HART Health has become one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of industrial first aid supplies and has earned a reputation for providing the best industrial-grade first aid supplies money can buy. HART’s products keep hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers on the job, feeling better and staying productive.
Since its inception in 1974, HART Health has focused solely on first aid supplies for the workplace. Its products are always a step ahead of the market and thanks to the leadership and passion of CEO and founder Larry Shaw, HART is thriving. Shaw purchased a small chain of pharmacies in 1974 and built it into one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of industrial first aid supplies. In 1997, spurred by changes to OSHA and ANSI regulations that required businesses to stock adequate workplace first aid supplies, Shaw started a highly successful van-delivery service model of first aid supplies to businesses that gained tremendous ground in the Pacific Northwest. Two years later he launched a ground-breaking handheld wireless inventory control and invoicing system, the only one of its kind in the industry.
Shaw, a licensed pharmacist with an MBA, is also an adventurer and family man. He enjoys boating, canoeing and hiking Washington State’s majestic mountain ranges.
A country music fan, Shaw lives on a houseboat on Lake Union in Seattle, near the houseboat featured in the romantic comedy “Sleepless in Seattle.”
How did you get started with HART Health?
Larry Shaw: It was the mid-1970s. I was out of pharmacy school at the University of Washington working for HART Health’s predecessor and studying for an MBA. Two key people in the company died in a plane crash, and I saw the company struggling. I went to my father and asked for his help to buy the company and he helped me out with a loan. I paid everything back, the company was a success and we were co-owners until recently. My father is my hero.
Can you share one of the primary secrets of the HART Health brand?
LS: People have an emotional attachment to the medical supplies they put in and on their body. Think about it – everyone has a favorite pain killer or antacid they use or a type of adhesive bandage they prefer. People are loyal to what works because nobody likes being in pain and it’s human nature to cling to the products that provide the quickest relief. I get excited about designing products that work better than anything else on the market and that’s what fuels our growth.
If you can demonstrate that you have a better quality product than what people have been using and focus on every detail of that product to make it work better, then they will trust you. You may need to demonstrate it side by side with other products, but when they see it, they will become believers. They’ll say, “You really do understand firstaid. We believe in you, in your company and in your product.” At HART Health when we talk about quality, we can demonstrate it. That’s fundamental to our success. We’re very passionate about our products and we have very loyal customers as a result. We retain over 95 percent of our customers – once they experience how much better our products are, they stick with us and become fans. If you don’t believe me, try some of our products. They speak for themselves.
Can you say more about HART Heath’s attention to detail?
LS: If you want to produce a better quality product, it’s really the little things that make the difference. From our medications and adhesive bandages to our “almost-instant” automated inventory and accounting systems, we’ve taken a look and asked ourselves, “How can we make it better?” Proprinal®, our higher quality and less expensive Advil® alternative, has been improved by designing an easy to swallow pill that doesn’t taste bitter. Our adhesive bandages are constructed with island pads, which have adhesive that surrounds the entire pad. The bandage stays on, keeps the wound tight and does a better job of keeping the germs out. We sell millions of adhesive bandages of all shapes and sizes every year. People who work in environments where they need adhesive bandages really appreciate ours – they are head and shoulders above anything else on the market. Cut your finger and we have a bandage that will stay on all day and help your cut heal faster with less chance of infection. We make bandages for fingertips, knuckles, fingers, elbows and knees. We have special lines of food service bandages and water resistant bandages that stay on all day. We don’t mess around when it comes to designing the best products money can buy.
We’ve taken this same approach with all of our branded products.
How can companies benefit from having basic first aid supplies and common medications in the workplace?
LS: In the case of basic first aid supplies, the law requires it and stocking quality supplies means employees get the right care and can return to work more quickly after a minor injury. Beyond that, providing common, non-prescription painkillers and antacids can save companies thousands of dollars in lost productive time. One productivity study showed common aches and pains, including headaches, backaches and digestive problems, cost U.S. businesses $61 billion a year. Providing the right supplies is a bargain by comparison — pennies per employee per day.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since 1974?
LS: I’ve certainly learned that trial by fire can be a good thing. It can be really good to be humbled before you realize true success. Business isn’t always easy, the earlier you get that lesson, the better off you are going to be. I learned that during the first three years of running the company. They were difficult years. I’m really proud of the profitable turnaround we made when we were just starting out. I’m proud that we’ve remained profitable all these years. I’ve never taken it for granted, and I know I can help others avoid the mistakes I made when I started.
Another important lesson is one of personal responsibility. Ultimately you build your success with your own personal commitment. It’s the No. 1 mantra in my life, something I’m very passionate about. I learned much of that lesson from my father’s example. He’s an amazing gentleman, the kind of a person who makes a huge difference in your life. He held me accountable and helped me learn that everything in my life is up to me.
How does the future look?
LS: We have 40 years of experience behind us. All details are considered when developing our products. We’ve diligently worked out our delivery, accounting systems and our approach to sales. We don’t do well unless our customers do. The industrial first aid supply business is dominated by large corporate entities that sell lower-quality products at higher prices. We fill a real need.