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Things haven’t been easy for Terrence Gidney, a service-disabled veteran who struggled to maintain his business selling scrubs to nurses and doctors over the last decade.
But things are starting to look up. Gidney has met with officials of area hospitals to pitch his idea of providing scrubs through vending machines, and his business plan recently won first place at Tully Rinckey’s business plan competition at the second annual Veterans in Economic Transition Conference in Albany.
“I’ve always had a passion for retail,” Gidney said.
After stores failed on Main Street and in the Elmwood Village, he considered other options. He was hoping to take advantage of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, but that never came to fruition. Working with a variety of programs in the area, including the Small Business Development Center at SUNY Buffalo State, he learned how to develop a solid business plan.
“I found out that without a business plan, it’s a plan to fail,” he said.
In 2011, Gidney downsized from his store in Main Place Mall to a storefront on the 700 block of Main Street. It was there that he hoped to capitalize on foot traffic from the medical campus. He ran into Patrick Whalen, former chief operating officer of Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc.
He explained to Whalen that he had an idea for a hospital vending machine for scrub suits. Whalen told Gidney he would sponsor him for a year at Dig Buffalo to work on his idea. Through Dig, Gidney met Harry Cardin, who has been advising him for three years.
“I simply offered him three months of free service three years ago,” Cardin said with a laugh.
“A miracle happened,” added Gidney. “He’s been a godsend.”
Through a monthly networking and referral event at Tully Rinckey’s Buffalo office called “Gear Up for Success,” he and Cardin heard about the firm’s business plan competition at the VETCON event in Albany.
The group is specifically geared toward service-disabled veteran business owners and veteran business owners in general, said Anthony Kuhn, a Buffalo-based partner at Tully Rinckey and service-disabled veteran who served 21 years in the Army.
“It’s to help them be a more successful business,” Kuhn said, adding that the group is in its fourth month and has expanded to two other cities.
In order to attract veterans to the networking event, Kuhn searches databases on SDVOBs and sends out invitations.
Gidney and Cardin decided to go to one of the events. At the second meeting they attended, Kuhn discussed VETCON and the competition.
“I believe Harry and Terrence were the last ones to submit a plan,” Kuhn said.
Cardin said they submitted their business plan for the competition within a day and met the deadline. Nine businesses submitted business plans, and that was narrowed down to three by a panel of judges. From there, three finalists shared their videos at each of three meals at VETCON. Prizes for first place included $3,000 in cash and $5,000 in services from Tully Rinckey, Innovate 518, The Bonadio Group and Sandler Training.
Kuhn was sitting with Gidney and Cardin at VETCON when they were announced as winners of the competition.
“I was equally as surprised,” he said, adding that seeing them win made all the work he puts into networking events and VETCON worth it.
“To see everything that Terrence has gone through to get here, and to see the help that Harry has given him and the belief that Harry has and the work he puts in without asking for anything in return is just incredible,” Kuhn said. “Hopefully this is what puts him over the edge and puts him into production.”
If Gidney’s idea comes to fruition, it would involve placing scrub vending machines in hospitals, first locally and then nationally. The machines would have a touchscreen and monitor that would enable buyers to choose an option. Then a photo of the purchaser would be taken to allow the buyer to virtually model different various scrub tops and bottoms before purchasing the product.
Purchasers also would have the option of selecting garments from a catalog, Cardin said, if it’s not available in the machine. Then it would be delivered to the hospital.
“It’s like buying from a retail store, except it comes out of a machine,” Cardin said. “Everything is automatic.”
There’s also an inventory control system component to Gidney’s idea. For instance, surgical and emergency room scrubs are provided by the hospital. They’re laundered, Cardin said, which means the inventory is “being spun, in and out, in and out.” Some hospitals lose $200,000 to $300,000 a year in missing scrubs.
“With the … system we designed, it’s a closed-loop inventory control system where we know who took it out and we know who put it back in,” he said. “The hamper, once you swipe your card, will automatically open up and you put your dirty scrubs inside and the hamper locks. You can’t take them home with you or whatever else.”
Scrubs would be laundered and individually wrapped before being placed back into the locked vending machine.
“Inventory will be controlled,” Cardin said.
As an SDVOB, the company, Affordable Scrubs and Stuff Inc., will also bid on state and federal contracts to provide inventory to the government, Cardin said.
Gidney is waiting on the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program through the Department of Veteran Affairs to approve his business plan. Winning the competition at VETCON should assist with that, and approval would provide him more startup assistance. Part of what Gidney has asked for through the program is to be hooked up with 10 VA hospitals.
“Those would then be points on the map,” Cardin said. “From those points, the strategy would be to tell the general manager at that point, ‘Go capture every hospital within a 100-mile radius,’ going out across the country in that way.”
Gidney said the goal is to provide jobs for veterans across the country as the business grows. Cardin said he’ll likely be the only non-veteran involved in the company.
The vending machines would offer access to garments at all hours of the day for nurses and medical professionals because “hospitals don’t close,” Gidney said.
In Buffalo, he plans to start the business out of a StartUp NY facility near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. February is the startup target date.
While Cardin signed on to help Gidney for three months initially, he was blown away by the business concept.
“I was, like, ‘This is brilliant,’ ” he said.
Cardin has a family member who’s a nurse so he’s familiar with the long hours of medical professionals.
“The stores are closed when they get out and they’re not open when they go in to work,” he said. “It’s a challenge for the nurses to get out and actually shop. This way, they can shop right at work.”
He said two words describe Gidney: “Hard work.”