Medical Device Daily Associate
ATLANTA - A new facility has opened this month, in this city's Midtown district, that could change how customers evaluate new technology and how manufacturers market their products to customers in the laboratory equipment market and beyond, according to its developer.
The facility, called The Forum 360, is being billed as "the world's first scientific and laboratory equipment demonstration center," by its founder Randall Ruffin, a veteran of the scientific equipment industry with more than 30 years of sales, marketing and executive management experience. He is the past president and CEO of two imaging technology companies: Applied Medical Technologies (Seal Beach, California) and Southern Micro Instruments (Atlanta).
Forum 360 is designed to give space to manufacturers of scientific laboratory equipment the ability to equip and staff their own private product demonstration suites for visits by potential buyers. The first users are expected to offer a wide range of laboratory equipment that includes sample preparation equipment, imaging instrumentation, and automated testing and analysis systems for all laboratory research as well as laboratory testing and patient diagnostic and treatment systems for clinical applications. It will be open 240 business days a year.
By visiting one location, scientific investigators and clinicians will be able to make the best-informed, application-specific laboratory equipment buying decisions, Ruffin told Medical Device Daily, within a highly condensed time-frame - from a few hours to a few days.
Included among the disciplines to be served by the facility are biotechnology, chemistry, drug discovery, nanotechnology, cancer research, cardiovascular medicine, dentistry, endocrinology, pathology, genomics, immunology, microbiology, molecular cell biology, neuroscience and pharmacology, as well as materials research disciplines. Ruffin said he could see this business model translating to many other areas, including the realm of pure-play medical devices.
Ruffin said that the idea for the facility, in which he currently has an option for 30,000 square feet, came to him after years of being compelled to schlep instruments into research and hospital facilities.
"I had always been thinking there has to be a better way," he said.
The idea came to him after he began his own "rep" business for a company that made scientific instruments in Switzerland. "I just got far enough and long enough away from one particular company that I was able to think about this, and it hit me just suddenly."
After coming up with the idea, Randall said he spent about 10 months interviewing what he said were literally "hundreds of customers" from around the world before determining that he could make a go of it in Atlanta where he lives.
He said these customers told him it doesn't matter where the center is "as long as it's convenient and we can get to it."
Atlanta is a likely choice, since it is home to one of the busiest airports in the world and less than a 20 minute ride by ground transportation to the facility. Customers can also take the MARTA rapid transit from the airport to the Midtown station which is 1-1/2 blocks from the facility.
Additionally, manufacturers have 24-hour access to wet-lab facilities provided by the Georgia Institute of Technology , just five blocks from The Forum 360 demonstration facility.
Previous to the opening of the facility, Ruffin said that equipment scientific professionals often were required to spend many weeks to several months in evaluation time - with few opportunities to conduct empirical, comparative evaluations.
"The customers clearly, unequivocally and unanimously see the benefit to this," he said.
On the other side, he said getting manufacturers to buy into this new way of doing business presents some challenge, though he argued that the adjustment for them will represent only "a very slight paradigm shift."
He said this new approach will allow the product supplier to provide a much more "hands on" experience for the customer that cannot be obtained on a trade show floor or even at an onsite demonstration.
Via his idea, Ruffin said that scientific research and healthcare professionals will be empowered to link to all participating companies' web sites by company, product category, technologies and applications through The Forum 360's specialized laboratory equipment web site; identify the manufacturers of advanced technology equipment with whom they would like to schedule a demonstration; and then visit The Forum 360 facility to receive successive, comparative demonstrations from each company's best-trained product demonstration specialists.
Now that he has taken the concept forward and actually has the office space available to show perspective manufacturers, Ruffin said he believes he will get a good response, particularly in the early stages, from small- and mid-sized companies.
If this model is successful in attracting potential customers, he believes that ultimately the larger manufacturers will also come to utilize it as well.
Ruffin said that once his model facility has about 20 companies, he has plans to immediately add another facility on the West Coast in the San Francisco area. After that, he said he has plans to open another facility in Boston.
If this model proves successful, Ruffin, who will make money from his idea via marketing and participation fees from the manufacturers, said he ultimately may take it to a global audience since the concept is so easily transferable to other locations.
"If it works in Atlanta, it will work anywhere in the world," he said.
Manufacturers interested in learning more about the qualification process should visit the company's web site at http://www.theforum360.com/.