University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business
From ND To VRI: Marketing in the Medical Alert Industry

From the time he enrolled in the Mendoza College of Business, Chris knew that he wanted to become an entrepreneur. His education at Mendoza cultivated this desire, especially his course with John Affleck Graves and Scott Malpass. “I had many great classes and professors that all had a significant influence on me, but the one that had the most impact was Applied Investment Management (AIM). It taught me a lot about how to value a business and how to evaluate industries and economic trends.”

After graduating in 2000 with a major in Finance and a minor in Accounting, Chris began working at William Blair & Company in Chicago as an Investment Banking Analyst. After two years, he moved to Washington DC to work for Thayer Capital Partners. It was during this time that Chris recognized that his entrepreneurial dream necessitated an MBA. “Notre Dame prepared me very well for my career in finance and with a strong foundation in business and problem solving,” he said. “However, when I was at Thayer Capital, I had the opportunity to work closely with one of our portfolio companies, and I was exposed to several areas where I did not have a lot of experience, including sales, marketing, product operations, and HR. I realized I needed to increase my knowledge of these areas and go back into the classroom after this real world experience.”

Chris soon enrolled in the MBA program at Stanford University. It was at this time that Chris met fellow MBA student and future business partner, Andy Schoonover. While caravanning from Washington DC to San Francisco, the two men realized their mutual excitement for small companies over their first meal, a dinner that Chris calls “a framework for our partnership.” Upon graduating from Stanford in 2006, Chris and Andy started Blue Canyon Capital in order to find a company that they could acquire and grow.

After identifying a number of economic and investment themes that they believed would hold true over the next ten to twenty years, Chris and Andy settled on the healthcare services industry. Eventually, they narrowed their focus to the health monitoring segment with a particular focus on medical alert systems. After cold calling several companies, they talked with Darren Torrence, the founder of VRI.  By the end of 2007, Chris had acquired VRI, a medical alert company of just over 20,000 clients based in Dayton, Ohio, and was working there full-time.   

Now, three years later, VRI has more than doubled its size and serves over 53,000 clients. VRI has also expanded its product line, offering medical alert systems, medication adherence, and telemonitoring solutions. Chris’s goal for the company remains simple: to extend and improve the quality of life. “We want to build the leading health monitoring company for seniors and persons with disabilities or illness,” he says. “We measure ourselves by the number of clients we serve, the number of lives we save, and the overall health of our members.”

Chris notes that their continued success in spite of the weak economy is no coincidence. In fact, by following the same methods that have served the company well over the past 20 years, they have continued to expand their company. VRI relies on providing outstanding customer service to all clients and referral sources as well as creating new and innovative solutions to set themselves apart from the competition. Additionally, Chris recognizes that VRI solutions are part of an overall solution to provide lower cost healthcare in home and community-based settings. Therefore, the current weak economy appears to be the perfect time for people to evaluate where their healthcare dollars are being spent and instead try new and innovative health monitoring solutions that VRI can provide.

While their competitors employ advertising tactics such as “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” VRI takes a different approach to its marketing and advertising strategy. “Advertising and marketing is important for any business, and ours is no exception. We do a limited amount of traditional advertising on TV and radio, but we spend much more time working on referral marketing in order to explain our services to potential clients and caregivers. The ability to express our value proportion and what sets us apart from our competitors is critical.” While social media is slowly growing more important to the company, Chris says that VRI relies predominantly on word-of-mouth marketing from existing customers. Overall, Chris says that all employees at VRI strive to treat each potential customer with respect and care, as if they were their own parent or grandparent.

It is this respect and care for potential clients that impressed former marketing intern and Class of 2011 Marketing and English double major Elizabeth Dieckman. “In the medical alert industry, it is so easy for companies to mimic each other in their advertising and demean the consumer in the process. VRI proved to be different,” she says. “Their advertising and marketing strategies do not rely on scare tactics like so many of their competitors; instead, VRI focuses on educating the potential client and treating them with the respect that they deserve. My summer experience with VRI has proved to me that ethical business practices, and in particular ethical marketing, have the ability to make a company extremely successful.”

Chris Hendriksen agrees that ethics factors into every decision at VRI. “When we do face an ethical challenge or issue, I try to reflect on the company’s values and ask myself what I would do or say if I had to announce it in front of the whole company. Sometimes, we have to make tough decisions and turn away business, but we believe that doing the right thing and staying consistent with our values is more important than any individual decision.” Chris credits Notre Dame with enabling him to make business decisions that are consistent with his values and ethics and not simply based on business or financial reasons.

VRI continues to grow at a rapid pace and shows no sign of stopping. Chris Hendriksen isn’t ready to stop either. “No single day is the same, but they are all exciting and I get a lot of satisfaction from helping to grow the company and ensuring that we provide outstanding service to our clients. There’s nothing more rewarding than getting a call from a client or family member telling us that we’ve saved someone’s life and that we are the reason that they can remain independent and healthy.”

Chris Hendriksen ‘00 is President of Valued Relationships, Inc (VRI), a leading provider of medical alert, medication adherence, and telemonitoring services to the aging and disabled. For more information on VRI, please visit their website at www.monitoringcare.com.

Article written by Elizabeth Kate Dieckman

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