The Elements of Success Entrepreneur Has Expansion Plans for His Medical-gas Business

Chet Wojcik says it’s a little-known, little-understood segment of the huge health care business sector, yet one that has become his passion.

He was talking about medical gas, or, more specifically, the business of designing, selling, servicing, installing, verifying, and inspecting medical-gas systems in locations ranging from dentist’s offices to medical office buildings to military hospitals. This is a unique but sizable niche, said Wojcik, president of Alliance Medical Gas, noting, for example, that, by the time it’s finished, the so-called Hospital of the Future now under construction at Baystate Medical Center will have approximately 2,500 gas connections, and each one has to be verified and inspected.

Wojcik, who’s been in the medical-gas business for more than 20 years, already counts Baystate as a client, and he expects to secure a decent share of the Hospital of the Future work. Overall, though, he’s focused on a much-bigger picture — taking an already-national company to at least the next level in terms of market share.

He estimates that he has maybe 5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 7{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of a market that is between $30 million to $40 million in size, and competes with more than a dozen other national firms for pieces of that pie — and he wants a larger one. “I’m not content with 5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} or 7{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} — I don’t think I’d be content with 30{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5},” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m ready to get to it and grow this company.”

To that end, he has moved Alliance from a small office in Agawam to a suite in the Springfield Enterprise Center (SEC) in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College. There, he has more physical space and, more importantly, a support network for small businesses like his that includes the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network, and other agencies.

“We’re already taking advantage of almost all the resources here,” said Wojcik, adding that he’s talked with officials at the SBA, the small-business center, and Marla Michel, director of the SEC, about ways to grow sales and more aggressively market Alliance and its services.

Wojcik, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur — he has another business, a construction-related venture focused on urban revitalization and historic preservation — has spent only a few of his 40 years working for someone else.

“I always knew I wanted to be in business for myself,” he said, adding that he did sign of the back of the paycheck while working as a salesperson and technician for a medical-gas company that would eventually go out of business.

Soon before it did, Wojcik would take what he learned and start Alliance Medical Gas in North Carolina, eventually to return to his hometown of Agawam.

Over the past 15 years, Wojcik has grown Alliance into one of just a handful of national medical-gas outfits. He now has 14 certified inspectors working in 46 states, handling all aspects of work that health care consumers never see, but that is vital to effective care.

“It’s not something that’s very well-known,” he explained when asked for some details on this niche and what it involves. “Medical gas is something that’s taken for granted. “There’s an option outlet in every patient room and a vacuum outlet in every patient room, but no one really gives much thought into what’s going in or coming out of that piping system.

“And it’s incredibly complicated,” he continued. “It takes the right person installing it, and it takes the right person verifying and inspecting it, and making sure they have the right tools and testing equipment to find out what exactly is in there.”

Alliance and other companies in this sector work on a contractual basis with plumbing engineers on a per-job basis, he continued, but in many instances, Alliance will be on 24-hour call for a client.

Wojcik said that the work in this sector varies, from comparatively simple procedures such as ‘cut and cap’ — where some medical-gas components have been eliminated, the inspecting company has to make sure the cap doesn’t leak, and there’s no contamination — to annual inspections of a health care system’s connections, which could take several days.

“At Baystate, I’ve done the annual inspection there for many years now,” he explained. “It takes 10 to 12 days, working 14 hours a day, to do a full medical-gas inspection.”

Wojcik told HCN that’s an aggressive growth mode, and that his move to the SEC is part of a process to take the company to the next level, and also an example of his devotion to preservation of historic buildings — the SEC is located in one of the buildings that once comprised the Springfield Armory.

“This is really the perfect environment for me,” referring to both the historic nature of the 19th-century building and the small-business resources that Alliance can tap into for help with everything from business-plan development to sales strategies to branding and marketing.

“We think we’re in the right place at the right time,” he continued, again offering multiple meanings with one phrase. Indeed, his business now has the desired mailing address, but also the ingredients in place to create a bigger footprint in a business that’s carried out behind the scenes — but is actually at the forefront of the modern health care industry.

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