WATERLOO | Nobody left the challenges of billing and regulatory issues behind when about 1,000 members of the home medical equipment industry converged this week at the VGM Group’s 14th annual Heartland Conference.

But conference attendees said one of the best values of the conference and expo – which concludes today – is the support they provide one another.

“We’ve always been impressed with the details, as far as making everyone feel welcome and wanted,” said Rob Howdeshell, Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based national accounts director for McKesson Medical-Surgical – one of 74 vendors who have booths on the main floor of the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.

“We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at trade shows and we find this the most engaging one we go to," Howdeshell said. "I mean, all the extra details – the fireworks, the hog roast, the golf tournament. All of that is so much more approachable. That’s the reason we love Van (Miller, CEO of VGM Group Inc.) and we love VGM.”

Chris Reidmiller, national sales manager with Frankfort, Ill.-based Therafin Corp., said he doesn’t miss a Heartland Conference.

“It’s hard to put a value on the marketing you do here,” said Reidmiller, whose company makes parts for wheelchairs and other devices. “You never know if a sale originated at this show, but VGM has always been very supportive of us, and we want to be supportive of them.”

For Frank Geiger, who directs one of VGM’s newest business units, VGM Home Infusion, from Hershey, Pa., this year’s Heartland Conference was a kind of homecoming.

“I’ve been in the industry 32 years and always had a lot of respect for the culture at VGM,” Geiger said, noting VGM hired him in November to run the new purchasing branch of the business. “It made sense. There’s a lot of interest. The industry is growing fast, so they brought me on to build it out.”

The conference is a way to bring a diverse industry together for a crucial few days, Geiger said.

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“This has always been Van Miller’s way of showing appreciation and bringing the industry together, to meet in one place and recharge their batteries and understand what changes are going on in the industry and then go home and go back to work,” he said.

Joe Brewer, president of B.E. Healthcare Solutions in Indianapolis, which sells more than 3,000 items in the home medical equipment retail business, said the conference allows for face time with clients.

“This is a very close-knit organization and they have a lot of classes for members,” he said, "but, for us, it gives us that one-on-one with customers and we can follow up with them.”

It’s also a big week for Greg Schmitz and Sara Lauers, president and vice president, respectively, of VGM Education, which organized more than 90 classes designed to provide credit hours for industry professionals spending the week in Waterloo.

“We started the process in October,” Lauers said. “We have a database of hundreds of experts and industry partners and ask for topics our members need to know about and stay educated on. So, we sit down and choose from hundreds of topic submissions.”

An estimated 75 to 80 speakers are participating in this week’s event, Lauers said.

That’s just part of the experience, though, Schmitz said.

“Really, it’s about networking -- that’s really the value of Heartland,” he said. “They’ll call their counterpart in another state and ask how they handle this or that. That’s what Van’s concept was: With that combination of products, knowledge and people, you get the support you need here.”

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