The fourth episode of the SPS Check-in is here! In this video, SPS President Regina Weger interviews the President of Snell P&O, Frank Snell, CPO, LPO, FAAOP. Frank describes his experience with running a business through the COVID-19 pandemic and lends words of encouragement for other O&P businesses struggling during this time.
The following includes a lightly edited transcript of their conversation:
Regina: I would like to welcome Frank Snell to the SPS Check-in. Frank is the president of Snell Prosthetics & Orthotics, which has 10 locations in Arkansas. Frank, you have been in the field for a couple of years now, right? How many has it been?
Frank: At least a couple, Regina. Thank you for having me. It’s a great honor to be with you today. I’m the third generation of the Snell family, so I’m the one that’s supposed to mess everything up (laughs). I’ve been out of school and practicing in the field for about 48 years as of June 1st.
Regina: That’s amazing. Congratulations! The Snells are a well-known family within the industry and has a fantastic reputation. Is there more you would like to share about your company’s history for folks who may not know about Snell P&O?
Frank: I’ll be glad to. Our company started in 1911. We were not big enough to be a “Mom and Pop” business. We were just “Pop.” Pop Snell—that was what everyone called him. Pop Snell was an entrepreneur or a peddler—one of the two, I don’t know which (laughs). Pop had many jobs throughout his career, but somehow in the early 10s he started dabbling in orthotics and prosthetics. Even before that, he was working at a pharmacy fitting trusses and things like that. He began the business in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1911. Pop had three sons. The three sons were supposed to join the business. One was going to be established in Nashville, Tennessee. The other was to be in Memphis, Tennessee when Pop retired. Finally, the youngest son was supposed to set-up in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Well, everything went according to plan for a while, but unfortunately the youngest son was untimely killed in a car crash. So Pop ran out of sons. He decided to recruit his favorite nephew, my father. My dad at the time was 30 years old and had a wife and two kids. He recruited him from a company making wooden handles, like axe handles, pick handles, hoe handles. My dad always said, "Wooden handle, wooden leg—what's the difference?" He moved the family to Little Rock, dropped my mother and the two older siblings off in a rent house and moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, to work with Jim Snell, his cousin (Clint Snell’s Father). Six weeks later, he came back to Little Rock and went into the profession. So his education, residency, internship, everything was six weeks in Shreveport working with Jim. I joined my dad in 1972 after I graduated from Northwestern.
Regina: And you have children in the industry as well?
Frank: I do, my oldest son’s name is Brant. Brant has a license in P&O in Arkansas. His master's degree is in Healthcare administration. He is our chief operating officer. My youngest is a daughter, Melissa. She graduated from Baylor with a Marketing Degree and has a Master in Business Administration. She is also a certified mastectomy fitter.
Regina: That's an amazing family, history, and legacy you have. We have had conversations on and off over the years, and more frequently around the past couple weeks centered on the COVID-19 crisis the industry is going through. I thought it would be interesting to have you come on to the SPS Check-in and really get your perceptions on the changes you have seen. What is the impact of COVID 19 on your business overall?
Frank: Well Regina, it's turned our world upside down because we had no prior training for this—the word pandemic sounds more like a Hollywood term — we have had to react as we go, basically. You asked about a disaster plan, well the American Board Certification has facility accreditation requirements for a disaster, but in Arkansas we call it a tornado! We were not prepared for what was about to come to us in 2020. I'm very fortunate that I have a tight-knit management team that has been very responsive day-by-day as we went along. We were very concerned about our safety, and we were concerned about the safety of our patients. It’s been something that we have been very tuned to and proactive as much as we can with dealing with the problem de jure.
Regina: What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced? What have you done differently to adapt to this new environment?
Frank: The biggest problem has been to convey to employees and patients that they will be safe if they come into Snell P&O. We do the moment-by-moment cleaning every time a patient leaves an exam room, in addition to regular daily cleaning. We wipe down the parallel bars, the door handles, the light switches—all the things people constantly touch. The state of Arkansas has been one of several states to not have a lock down. From that point, we have had more responsibility fall on us to provide the safety internally rather than have it forced upon us externally. Se we do all the necessary things on a case-by-case basis. Even little things, like not scheduling patients close together. We provide PPE to our practitioners and to our patients who want to use them. We have sanitizing stations when you walk in the door. We do all the logical things like take body temperatures, and ask all the important questions to the staff. So far we haven't had a single incident.
Regina: From the perspective of the different stimulus packages and loans that are available, I have heard from a lot of O&P owners who have found navigating the systems challenging. For you, how has the process been ensuring that your company prepared for the future?
Frank: We’ve been fortunate. I was notified about the PPP loans early on and was able to gather the information and work with my CPA. My banker is actually an amputee, so I think he took a personal interest in our cause. We worked on it all weekend and submitted it on Monday morning. Twelve days later, we had our PPP loans.
Regina: So I’m about to ask you one of the most difficult questions that I hear. Do you have your Snell crystal ball? When do you think things will get back to normal?
Frank: My crystal ball is over there. It's actually a snowball with a Yorkshire terrier inside. But anyway, I can answer this because I have some very smart friends. So we're in the second quarter of 2020. I would hope that by the third quarter we could begin to see the sun coming up and world getting brighter and a little kinder. I think this economic peril will project into the fourth quarter. Hopefully by 2021, everyone will have their feet firmly planted on the ground and our country can continue to march forward. Fingers crossed, and continue to ask God's blessing in this.
Regina: In closing, are there any guidance or suggestions you have for some small businesses that have been helpful to you?
Frank: It would be my hope, Regina, that they have established strong partnerships with their suppliers and with their contacts in the field. I mean, there are some economies of scale in having 10 facilities and a staff of 58. We have some depth we can fall back on. If we have somebody wounded, we can pull up somebody in reserve. That's the challenge small facilities face. If they were to have a crisis internally, it may be tough for them to offer ongoing services. Your geography plays a role too. In Arkansas we have had a little over 4,800 COVID-19 cases, but I would hate to think what our friends in New York, Chicago, and New Jersey, and some of those larger metropolitan areas face. It must be tough for them, and I keep them in my prayers every day. Certainly this has been a challenge, and it’s impacted us. We will lean on those partnerships and get through this together.
Regina: This too shall pass.
Frank: That's right.
Regina: Is there anything else you would like to share with your fellow O&P practitioners and owners out there?
Frank: I just want to lend some encouragement to them. As an industry, we will have a very necessary job when all this is over. We've got to survive this. Our patients, employees, and their families are all depending on us. Snell P&O has 58 employees, I'm responsible for probably 250 people if you factor in family members. The fact we are an essential service, we have an important job to do in 2020, 2021, and beyond. Let's all hang in there together.
Regina: Well thank you so much for your time, Frank. You are certainly a key opinion leader within the O&P industry. I really appreciate your thoughts and insights. I know our O&P customers out there appreciate your thoughts about the COVID-19 crisis.
Frank: Thank you so very much for asking. Be safe out there.
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