Mercedes Medical Inc. will break ground Thursday in Lakewood Ranch on a new headquarters and distribution center on the CORE biomedical research campus. CORE, the acronym for Collaboration Opportunities for Research and Exploration, is rising out of a 300-acre site dedicated to boosting the region’s life-sciences sector to supercharge the economy with high-paying jobs.
Mercedes Medical, a women-owned and -operated medical supply company founded by Noelle Haft in 1991 in New York, has blossomed from a start-up into a success story with annual revenues in excess of $40 million and a customer list approaching 10,000. The enterprise, which moved to Florida in 1993, twice made the Inc. 5000 list of America’s Fastest-Growing Companies.
The company is investing $10 million into its CORE project, with construction scheduled to be complete in November. The company supplies hospitals, physicians and labs with beakers, cylinders and flasks; microscopes, scalpels and centrifuges; medical charts, exam room supplies and pharmaceuticals, just to name a few in its long line of products.
Alex Miller followed her mother, Noelle, to Sarasota in 1995 after college graduation to join the company. She has served as the CEO since 2003.
In a question-and-answer exchange with the Herald-Tribune, Miller offered insights into the past, present and future of Mercedes Medical:
Q: How did you come to select the CORE campus for expansion?
A: After six months of exploring our options, including buying existing buildings, build to lease and other available lots in Manatee and Sarasota, we settled on the CORE for a few reasons. First, we have been in Manatee County for over 20 years, (and) our established relationship with their Economic Development Corp. and business-friendly climate was a big factor in assuring our project would get built on time.
Secondly, more than half of our employees live in Manatee and we wanted to limit their commute as much as possible.
Thirdly, we felt the CORE, a life science business park, fit our business profile best. We are excited to see it develop and be part of such an exciting project that I am sure will be an economic engine for our region.
Q: Is Mercedes Medical’s business and revenue growing? By how much?
A: Mercedes Medical was started by my mother in New York and, since then, like most businesses that have sustained several decades of growth, we’ve had good years with double-digit growth and average years with single-digit growth. Our goal is always around 15 percent. We achieved 7 percent growth last year, but believe 2018 will far outpace 2017.
We believe slow and steady wins the race. We are constantly evolving to compete in our fast-changing industry and in ’17 placed an emphasis on better sourcing, which helped increase our gross profit margin so that its increase outpaced our sales growth.
Sales are for vanity, profits are for sanity, as they say.
Q: Who are some of your major clients?
A: With three divisions — Histology supplies, Clinical Reference Labs and Physician Office Labs supplies, and Pathology equipment — we sell nationally with a wide range of clients, from just about every large reference lab, including LabCorp and Quest, to more than half of all U.S. hospitals, all the way down to physicians doing tests in their offices. Our largest local account is Sarasota Pathology, who is contracted with Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Q: Is the company’s customer base growing? How fast?
A: We add about 200 new customers every month, but like most businesses that sell to a large customer base, attrition is the name of the game. We place equal focus on keeping customers.
Q: Are you moving your entire operation to the CORE campus?
A: We are consolidating our three buildings on our campus to the one new building in the CORE.
Q: What would you like the community to know about Mercedes Medical?
A: Since our inception in 1991 in a 800-square-foot, two-room office with two employees, Mercedes has been a different kind of company because we had to be in order to survive. We sell our products on the phone and through direct marketing instead of using outside sales people, which helps us save our customers money by keeping overhead low.
We’re women-owned and women-run and have been since day one. We’re dog friendly, not just for management but for everyone. We provide basic health insurance and subsidize massages for all our employees because it’s the right thing to do.
Our casual culture, while fun and unconventional in a lot of ways, is also agile and intense, and we hold ourselves to a high standard of productivity. We also don’t wade in the pomp and circumstance of successes or take our eye off the ball; therefore, even getting my team to be part in a groundbreaking ceremony was a feat, and I assure you it will be quick!