair climbs. This helped increase our walk-in business. Word of mouth has done the rest.

HME: What seemed like a good idea but never panned out? 

Webb: Enteral nutrition. We were competing against huge conglomerates who could offer more variety and more services. We also tried having a gift shop.

HME: What is the most satisfying part of operating an HME business?

Webb: Seeing the face of a 3-year-old who is able to chase his brother around for the first time in his new power wheelchair.