Medical equipment store opens additional locations

    The owners of Bella Home Medical and Rehabilitation, which has a store in Kenosha and two in the Chicago area, eventually hopes to expand with an additional location in Wisconsin.

    “We are always looking to add more locations,” said John Vuckovich, executive vice president and owner of Bella Home Medical and Rehabilitation. “Where those will be depends on the marketplace. We love Wisconsin. If I expand, my first choice will be in Wisconsin. We are in discussion with a number of individuals (about expanding).”

    Where and when an additional store would be located is yet to be determined, but it would likely be outside of the metro Milwaukee area, he said.

    “We like less-populated areas, because there is more competition in more populated areas,” Vuckovich said.

    The stores sell equipment to help elderly or disabled individuals in their homes. The products include stair lifts, vehicle lifts, ramps, scooters, wheelchairs, lift chairs, bathroom aids, walking aids, beds, home diagnostic equipment and nutritional supplements.

    In 2005, Vuckovich, who lives in Deerfield, Ill., and his business partner, Larry Balkin, who lives in Highland Park, Ill., acquired Bella Home Medical in Kenosha at 4625 Sheridan Road, just north of the downtown area.

    “Bella” happens to be the name of Balkin’s dog, so the image of the dog became part of the company’s logo and its slogan, “Your best friend in healthcare.” Bella gives away stuffed dogs to patients and clients as a goodwill promotional gesture.

    Last year, Vuckovich and Balkin acquired a similar business, called A+ Medical in Grayslake, Ill. They renamed it and moved it from an industrial park to a retail strip mall.

    In January they opened their third location in Highland Park, Ill.

    Many of Bella’s customers come from referrals by hospitals and other health care providers. Other customers simply hear about the store and come in because they need something like a wheelchair, ramp or scooter, Vuckovich said.

    Vuckovich was involved in health care before acquiring the business. His father was a neurologist and worked with him to develop a pair of neuro science centers in Illinois, and he spent seven years working on the marketing side for the neuro science centers.

    “Going through years of medical school wasn’t something for me,” he said. “But I saw that I could get into this business and still help people.”

    Vukovich believes the aging baby boomer population will provide more customers for Bella.

    “People are getting older,” Vuckovich said. “I read that by 2025, 25 percent of the population will be older than 65. People are remaining active longer and living longer.”

    However, Bella is facing some challenges. Rising fuel costs drive up the costs of shipping and making service calls to customers. Bella added a GPS system to its trucks so they can be tracked during the day. That helps when deciding whom to send on a service call and maximizes the efficiency of the miles traveled by the company’s vehicles.

    In addition, a 9.5-percent cut in the amount of Medicare reimbursements that Bella receives from insurance companies has hit its bottom line.

    “We have to accept that,” Vuckovich said.

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