The ACCESS Medical Development Story
In the spring of 1988 Stephanie Wilson was a senior at Memphis State. She was somehow managing to put herself through school by working at four part time jobs; two as a bartender, one in accounting and one in recreation. She also had an entrepreneurial plan to finance her MBA studies.
She had put together a business plan and had lined up a group of investors to buy a vacant Pizza Hut building near campus. From here, she planned to buy and sell used text books and give the campus bookstore a real run for its money. Since bartenders have a mystical, magical way of being invited into conversations, Wilson found herself, one night, explaining her plans to a group of managers from General Electric Medical Systems who were in town for a managers conference.
In the three nights that Wilson served them at the renowned Peabody Hotel, they found her so impressive that they asked her to interview with the company for a position in medical imaging sales. She told them, “No, I already have my plans.” but when she was asked to meet at Sam’s, a steak and turf restaurant no college kid could can afford, she saw no good reason to pass up a free meal. Nor, could she find reasons to turn down free trips to Denver, Boston, Tampa and New Orleans for subsequent interviews. She kept saying ‘no’ until she opened an envelope with the final job offer. “Cha-ching,” GE had their new sales rep.
“The Access Medical team has developed a business model that starts with the patient experience and translates that into the needs of the doctor(s). ‘We try to incorporate the experience of the patient…and the patient’s perspective and well being…into our decision making,’ says Smith.”
During her tenure with GE, Wilson represented the company in the Triangle and began to dabble in real estate. This she discovered was her real passion. In 1993, Wilson approached Bill Smith, principal of the Center Group (whom she had earlier met and admired, when she was first exploring real estate) and told him she wanted to go to work for him as a broker. Bill offered no salary, no draw, no benefits and no expense reimbursement. Well, passion knows no limits, she jumped at the opportunity!
Seeing opportunities in medical development she left Smith and formed her own company in 1995. However, she continued to work closely with and rely upon the counsel of Smith. In 2002, the two companies merged into Access Medical Development and a series of successful medical developments ensued.
When Mark Donahue, president and CEO of Prudential CRES (Commercial Real Estate), decided to target medical offices on a national scale as a way to grow and expand his business, he knew he needed to find a partner that would be a good strategic fit. He also wanted to find a company that shared his commitment to meeting client needs. He didn’t expect to find a couple of kindred spirits.
“During that first meeting, Stephanie and I realized we drove the same kind of car on a day-to-day basis,” Donahue says of his initial conversation with Stephanie J. Wilson and Bill Smith, the principals of Access Medical. “Then she told me, ‘But the car I love is at home, a ’67 Corvette.’ When I told her I had a ’67 GTO convertible, that was all it took.”
The first twenty minutes of the meeting dissolved into a discussion about classic cars (Smith has a Corvette as well, a 1962 model). “We were talking cars for the first twenty minutes, and that gave us common ground,” Donahue remembers. “The relationship that ultimately led to the deal started right there with that conversation about Corvettes.”
That first discussion grew into a partnership that will allow Prudential CRES to market the Access Medical business model for medical office development on a national scale. Prudential CRES has more than 50 offices across the country with between 600-700 salespeople.
“The opportunity for medical developments is a good one,” Donahue explains. “Given the aging of America, that’s not surprising. But if we teamed up with someone, we wanted to make sure they brought a consistent level of expertise and customer service.”
Prudential CRES and Access Medical reached the agreement earlier this year and have beta-tested the partnership in Las Vegas and in Boca Raton, Fla. Donahue introduced the Access Medical team to the Prudential CRES salespeople at a conference back in March. The responses to the testing and to the introduction “have been great,” he shares. The companies plan to roll out the partnership across the country this August. “We’ve been a regional player for the last few years,” Wilson says. “The opportunity to partner with Prudential takes us national.”
Today, Access Medical is a privately held real estate development company, headquartered in Raleigh. Access Medical has refined its expertise in developing medical buildings gradually over the years. Now the company does nothing but medical buildings and office parks.
“We’ve had to develop a certain amount of knowledge in order to specialize,” Smith explains. “We’ve learned to speakthe language…and develop the vernacular.” While many commercial real estate companies specialize in certain kinds of development like retail or industrial, evolving an even more specifi c area of emphasis like medical development is not as common and requires much more industry knowledge to be successful. That knowledge ranges from the kinds of infrastructure a medical practice needs – special needs for water, gas and electricity for facilities and equipment – to the impacts on reimbursements from changes to Medicaid and Medicare.
The particular level of knowledge about doctors is part of the reason Prudential CRES identifi ed Access Medical as a potential partner. “They’re at the cutting edge of the industry…they’re ready to take off,” he adds. “Others are trying to do the same thing, but not doing it nearly as well.”
