New Medical Lab Company Tests the Market Locally
Rhonda Outlaw and Sylvia Small debated for a decade before deciding last year to open Triune Laboratory at the Sandhills Industrial Park in Aberdeen.
"I always nixed the idea because of the amount of work and money it would take to start up," Outlaw says. "I'm not a business person. I'm a science and lab person. I can do lab work with my eyeballs closed."
The tipping point came in 2011 when the Raleigh lab where they were working was purchased by Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp), one of the nation's largest providers of medical laboratory tests and services.
"I didn't want to work for LabCorp," Outlaw says.
Added Small, "That transaction prompted us to leave the nest. We decided to dive in head-first and see what happens."
First, they had to secure financing because setting up a diagnostic lab costs between $300,000 and $500,000.
"I approached a pathologist in South Carolina that we knew, and he became our primary investor," Outlaw says. "We also have a partner with a minority investment."
Outlaw and Small started looking for office space in October 2011. They found 2,200 square feet in Sandhills Industrial Park shortly thereafter and opened Triune last March.
"We didn't have to do anything to the building to get started," Small says. "I think we're in a great location with easy access for our couriers."
Triune tests blood, urine and other body fluids, and sends the results electronically to its customers. Couriers pick up samples twice a day from customers within a 50-mile radius.
"We really started getting samples in May and June, and things have been picking up ever since," Outlaw says. "We know intimately what it takes to put out quality results. I would compare us to anybody on quality of work."
Samples picked up at midday are processed and the results sent between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. the same day, while samples collected at the end of the business day are processed that night so customers have the results when they come to work the next day.
"Turnaround is important," Outlaw says. "Our customers want results fast, and they want them to be accurate."
Triune employs 11 full- and part-time employees. It currently has customers in Richmond County, Cumberland County and South Carolina, but none in Moore County despite operating the only private lab in the county.
"It would seem like it would be easier to acquire physicians' offices in Moore County, but it's been challenging," Small says.
Outlaw believes Triune has to prove itself to break through.
"If we can get one or two customers in Moore County it will become easier because word-of-mouth will kick in," she says.
Triune is also focusing on the Triangle and expects to land its first customer in Cary soon.
"It was a little tough getting started, but we're leveling off," Small says. "This is still kind of new to us, but we're getting the kinks worked out, and things are going pretty good."
Outlaw says she hopes to reach break-even in the first quarter of 2013.
"The key to building our business is increasing our volume," she says.
The partnership has worked well because Outlaw runs the front of the house and Small takes care of the back.
"We've known each other forever. We worked together for 20 years before doing this," Small says. "She knows my quirks and I know hers."
While Triune targets physicians' offices, nursing homes and hospices, the lab is also equipped to help individual patients, whether they have insurance or not.
"We accept all insurance plans, and our uninsured patient prices are more than comparable to our competitors'," Outlaw says. "Our unique billing paradigm is designed to provide patients an affordable way to have quality lab care."
Outlaw adds that the payer mix in Moore County is better than most surrounding counties.
"A lot of rural counties have a lot of Medicare and Medicaid as opposed to commercial insurance and the opposite seems to be true here," she says. "Commercial insurance pays a little better than Medicare or Medicaid."
Triune has no competition in the county, but Burlington-based LabCorp and other nationwide companies loom large.
Still, Outlaw feels that Triune has a distinct advantage.
"With large companies like LabCorp, you're just a number to them when you call," she says. "When you call here, you get one of the owners."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story