House Calls

One A Day

Although not all mail order health-care businesses have to deal with insurance claims, entrepreneurs in this arena face all the other challenges most mail order businesses do: advertising, marketing, product development, product expansion, developing a mailing list and more.

For Russell Crist, founder and owner of Wholeaf Aloe Distributors in St. John, Indiana, product expansion is a top priority. For the past 11 years, Crist has offered a limited product line, including aloe vera shampoos, conditioners and lotions. Unlike marketers of prescription drugs, which people are advised to take by their physicians, Crist has had to educate customers about the benefits of aloe vera. "Everybody needs aloe vera, but they just don't know it," he says.

The nation's growing interest in health and alternative medicine is helping spark growth at Wholeaf Aloe Distributors. "The alternative medicine industry is growing [quickly], and our customers have been asking us to branch out into that arena for quite some time," says Crist, 58, who is teaming up with a manufacturer of nutritional supplements to offer additional items such as calcium and melatonin. It's also a strategy to help fight off another big challenge: competition. According to Crist, "There's more competition every day."

And the government may be adding to these entrepreneurs' challenges. Crist warns that some of the large drug companies are lobbying to get the government to require prescriptions for many vitamins currently available over the counter, including vitamin C. This could have a potentially devastating effect on the nation's vitamin marketers, which make up part of the largest sector of the mail order health-care market.

Regulation already affects mail order marketers who sell prescription drugs. For example, Express-Med is required to hold a pharmacy license because it sells prescription medications. It's important to check into any licensing requirements (start by calling the NMOA) before forging ahead with a health-care business.

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: House Calls.

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