In an increasingly broad and diverse marketplace, sometimes the best thing to be is narrowly focused and small. Proof of the concept of knowing what you know and doing it better than anyone else is Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Southwestern Biomedical Electronics (SBE).
Southwestern Biomedical Electronics begun in 1976 as a distributor for Spacelabs Medical Systems. After Spacelabs migrated exclusively to direct sales and service, SBE became the preferred independent equipment service center for Spacelabs technology, repairing and exchanging circuit boards, assemblies, telemetry, and monitoring devices. With a vigilant eye on the changing systems produced by Spacelabs – and a massive inventory of circuit boards, assemblies, monitors, telemetry systems, and cables – the company focuses on being “the very best provider for keeping Spacelabs equipment running for hospitals small and large,” said President Larry Neilson.
“It is my belief that SBE is the absolute best in servicing Spacelabs medical products,” Neilson said. “Why move into other medical device products knowing that we would not be the best possible service provider? SBE is successful doing what we do and doing it better than anyone else.”
“We have literally everything that a monitoring system contains, dating back 20-plus years,” he said. “To my knowledge, no one has such broad inventory. That inventory coupled with our excellent technical abilities makes SBE the obvious choice to go to for service and technical support. Doing this with the highest regard to honesty, integrity and business ethics while providing SBE employees with good wages and benefits are our core values.”
By staying in the market for so long, SBE has only seen the demand for its services grow from other independent service organizations (ISOs), Neilson said. Service partners not only ask SBE to perform repairs on their Spacelabs equipment, but they rely on SBE’s repairs and warehouse of replacement parts. That accessibility allows its ISO partners to concentrate on their core businesses without trying to be everything to everyone.
“There is no higher compliment than other repair facilities having the trust to put their reputation on our services,” Neilson said. “We have had many references from the factory. Hospitals may have questions on an older piece of equipment, and they will say ‘We don’t service that anymore. You need to call SBE and here’s their number.’ ”
“Our core business is, and always has been, the service and repair of Spacelabs medical equipment,” he said. “This is a very narrow market, but we are so competent in this market, we could never provide customers with this level of service on any other type of equipment. The history of our company is our uniqueness.”
To keep pace with this increase in workload, SBE has re-invested in its Tulsa headquarters, where the 5,000-square-foot facility includes 2,000 square feet of onsite warehousing, and another 7,000 square feet off-premises. Four administrative offices are flanked by eight multi-function, dedicated workstations, with state-of-the-art soldering equipment and
SBE recently invested in a large lot of Spacelabs Xprezzon and Qube monitors to enable the company to provide support for Spacelabs latest series of equipment. In addition to this equipment purchase, SBE sent Jeff Arneson, Senior Technician, to a two-week training course at Spacelabs headquarters for the Xprezzon and Qube.
“Eighty to 90 percent of equipment is shipped to us; we repair it and then return-ship it,” Neilson said. “The other part of our business is an advance exchange program, where we replace a customer’s defective circuit board or assembly with one that has been calibrated/tested and burned-in.”
The only way to offer this kind of service, he said, is to maintain “a fairly large inventory” containing each and every part number and each and every revision of each and every circuit board. The parts room houses larger stocked inventory, such as power supplies, plastics, connectors, and cables. Small components are housed close to the workstations, and SBE also carries a large inventory of new and pre-owned flat-panel touchscreen displays. Effectively, SBE is an operational alternative to the Spacelabs factory itself, Neilson said.
“The factory should have everything,” he said. “After they have put a product into end of life, they have another seven years of support, and then they typically don’t offer parts anymore. The facilities that have this equipment that is no longer supported by the factory, don’t have the money in their budget to replace this patient monitoring device. Those facilities look to us for their support, parts, and technical assistance.”
With the financial pressures of the Affordable Care Act “squeezing everyone everywhere,” Neilson said, SBE is “extremely happy to be able to provide monitoring system upgrades to financially strapped facilities. In extreme cases, the company will provide short-term financing to these facilities.”
“Some customers are using 20-plus-year-old equipment, in part due to our support,” Neilson said. “Many cannot purchase new systems; SBE can exchange this older equipment with flat-panel touchscreen, arrhythmia analysis, EMR-compatible equipment that we can promise will be supported for another 20 years.”
That personal investment in its customers has been behind many “save-the-day situations” at SBE, Neilson said, from sourcing and shipping a critical part overnight, even one requested late in the day. SBE recently fulfilled a request to ship 15 patient monitors and modules for immediate rental. The hospital called in the request at noon on a Thursday and all 15 monitors and modules were delivered the following morning via Fedex.
SBE also donates much-needed monitoring equipment to children’s hospitals through CURE International.
The team at SBE is more of a family than what is seen at most workplaces, Neilson said, and he prides himself on keeping the atmosphere upbeat, friendly, and caring. Friday mornings bring company-wide breakfast and Scattergories in the break room. In September, the company will host its sixth annual fishing trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas on the White River. It’s not unheard of for coworkers to help each other with childcare needs, yard work, or to support the athletics teams of a co-worker’s child.
“We provide all employees a good wage, good retirement benefits, and very good health benefits, while always encouraging solid family life,” Neilson said. “We’re very close-knit. We only have nine employees – and we’re very much a family. It promotes a lot of harmony here in the shop.”
Neilson is the kind of boss who believes bonuses aren’t just for Christmas and that all of his employees deserve equal accolades. When an overly active day of shipping overnight or second-day assemblies surfaces, everyone will pitch in and get things done, he said. SBE staffers are encouraged to bring innovative ideas to the table, and to expand the applications of their technical excellence.
“I have always recognized that it takes everyone to make a company successful, and we will continue to run the good race, provide ethical, honest, valuable services to all customers,” Neilson said. “We know who we are and what we do best and will continue providing this excellent service to all our valued customers.”
To learn more about Southwestern Biomedical Electronics, visit their website at www.swbiomed.com.