Wow does time fly! On May 15, 1989 I was hired to start the Sales and Marketing Department for Altimate Medical (Easystand founders) to market the EasyStand standing frame for people with disabilities. I remember my first visit to Altimate Medical (then known as ALT Inc.). A mutual friend of Alan Tholkes, the Owner of ALT, and myself, thought we would make a good team. I came down for an interview one Saturday and had my first look at the earliest version of the EasyStand. It was very crude but the simple sit to stand idea was there and it was truly easy to use. Alan called it the StandEx which meant stand and exercise. It had a sort of pulley/weight system off the back of the stander that could be used while standing or sitting. I was sold. I had stood in my initial rehab stint and also for four years at Southwest Minnesota State University. It was so easy and I remember telling Alan “I could sell this”. I think those four words got me the job!
Even with a Marketing Degree, I was clueless, but that made it both exciting and risky. It was a learning experience everyday. We had to figure out how to design brochures, order forms, ads, and anything else needed in the business of selling a product. We used a portrait photographer for our first photos and hoped they would be good enough. We had no clue about angles, lighting and displaying the products. We even made the one mistake all rookies make and we used an able bodied person in the photos (more about that later). ALT was already officially in business for two years and many more unofficially before 1989. They were building wheelchairs with a unique folding design that Alan had designed. ALT was not making money selling the wheelchair so they needed to find another avenue of income. Alan somehow talked an already big investor in ALT to put up more money to get the EasyStand off the ground.
Summer of ’89
We spent the summer getting marketing materials ready and we submitted the first ads in Paraplegia Newsand Sports ‘n’ Spokes Magazines. When the first ad came out the phone went crazy. We had no idea the pent up demand for a sit-to-stand stander that would replace the traditional strap-style stander. We were going to sell the standers direct, but even taking the orders required learning. We sold an estimated 38 units off the first ad and got a running start. The calls came in fast and furious and the customers had some questions that we had a hard time answering. Since the product was so new, we had a hard time answering questions about how long it was on the market, how many people use it, and other fine details. The toughest one to answer, and the one that we got beat up the most about, was the person in the photo. Right away the callers said that there was no way that he was disabled and how can they be sure it worked for them if we do not even use people with disabilities in the brochure. We have never used a non-disabled person in our photos since.
Don’t miss “The Early Years of Marketing EasyStand- Part II”.