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'Shake-up' in Yakima gives Norco opportunity

'Shake-up' in Yakima gives Norco opportunity

BOISE, Idaho - Norco filled a major gap in its footprint recently when it acquired Freedom Medical Supply in Yakima, Wash.

“We had patients being discharged into Yakima but we weren't able to service them because we didn't have a store there,” said Ned Pontious, president of Norco.

Norco offers respiratory, sleep therapy and mobility, and produces welding and industrial gases. The company has 1,200 employees and more than 80 branch locations in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, amounting to $290 million in annual sales.

The acquisition of Freedom Medical, which now operates under the Norco name, isn't the company's first foray into Yakima. Fifteen years ago, Norco was in the welding business there, but left due to competition.

Since then, the community has seen quite a bit of activity, with some providers closing doors and others making buys, including Howard's Medical Supply, which recently acquired Keeler's Medical Supply's inventory.

“There's been a market shake up in Yakima,” said Pontious.  “We've seen what's been going on in Yakima and we felt the community was underserved in the home care space, so that's why we decided to go after an acquisition in that market.”

While it's not uncommon for Norco to make several buys a year, changes in reimbursement meant the company pulled in its horns the last few years to get its house in order and develop a well-defined billing process.

As for future acquisitions, Pontious says it's something Norco is always open to. In the meantime, the company just signed leases for two new locations in the Seattle and Portland, Ore., areas.

“Our primary strategy is to strengthen our current footprint,” he said. “It's a seven-state area, so we have a very wide geography and lots of opportunity within that footprint.”

The key to Norco's growth is its employees, says Pontious.

“We're asking our people to do more work with fewer people,” he said.  “And while we're not as profitable, unit per unit, as we were two years ago, we still feel we've got good profits and a strong cash flow to continue to allow us to reinvest in the business.”


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