is the founder of Progressive Medical, Inc. ( PMI ), a medical device company specializing in air mattresses for patients suffering from bed sores. Carlile owned and operated the company for 18 years before selling the company early last year.
Carlile credits much of PMI ’s success with “luck,” but, after detailing the company’s history to KC Roundtable , it’s easy to see that “luck” was mostly derived from deliberate, strategic design, like concentration on:
- Running “lean and mean:” Carlile and his wife ran the business by themselves for eight long years, even splitting workspace with a landscaping company to share the burden of rent and utility expenses. Dedication to staying so lean enabled PMI to stay debt free, at one point paying for a service truck in cash. And, when it was finally time to grow, PMI could offer lucrative salaries to top-tier talent.
- Serving a niche market: Discovering (and solving) a problem with the status quo helped PMI vault to buyout status. Prisons needed air mattresses for injured inmates, but with only one or two suppliers, the prisons were forced to pay huge premiums for the commodities. PMI wedged its high-quality product into the market at a considerably lower price, helping the prisons realize 45 percent savings. The lower price point ignited high-volume transactions, PMI still turned a decent profit, and the penitentiary market now accounts for 70 percent of PMI ’s revenue.
- Quality customer service: Carlile once left a family vacation to tend to a customer service issue in person. His wife drove three hours to Omaha while eight months pregnant to help a client simply plug in a cord. Following the timeless “The Customer Is Always Right” mantra, Carlile gave every client his cell phone number to ensure each customer received the highest level of response and attention. The open lines of communication between the Carliles and their clients eventually initiated free customer feedback and market research, which helped PMI expand its product lines relevantly.
In light of its successes, Carlile still faced a few disappointments. While most entrepreneurs feel the stinging sour remorse of growing too fast, Carlile actually regrets growing too slowly. As soon as Carlile hired a sales representative, profits soared; if only they’d made that move to grow sooner, Carlile predicts PMI would have performed two to three times better. Fear is what kept PMI ’s growth slow at first. Carlile admits, “If I could give my 17-year-old daughter any advice about entrepreneurship, it would be to take risks. Don’t ever be afraid of failure.”