District Healthcare has found its niche in the janitorial supplies business. More specifically, the company focuses on trash can liners. Although not exactly the dream business of most entrepreneurs, District Healthcare has found success in this area.
District Healthcare has been in business for more than 20 years. Pernell Williams started the company in the basement of his townhouse as a medical supplies distribution company, an area Williams was familiar with through his work experience as a sales representative for Medline Industries, Inc.
The company initially targeted the Washington D.C. market because of the attractive incentives that were available to minority firms, Williams told the GBC’s Bridging the Gap director Kisha Lashley during a recent interview.
For many years, District Healthcare serviced a number of hospitals in Washington D.C. That was before the business landscape in the medical industry changed. According to Williams, “the buying patterns changed from local purchasing to national contracts.” Many clients were switching to group purchasing organizations (GPO) contracts in order to reduce their operating costs.
GPOs operate by consolidating purchasing across the industry and using their buying power to negotiate discounts with suppliers and manufacturers. “Those national contracts were generally serviced by large national distributors. We would have had to show that we could service all of their member hospitals. It was beyond our scope and capabilities,” says Williams
District Healthcare was at a crossroad. In order to survive, the business would have to evolve. “We started to look at ways in which we could add more value, instead of just being a distributor,” said Williams. In the late 1990s, District Healthcare opened an office in Florida to take advantage of business opportunities available there.
The company also shifted its focus from medical to janitorial supplies, primarily trash can liners, within the healthcare industry. “Janitorial supplies didn’t require the same type of clinical evaluations that were necessary for medical supplies,” according to Williams.
The most significant change that the company underwent was to concentrate on the Baltimore healthcare market. Baltimore was an obvious choice because of the number of healthcare institutions located in the area. “Johns Hopkins Hospital became our first client in Baltimore,” said Williams. District Healthcare provided the hospital with private label disposable wipes and can liners. The company also got contracts with the State of Maryland and with Baltimore City.
Since then, District Healthcare has acquired a number of other healthcare clients in Baltimore. Williams attributes much of this success to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Bridging the Gap program. “Our relationship with the GBC opened up doors. There was a different level of commitment from the hospitals than before. This commitment came from the corporate level.”
Pernell Williams has also been very fortunate to have his brother as a partner in growing his business. Paul Williams focuses entirely on sales. He is responsible for securing the majority of the company’s contracts. For the brothers, the business is the priority. “We have a mutual respect for each other’s position,” Pernell Williams says. Paul Williams agrees. “The family ties have nothing to do with getting the job done.”
The future is promising for District Healthcare. The company is in the process of opening a warehouse in Baltimore City. “Having a warehouse here in the heart of Baltimore shows our commitment to wanting to give back to the community. It will provide economic opportunities for the people we plan on employing,” states Williams. “We are also hoping to go into manufacturing, but that depends on having enough business to justify investing in the equipment.”
Manufacturing could enable the District Healthcare to get a GPO contract. That would open doors across the country.
District Healthcare is also looking to expand its trash can liner business into non-healthcare industries. “Everyone uses trash can liners,” Williams says. “They’re not sexy or glorified, but they’re necessary”.
Bridging the Gap is an initiative of the Greater Baltimore Committee, designed to advance the business culture of greater Baltimore by fostering an atmosphere in which majority and minority and women-owned businesses can form mutually beneficial strategic partnerships.