It has been a locally owned and operated business for almost 30 years.
Since September of 1992, Healthgear Medical & Safety Inc. has been proudly serving the Algoma District providing reliable, knowledgeable service in home health care.
From the very beginning, owner Jim (James) Mills has aimed to offer the best prices compared to the competitors in what is arguably a competitive market.
Speaking with Mills recently, I learned that at first because his father was in the restaurant business, having owned five restaurants, he in a way felt he should try and follow in his footsteps.
It wasn’t really what he felt called to do though and he ended up taking exercise science at Lake Superior State University and later, Human Resources Management at Sault College. (He even sold insurance because that too was what his father did later in life as well.)
But Mills soon realized that neither the restaurant business nor insurance were for him and in his words, he “hated it.” What did interest Mills however, was medicine and health care partly because he was born with spina bifida — so he saw first hand the need for supports and braces to help people with their rehabilitation.
It was in 1984 that Mills took a job at Shoppers Drug Mart doing deliveries and then an opportunity with Medigas came up delivering and selling oxygen and wheelchairs, which he too found boring after a while.
As luck would have it, yet another related opportunity presented itself with Mendar Drugs and the East Street Pharmacy, where he worked as a home health care sales rep.
But it was his father’s entrepreneurial spirit and voice in his head saying “you’ll never get ahead working for someone else” that prompted him to pursue opening his own medical equipment store.
So, in 1992, he set out to get the necessary funds to get started and approached a bank to secure a loan of $50,000 to get started. At first, he was flat out turned down because the banks felt that the big boys like Shoppers Drug Matt would “kill” him.
Mills, however, persevered and eventually was able to secure a line of credit as well as a loan from a very good friend to get the necessary capital to begin. He admits that it was not easy the first few years with long days that ended with deliveries to nursing homes, very late suppers — and that first year of operation he only cleared $6,000. It took around three years before he started to consistently turn a profit.
Now, part of the reason for his success is that he realizes that everyone always wants the best value for their money and he has always strived to provide that, the best equipment at the lowest price.
The store itself offers an endless assortment of medical equipment from first aid kits and supplies, medical equipment like braces, medical tape and supports of all kinds, bathroom safety equipment, wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, rollators, incontinence products, health supports such as obus forme pillows, knee/hip replacement kits, pain control units, TENS units for pain management, blood pressure units, stethoscopes, lift chairs, ostomy supplies, miscellaneous items like gloves and hand sanitizer and janitorial supplies for nursing homes and group homes, level two masks, stair glides and deck lifts, and custom braces as well.
For shopping convenience, Healthgear has a convenient online store through its website, which means they can provide service for customers all over the world and as you can imagine during the last six months, Mills indicated sales have been brisk! He estimates sales have tripled during that time frame.
While other big name online sources of equipment often were back ordered and had really inflated prices, Mills is proud to state they were never back ordered and prices remain fair to customers, something he is very proud of.
He also makes sure to try and deal with Canadian and American reputable, reliable companies as much as possible to avoid issues other businesses have faced by using less reliable, questionable sources. He cautions people against ordering online from questionable sources as unfortunately, counterfeit and falsely advertised products in the sanitizer, and PPE world have emerged.
Other services offered by Healthgear include free home visits, hospital visits, and chiropodist consults with a chiropodist from Toronto on site once a month. In addition, Healthgear is a registered vendor for the Indigenous community, ADP, a preferred vendor for WSIB and Veterans Affairs/TAPS. Direct billing to some insurance companies is possible as well as for ODSP, Ontario Works, and Veteran Affairs.
Seniors receive a 20 per cent discount every Wednesday and when ordering online, free delivery is an option within Algoma. They will also install products purchased from them.
It is also worth noting that Healthgear is a great place to get whatever you need for pre-and-post surgery such as hospital beds which can be rented, walker rentals and they sell commodes as well. A big part of their business is also providing supplies to ARCH and local group homes.
At 60 years of age, Mills could likely look at retiring but having an eight year old son, he jokingly tells Sault Business Matters that he feels he can likely put in another ten years because by then his son will be 18 years old and hopefully less reliant on his income!
It is so important to support local businesses and for local businesses to support each other so before you order from the “big” online companies assuming they have the best prices, why not shop closer to home and support people in your community.
It is businesses like Healthgear that are the ones who sponsor your child’s team, donate to your fundraiser and who are often quite willing and able to match or even beat the competitors’ prices.
To have a closer look at everything offered by Healthgear, stop in at 262 Queen Street East or visit its website at www.healthgearmedical.com.