ANAHEIM, CA – A familiar face in the mobility industry will retire at the end of this month, ending a distinguished career with venerable MK Battery, Anaheim, California. Medtrade Monday sat down with Dennis for a bit more insight on his 32-year career with MK Battery.
Medtrade Monday: How did you initially come to be with the company?
Dennis Sharpe, director of Global HME Business: I started doing pediatric seating in the mid 1970s and, while working with Abbey Medical in the early 1980s, started using MK Battery as a supplier. I continued using MK as my battery of choice, and then I received a call from Mark Wels, co-owner of MK, asking if I’d be interested in doing some part time sales work.
I saw it as a great opportunity and then, a few months into the role, Mark Wels and MK founder, Mark Kettler, approached me and said, “We need you full time.” I was really enjoying the job of talking batteries with mobility providers around the country and, with funding for my clients’ equipment already becoming more challenging, I thought it was a good opportunity for me to move to the manufacturing side of the business. It turned out to be a great move!
Medtrade Monday: What is your fondest memory in your working life with MK Battery?
Sharpe: There are many moments at MK over the years that are special memories now. My co-workers at MK, as well as the many special people I’ve met in the HME/Mobility industry, provide daily reminders of how fortunate I’ve been. I think one very special time at MK was when we had our first company-wide Christmas Party in the early 1990s. The MK family from all of our warehouses, and the corporate office, met each other for the first time as a group. It was a terrific event and many of those team members are still with MK today. Now, as a global organization, such an event is not quite as feasible, but it sure made for a very special memory.
Medtrade Monday: How has the culture changed since you started with regard to how we view people with disabilities and/or people with mobility issues?
Sharpe: Our society has certainly improved in terms of integration of people with physical challenges compared to the 1960s when my father had to negotiate his wheelchair around the country. But “better” does not mean there is not a continuing struggle for access to the same opportunities others in society take for granted. For how many years have we gone to Capitol Hill with a CRT Access Bill? Far too many.
Medtrade Monday: How did MK Battery get involved with U.S. Power Soccer, and how do you view that relationship today?
Sharpe: Power Soccer has been such a natural fit for MK Battery. I believe Wayne Merdinger, our executive vice president and general manager, stumbled upon the sport accidentally as it really hadn’t reached the mainstream of our community. He immediately reached out to the president of the United States Power Soccer Organization and, as the story goes, when he offered to provide some much-needed funding, it was initially interpreted as a prank call. The USPSA president couldn’t believe that somebody was willing to give them money, unsolicited. Anyway, the relationship blossomed from there and today, MK is one of the primary sponsors of both the USPSA and Team USA. It is such a terrific, life-changing activity for people in power chairs, but I know they still need lots more grass roots support because so many consumers still don’t know that the sport exists.
Medtrade Monday: What do you think the power mobility industry will look like in 10 years?
Sharpe: The HME Industry has seen tremendous provider consolidation, with much of it driven by the archaic funding system providers must negotiate. Whether the mobility benefit processes change is anyone’s guess. Ultimately, consumers need appropriate equipment for their daily routine. How needs are delivered are still big questions. I do suspect we will continue to see more advanced technology applied to mobility equipment that will ultimately benefit consumers. The way that technology will be delivered and funded remains to be seen.
Medtrade Monday: What are your plans after retirement?
Sharpe: As many in our industry know, I have some grape vines that I’ve been cultivating on the Central Coast of California, and it’s time to pay more attention to that. It has been my “other job” for a few years, and now is the time to give it the attention it deserves. So, I am going to work on making the best wine my little spot in California can produce. I am planning some future travel though to visit my HME Friends. I might even show up again on Capitol Hill as the battle continues. I may be leaving the industry, but the industry will never leave me.
MK Battery will be exhibiting at Medtrade, scheduled for Oct 15-17, 2018, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Click Here to register for Medtrade 2018.