A Business Model Based On The Needs Of The Doctor And Patient
The Access Medical team has developed a business model that starts with the patient experience and translates that into the needs of the doctor(s). “We try to incorporate the experience of the patient… and the patient’s perspective and well being…into our decision making,” says Smith. Once they have a feel for the doctors’ needs they develop a design that will meet those needs and produce a pleasant experience for the patients. Pre-planned designs are not part of the process.
“They take a very ‘bottoms-up’ approach by starting with the doctor and understanding what the doctor needs to be able to open up each week,” Donahue explains. “We believe that approach can work on a national basis.”
“One of our strongest suits is meeting with a physician who knows he needs to move but who doesn’t know how,” describes Adam Tucker, vice president of development for Access Medical. “We can help the physician get the facility they need. That’s why they call us before they call anyone else.”
Raleigh Radiology worked with Access Medical when they needed to move to a new location. “We accomplished all we wanted to accomplish with Access Medical, probably more,” says Dr. Donald Detweiler, president of Raleigh Radiology. “They were very professional and easy to work with.” “Our greatest asset is our ability to listen to a physician, understand his or her needs and come back with a real estate solution to meet their needs,” Smith adds.
The Access Medical team combines that focus with an in-depth knowledge of the features and conveniences that a doctor’s offi ce needs to enhance the patient experience. These may include automatic doors that allow easy access to a building, elevators that accommodate gurneys, parking lots with less than a 2 percent grade on the surface (for patients who have mobility challenges), the wiring and other requirements for equipment like x-ray machines and appropriate lighting and security. Dr. Detweiler of Raleigh Radiology confi rmed that knowledge was evident in his company’s new building. “Our building has everything we were looking for,” he explains.
Access Medical is also known for creating unique lobby areas that make a statement to patients. “We take great pride in our lobbies…they create a warm, inviting, pleasant environment for patients,” Tucker shares.
Leveraging New Technologies
Access Medical has a reputation for leveraging new technologies for doctor’s offi ces. “We love to innovate and we’re going to stay on the cutting edge of technology,” Tucker explains. “We’ve got some real technology geeks over here.”
That familiarity with the latest technology sets Access Medical apart from other developers and will remain an integral part of the national strategy with Prudential CRES. “As a national company, we will continue to develop newer technologies as solutions for our clients,” Wilson shares.
One of the newer technologies they use is an air conditioning system that has sensors to detect levels of carbon dioxide in a room. It can determine if no one is in the room and put the unit into an energy-saving mode. Another feature of the unit is a special ultraviolet light that prevents germs from recirculating from one room to another.
That expertise has appealed to local clients for years. Last year Access Medical participated in a request for proposals with WakeMed in Raleigh to build and develop a medical offi ce park with 80,000 square feet of space and a 400- car parking garage. Access won the project, becoming the fi rst outside developer ever selected by WakeMed to oversee a project on its grounds. The company will oversee the design, construction, fi nancing, leasing and management of the building.
“WakeMed is confi dent with…Access leading this endeavor,” explains Kathleen Gormley, executive vice president at WakeMed in a statement announcing the project last year. “Their experience in developing medical offi ce complexes makes them the logical partner for this growth project for WakeMed.”
The project known, as the Physicians Office Pavilion, will offer both leasing and ownership opportunities. The design will reflect Access Medical’s focus on meeting the unique needs of physicians and medical practices.
Helping Doctors Own Their Buildings
Access Medical offers several options to help doctors who want to own their own office buildings. Ownership is available through a joint venture or, in some cases, condominium ownership, in which the doctor owns the building outright.
“A lot of doctors are getting advice from their CPAs that they should own their own buildings,” describes Christen Jones, property manager. “We’re responding to that need, which is becoming more and more popular.”
The condo ownership option is available at RexView Medical and Professional Park, an Access Medical project that began construction over the summer and should be complete in 2007 (a leasing option is available as well). RexView will have 80,000 square feet of office space spread out over a number of one-story buildings that are available for medical and professional use. Each building will have the usual features for a medical practice such as automatic doors. The units will be built or customized with an eye toward meeting the tenant’s needs.
The partnership with Prudential CRES will propel Access Medical to a national footing. While leaders of the company say the move will help them grow and evolve, they aren’t going to change basic approach to the business. Their relationship-building philosophy, indepth knowledge of the medical profession and the requirements for running a practice, along with the ability to develop properties tailored to individual client needs should help the company continue to grow and prosper in their partnership with Prudential CRES.
“When Access Medical enters a new market, they take the time to learn all they can about the market,” Donahue reiterates. “It’s a very smart move, but it’s a time-consuming move. But it’s that knowledge and that ability to understand what a doctor needs, that’s the key.”
“Our job is to help physicians be more productive,” Wilson shares. “But at the end of the day, we build with bricks and sticks. We have to be aware of the client’s needs and the issues challenging to client so we can give them what they need.
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