Article by: Northern Colorado Business Report
LOVELAND – It wasn't long after he purchased E. I. Medical Imaging in 2005 before Chas Maloy shared his concerns with his wife.
"I may have bitten off too much this time," he recalled telling her.
The turnaround required to put E.I. Medical on track seemed more daunting all the time.
Fortunately, Maloy's determination to run his own show was stronger than the trials that he faced. Today, Maloy has E. I. Medical Imaging positioned for steady growth.
E. I. Medical, founded in 1984, produces rugged, portable ultrasound devices targeting the animal husbandry industry. Veterinarians, cattle ranchers, swine producers and scientists around the world all use its products.
Typically used to monitor pregnancies in all kinds of animals, its ultrasounds have been used in African wildlife preserves, the Arctic and Colorado dairies and other livestock operations. The Turtle Conservancy in Southern California even used E.I. Medical's equipment to document the reproductive systems of some of the world's most endangered turtle species.
E.I. Medical Imaging also makes video headsets that allow the user to see the ultrasound image displayed in the eyeglasses they wear, in any light conditions.
Although E. I. Medical is tiny compared to some of its competitors and its products tend to cost more, customers say the company's products are worth the extra money. Why? They produce better ultrasound results, offer greater flexibility and are more durable than competing products.
"The difference between E. I. Medical and the others is that the rest are all focused on the human ultrasound market or small animals," said Loveland veterinarian Kevin McSweeney. "They are table-top machines, not suited for extreme conditions like a dairy farm. E.I. Medical's are durable and they are always improving their products."
The company was founded three decades ago in an attempt to build an ultrasound machine that could be taken into the field. Until then, most animals, large and small, had to be transported to an ultrasound location for fetus examinations and related scoping needs. For high-volume ultrasound work involving large animals — mostly horses, swine and cattle — the process was extremely difficult and the results were uneven at best.
In 2005, Maloy had just exited the corporate world, and wanted to buy and operate a small business. His search led him to E. I. Medical. He liked it because the company manufactured a "real" product and did so in the U.S., which was important to Maloy.
After his initial period of buyer's remorse, Maloy got busy with the turnaround. He scrapped the existing technology behind the product and built a new generation sporting all new features. A new facility was constructed. But, just as he had the company and its products positioned for growth, the recession swept in and leveled E.I. Medical.
Undaunted, Maloy persevered. New products were launched, the marketplace liked them, the economy began to recover and the company climbed out of its hole.
"We've had 40 percent growth over the last three years, and we're hiring again," he said. "We've come a long way in seven years."
Key to the company's increasing sales and acceptance by the marketplace is its focus on product improvement, driven primarily by customer feedback.
Take, for instance, the interchangeable transducer that has become a major selling point for E. I. Medical products.
Transducers can be found all sorts of devices. One example: a telephone receiver that is actuated by electric power and converts it into acoustic power.
E. I. Medical's transducers are species-specific probes that connect to a hand-held or goggle-mounted ultrasound machine, sending it signals as it enters the animal. With transducers designed for horses, cows and swine, not to mention a range of smaller animals, the operator can examine various animals with the same base machine simply by replacing the transducer.
"Adding this line of transducers to our line-up for a variety of applications has been huge for us," Maloy said. "For a system that is as small as ours, to have interchangeable probes is almost unheard of. Most of small portable systems all have fixed probes — one probe hard-connected to the system, used for one species application. We offer our customer great flexibility."
Adding the interchangeable transducers to its portable products was done in part as a response to customer needs. Like any good CEO, Maloy believes in gathering information from and listening to his customers. The company solicits feedback annually, and all of those comments are automatically routed to the engineering department.
McSweeney, who specializes in reproductive management in large dairies, was converted into a customer after Maloy insisted that he try a new product for free to help refine it. Sweeney had been aware of E. I. Medical's products before Maloy bought the company. He was not a fan. Maloy finally convinced him to demo a system for a week, free of charge, and offer his thoughts.
"As he was walking out of the office, I said, 'I need you to take a pair of goggles with you.'"
E. I. Medical had come out with its goggle-mounted ultrasound system to deliver the same quality results but to free up the hands of the operator.
"He said he wouldn't use them, but he did take 'em," Maloy recalled.
He came back in two days, and said, 'I need a system — I only want the one with headsets. But the probe that you have is too long — needs to be shorter.'
"I said, 'We'll do this but I need to count on you as a customer.' He said OK. We spent $60,000 on (research and development) and six months to do this for him — and today he is one of our best customers."
As Maloy looks to the future, he envisions a measured new product rollout, primarily animal reproduction-related equipment. The company already designs and sells products associated with the core ultrasound equipment; most are sent out for production (to a U.S. based manufacturer, of course).
But for now, the focus will remain on enhancing E. I. Medical's signature ultrasound products, which have yet to be tested in a truly healthy economy.
The company has been opening sales and distribution offices around the U.S. and even in some overseas markets.
Maloy believes that if he can continue to convert the Kevin McSweeneys of the world into solid customers, his early doubts about the decision to run his own show will be banished for good.