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Credit: PHOTO BY TIM BOBKO / GRAPHIC BY DENISE BAKER

 

Concierge medical services such as WhiteGlove Health are so new to Greg Garrett that he hasn’t yet applied the theories rooted in the “radical concept” to his Phoenix-based plastering business — but he’s convinced that he and his peers in the pool industry should.

He first heard of service-driven, membership-based healthcare through a friend. Soon after, his doctor held a meeting to introduce a similar option to his patients, and Garrett was hooked.

“Do less. Give people more attention and treatment. And make more money. I thought it was a really interesting concept,” says the owner of Applied Materials Technologies. “If we can apply that to our business, would that not just be phenomenal?”

Robert Fabbio developed the idea for WhiteGlove when he arrived home six hours after what should have been a simple routine physical exam. In response to the unpleasant episode, he opened the first location in 2006 with co-founder Dr. William Rice. Fabbio, an award-winning “serial entrepreneur,” previously made his mark with successful business ventures such as the integrated service management software company Tivoli Systems, which IBM acquired in 1996, and DAZEL Corp., an enterprise output management solutions company that became part of Hewlett-Packard in 1999.

With a record like this, it’s no surprise WhiteGlove has grown to serve more than 250,000 registered members in five major markets in Texas, as well as in Phoenix and Boston — with more expansion anticipated in the near future.

WhiteGlove’s objective is to revolutionize the way people receive healthcare in America by reducing costs and improving the experience, according to Michael Cohen, vice president of marketing. In exchange for a small monthly fee, members have access to board-certified nurse practitioners from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 365 days a year, wherever the service is available. Instead of visiting a doctor’s office, the nurse will enter a patient’s home, workplace or hotel room, often as soon as one hour after the initial appointment request.

This flexibility eliminates the waiting period — and the waiting room. Cohen says the nurses are never late to appointments, and they always provide a wellness kit that contains chicken soup, drinks, Jell-O, tissues and cough drops, or other over-the-counter and prescription medicines to help ease the ailment.

“We’re removing all the hassles with getting routine primary care. We want [people] to get through the first 24 hours without having to move or make a separate trip to the grocery store,” Cohen explains.

There are clear distinctions between healthcare and the pool and spa business, but Garrett believes his industry can adopt some of WhiteGlove’s “human health” concepts to offer premium “pool health.” First, he suggests focusing less on the job volume and committing to a percentage of it instead. Then, charge a slightly higher amount per job, informing clients it will cost a little more, but they will receive personalized service.

One possibility, he says, is to provide customers with a two-year membership card and a toll-free hotline they can use year-round. Under this model, a member could call on Christmas and have a pump fixed the same day, without having to pay a holiday rate or wait for repairs. During that visit, the client would even receive a pool wellness package, with a seven-point check and other standard preventative care information, the equivalent of the chicken soup and Gatorade in WhiteGlove’s kit, says Garrett.

Ultimately, the goal is to work smarter, not harder, in preparation for when the recession ends, he explains. Garrett realizes the challenges with this business approach, especially in states where the economies were hit hardest. But he says it’s the perfect time for the pool industry to redefine itself, and its business practices, to both cultivate a client base with excellent referrals and focus on customer retention.

“People are looking for a greater meeting of their expectations. They are looking for a good turnkey package that’s hassle-free with minimal involvement on their part, and then have maximum communication back with [the pool professional],” he adds. “That’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter if it’s healthcare, retail or service. People like to be No. 1 and feel appreciated.”