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Small Business Digest


Businessman Goes From Hospital Orderly to CEO

Mike Murphy floated through life for a while, having held several interesting positions, including janitor's assistant, busboy, cook, welder, Maytag repairman, hospital orderly and orthopedic technician.

It was in those last two roles Murphy developed a passion for improving patient care, and he's since gone on to found and build Comfortex, Inc., a Minnesota-based healthcare products company that develops, manufactures and distributes hospital mattresses and injury prevention products.

Murphy's chalked up a few life lessons while living the American dream of business ownership, and he gladly offers them up for evaluation by aspiring entrepreneurs.

1. Find something that really gets your goat, and build a better mousetrap.

"You always hear, 'Find something you're passionate about and learn how to make a living at it,'" says Murphy. "While working in hospitals, I saw so many opportunities to make patients more comfortable and to reduce injuries sustained from falls common among older and less-mobile patients. It really bothered me there weren't, at that time, concentrated efforts to reduce falls and other injuries sustained during hospital stays."

Comfortex, Inc. broke into the hospital market with a low-pressure mattress called the Rest-Q. Its success was due in large part to improved materials, lower costs and an unprecedented 15-year warranty. "Most importantly, the Rest-Q achieved my goal of improving patient care by reducing the risk of infection through the use of non-porous surface materials, stiffer beveled edges to keep patients from rolling out of bed and low-pressure foam to prevent bed sores."

2. Always look forward.

"When I founded the company 25 years ago, there weren't that many players, and mattresses are still the foundation of our business," says Murphy. "However, recognizing the needs of an aging, yet active, population, we've expanded into injury prevention products, such as the Landing Strip."

The Landing Strip is an ultra-thin bedside floor mat that absorbs and dissipates the impact of a fall. Customers, both in long-term care settings and hospitals, have seen marked reductions in fall-related injuries after adopting Landing Strips as part of their fall prevention strategies.

According to Murphy, the company is currently developing other injury prevention products to help older people maintain mobility while reducing the risk of injuries. "We're expanding our product line based on the needs of an aging population," says Murphy. "Not only is this a solid business practice, but we are potentially helping people live longer, more actives lives." Murphy cites studies that show 20 percent to 30 percent of those who fall suffer injuries that reduce mobility and independence while increasing the risk of premature death. It's estimated that the cost of a non-fatal fall averages more than $20,000.  Nationwide, that ads up to more than $20 billion annually.

3. Commit to employees, community and country.

"We've been encouraged to manufacture our products abroad to save money," says Murphy. "However, having lived the quintessential American dream myself, I have no desire to take jobs away from the U.S. economy. Our commitment to our employees, our community and to our country is that all Comfortex products be manufactured 100 percent in the U.S. simply because it's the right thing to do. Furthermore, we work with partners who share this philosophy."

Resisting the temptation to offshore is difficult as it's a popular trend among U.S. manufacturers from auto companies to information technology services. Murphy remains steadfast, however, in his commitment to promote the American dream.

4. Find creative outlets.

Murphy found growing a business a life-encompassing endeavor, as most entrepreneurs do. However, he's found an outlet through writing about his overall life experiences.

"Have you ever made a comment and then a few minutes, hours or even days later wished you would have said it differently?" asks Murphy. "I know the answer to that question is always yes, so I wrote a book filled with examples of what I did say and what I wished I would have said later."  Murphy's book, appropriately titled What I Meant to Say, is a warm, encouraging walk through his life's big and little moments, ranging from a night out with his wife to the wedding of his daughter.  "The book was a great exercise in remaining grounded and close to the people I care most about in the world," says Murphy. "It's both an outlet and a tribute."

5. Surround yourself with like-minded people.

"All the people I work with share my passion to improve patient care," says Murphy. "We've had the amazing fortune to find each other and have the excellent opportunity to improve lives while still making a great living. From product development to sales and distribution to customer services, our work focuses on what's best for the end-user of our products."

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