A brighter idea

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm

Planning for and following market changes helps Alpha Source expand
Entrepreneurs are successful for a number of reasons. Having a great idea and a readily accessible market to sell it in are certainly key elements for success.
The ability to spot market trends before the rest of the industry is another.
When digital technologies such as optical scanning equipment started to become widespread, it spelled the eventual end of microfilm technology to store copies of original paper images such as invoices, purchase orders and newspaper articles.
Norine Carlson-Weber, owner and president of Alpha Source Inc., saw that trend in the early 1990s, and knew it was time to expand her company in a new direction.
Carlson-Weber and Phil Gustafson started the company in 1986 by selling microfilm equipment and the specialty lights associated with the microfilm industry.
“The niche that we expanded on was medical lighting,” said Carlson-Weber, who bought out Gustafson in March when he retired. “We originally only sold light bulbs that are used in overhead surgical lights and instruments — any type of special light that a hospital might use we supplied them with it.”
The medical sales became the majority of Alpha Source’s customer base by 1996, although the company continues supplying parts to some of its original microfilm accounts and has some photo-finishing accounts, as well.
The company expanded its product line many times, after customers asked whether Alpha Source could obtain various supply items for them. Among the additional products the company sells are medical battery packs, medical diagnostic equipment and cables.
Customer service is another way the company sets itself apart from its competition. In a recent survey of customers, 31.4% — the highest number — of the respondents said customer service was the No.1 reason they did business with Alpha Source. And the customer base is spread all over the US and includes some international sales.
“It’s the friendship I’ve been able to build with them,” says customer Mario Borboa, a biomedical technician at a hospital in San Bernardino, Calif., of the customer service at Alpha Source. “It’s the camaraderie. It’s more than just doing business with them.”
Surprisingly, the switch to medical supplies wasn’t the toughest issue the company’s faced, according to Carlson-Weber; finding and retaining employees is.
The company has 16 employees. To combat turnover issues, Alpha Source has an extensive training program in which employees from at least five different departments mentor new employees. The company also offers health and dental plans completely paid by the company, 401(k) plans with an employer match, a profit-sharing plan, tuition reimbursement and additional vacation time.
Adding to the success of the firm is the fact that the medical supplies market — which now represents 80% of Alpha Source’s sales — is also somewhat recession-proof, according to Carlson-Weber.
“The only thing that tends to harm the health-care industry in the US is when the government changes Medicare reimbursements, and that really cripples hospitals,” Carlson-Weber said. “The medical market within the US is not totally recession-proof when you talk about capital equipment or higher-end products. They can delay adding a new MRI unit. But the items we sell to them are consumable items and replaceable items.
She adds: “They can’t use an operating room where the light bulbs are burned out.”
Oct. 12, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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