The following article by Susan Bloom first appeared in the Asbury Park Press and is republished here with permission.
After lifelong Lakewood, NJ, resident Steven Zeldes completed his graduate studies, he longed to start a successful online business in which he could help others, but wasn’t sure where to focus his efforts.
The opportunity soon presented itself, however, as Zeldes and business partner Mark Bakst, a medic and first aid responder, learned more about the industry served by Bakst’s father, a health-care professional who supplied medical equipment to nursing homes.
“We saw a tremendous need by those people paying out-of-pocket to be able to purchase the medical supplies they need online,” said Zeldes.
As he researched the nation’s population of “private-paying, homebound patients,” Zeldes saw a large, underserved market of individuals for whom insurance wasn’t an option.
“Many of these people either don’t have health insurance or else their insurance doesn’t cover a particular piece of medical equipment, their existing medical equipment is broken and insurance won’t cover the purchase of another one at the current time, or perhaps they want a second piece of the same equipment that insurance won’t cover,” Zeldes said. “There are many different reasons why people have to pay for medical equipment and supplies out-of-pocket, but that market is huge and growing.”
Desiring to “make things as easy and accessible for this audience as possible,” Zeldes launched online entity AvaCare Medical in 2013 as its chief executive officer, with Bakst as chief operating officer. Through a website supported by a Lakewood-based customer service team, “we carry every type of medical equipment or supply someone would need, from wheelchairs and hospital beds to rolling walkers, diapers, catheters, gloves and more – tens of thousands of products sourced from the market’s range of leading distributors and manufacturers such as Medline, Drive, McKesson, and Cardinal Health,” he said. “Our customers include thousands of adult and pediatric homebound patients or their spouses/caregivers, nurses, health aides, and therapists nationwide.”
Though Zeldes acknowledged that he was initially challenged to learn the ins and outs of modern e-commerce tools as well as how to acquire and build a customer base online as he entered the business, he understood the critical role his company needed to play in order to be successful.
“I realized that we’re a business of customer service – people need help but don’t always know how or what product to order,” he said. “We hold their hand to find the right product for them and the care and concern that we extend to each and every customer truly sets us apart.”
Zeldes and his team recently enhanced the company’s website to make the ordering process easier than ever.
“Customers can’t feel or try out the medical equipment when they see it online, so we’ve created an experience that enables them to experience it virtually by providing the most relevant info about each item, including sizes, specs and applications, and recently added a new ‘Fit Rep’ feature, which links customers to a form they can fill out to help us better understand their needs. We’ll then get right back to them with recommendations on the best product for them,” he explained.
“We’ve also installed a convenient auto-reorder system through which we’ll ship a product to a customer automatically once an initial order is placed and they tell us how often they’d like to receive it,” he said, adding that an additional live chat feature on the site connects customers with members of the company’s customer service team. According to Zeldes, guaranteed price matching and next-day delivery further cement the company’s value proposition.
Judah Schuster, administrator at Care Street Homecare, which has offices in Lakewood, Bordentown and New Brunswick and serves central and southern New Jersey, is very grateful to have found AvaCare Medical two years ago. “In the past, there was definitely a void in the market for bed-bound patients who need medical supplies without leaving the house and there aren’t many others from whom these individuals can get such professional and personalized service,” Schuster said of his positive experience with the AvaCare team. “They’re very competent and their website is a breeze to use – anything you need is there. One phone call to them does it all and secures complete peace of mind.”
Though Zeldes concedes that “the daily activities associated with running a business and being a boss come with tremendous responsibility” and that some other online competitors try to sell at lower prices, he’s convinced that “if you create and satisfy a customer, they’ll come back to you. We do our best to remain on top of online technology so that we can stay ahead of the game and offer the latest website features and capabilities to support our customers,” he said, noting that the company is also proactive about utilizing social media to market itself as well as personally contacting assisted living, adult day care and nursing home facilities to encourage referrals.
“The industry is exploding as the large baby boomer population gets older and more people are electing to remain at home as they age,” Zeldes said. “The market is growing and we’re excited to be part of it.”
On the horizon, AvaCare Medical will be launching a rewards program for caregivers as well as a veterans’ program, through which veterans will receive a discount on all of AvaCare’s products.
Overall, “we’re here to make a change in people’s lives through the provision of quality medical supplies at affordable prices and to offer the help line that our customers are so desperate for,” Zeldes said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than getting a call or email from a customer telling us how much they appreciate what we did for them.”
(c) 2016 The Asbury Park Press
Photo above: TANYA BREEN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER, APP