The Ability to Know, Like, and Trust, a Discussion with President Gerry LoDuca on the Founding of Dukal


The Ability to Know, Like, and Trust

Discussion with President Gerry LoDuca on the Founding of Dukal


For the past three decades, Dukal has evolved with the ever-changing healthcare industry. We've transformed from a single product company operating from founder Gerry LoDuca's basement to a leader in the development and manufacturing of medical products. The company's primary goal has been to consistently build high-quality products with an eye toward enhancing our distributors' margins and bringing savings to the end-user.

Together we partner with healthcare professionals to launch innovative solutions to unmet clinical needs, with the common goal of enhancing family and community health. We've expanded to serve the entire continuum of care with now more than 3,000 products and maintain long-term partnerships with over 100 suppliers across 12 countries. We strive to be a trusted supply partner so that healthcare professionals can focus solely on the well-being of patients. 

Dukal is working to create a resilient and innovative healthcare industry. Our 30th anniversary is a celebration of this journey and a tribute to our employees and partners. In recognition of our company's history, we sat down for a one-on-one with our President, Gerry LoDuca.


Can you tell me a bit of your background before Dukal?

Early years

For the very few who have not heard this before…

I grew up in Malverne, New York, married Donna in 1979, moved six blocks away, and started my career in sales.  

Other than my father, the most significant influence in my life was working at McDonald's. It was there that I learned about the importance of dedication, leadership, and accountability. Being on the way to the beach, the store was busiest in the summer, and we'd have a crew of 20 cooking and serving $.20 hamburgers. The grill was always full of burgers, and it was a chore to stay ahead of the orders. Everyone was accountable, showed up on time with a clean shirt regardless of when they got home (we were teenagers after all), and ready to say with a smile, "Good morning and welcome to McDonald's." We were a well-oiled machine, and it was remarkable how many people and things had to happen in order to get people served and keep the store clean.

Working at McDonald's helped develop what I consider the critical keys to success: having a strong work ethic, being accountable, and the importance of making a good first impression. 


I attended St. John's University and received a degree in marketing & management. 

A few years back, I had dinner with the Dean of the Business School, and she asked me what the most important class I took was; I replied public speaking, and she said, "oh, we don't even give that anymore." That really amazed me because you can be the smartest person in the world, but no one will ever know if you can't get your point across or share your knowledge.

Early career

I knew I always wanted a career in sales; that was never in question.

My Dad said you should try and get into an industry where you can build relationships and enjoy the benefits of repeat sales. However, needing to get a paycheck sooner rather than later after finishing college, I started working for a small company called Beta Business Products, which distributed Sony dictating machines and Texas Instrument calculators.

So here I was doing what I said I wouldn't do, in a role where you start from scratch every week or every month. I ended up staying there ten months, and I was successful at it, and I felt like - if I could do this, I could do anything. 

"If I could do this, I could do anything."

Following Beta Business Products, I was able to get a job with IPCO Hospital Supply in the Long Island territory, selling medical supplies to hospitals and nursing homes. While there, I met Joe Meringolo, who had just started a new company called Medical Action Industries (now part of Owens & Minor). In 1979, Donna and I had just gotten married, and not long after our honeymoon, I loaned Joe $7,500, the sum of our wedding gifts, so he could buy out a partner.

Naturally, I went to work for Joe soon after and started selling disposable lap sponges, the company's only product at the time. First-year sales were $400,000, but we were building a successful company and developing relationships that would take us further. We quickly found that being honest and upfront allowed us to earn the trust of OR supervisors and purchasing agents. Medical Action was not only surviving but growing.

I stayed there 11 years, worked with a number of talented, fun, and hardworking individuals, and together built a $25 million public company. Along the way, I learned the amount of work and “courage” it took to start a business, the importance of surrounding yourself with good people, what pitfalls to hopefully avoid, and that there was no perfect formula for success, and I felt prepared to start Dukal.  


When and how did you start Dukal? What motivated you?

You must have an entrepreneurial spirit to start. I didn't want to be 50 years old, have had a good job, but look in the mirror, wondering what I could have achieved if I tried to start my own business.

It was the willingness and goal to see what I could do on my own. It certainly had its challenges, pitfalls, and opportunities over the years - but I really wanted to have a good understanding of my capabilities and what I could do. Dukal would never have gotten off the ground had Donna not supported the decision and made all the family sacrifices to start a business.

"I really wanted to have a good understanding of my capabilities and what I could do."

Starting Dukal, I saw an opportunity in the marketplace for distributors selling to physicians and nursing homes looking for a generic product to sell against the national brand at a reduced cost - where they could enhance their profitability and pass on their savings to the end-user. 

That has been, and in some places, continues to be, our value proposition. 


What was the start of Dukal like? How were those early days? 

I had been to China before, and I had relationships where I could buy non-sterile gauze sponges. The next step was to contact the distributors that I knew, and I let them know, "I'm considering starting my business in these products and at these prices; if I do this, would you be willing to buy" and they were there for me. 

Our first two customers are still customers today, 30 years later. 

When I started the company, I went to Caldor Stores, bought two filing cabinets for $29.00 each, went to Office Depot, bought a two-line phone and a fax machine, and then incorporated the company in New York State. 

We had little money to invest, so we relied on help from many of those first customers. Clark Surgical, a distributor on Long Island, allowed us to unload our first container at their warehouse, including products they purchased and Dukal's own inventory. I would go to the warehouse, bring in pizzas for the men and help unload product with them. We would then shrink wrap the added product and put a sign on it, "Dukal, please don't touch," and put it in the back of the warehouse. As needed, I would fill up Donna's white Jeep Cherokee and bring the products to our home garage.

The UPS man came to our house five days a week to pick up orders that were staged in our kitchen. Whether I was shipping five, ten, or twenty-five cases, I would do the labeling; my Dad would help put stickers on cases and ship them out.

Another wonderful customer who still buys from us today, Universal Care in Puerto Rico, purchased full containers directly, which was extremely helpful for a young company.


What were the significant challenges you faced during this period, and how did you manage them? 

The single biggest challenge we had was money to finance the growth. China factories at that point were all government-owned; there we no private companies. Orders were placed with government-owned trading companies, and they all required a letter of credit. As a start-up, we had no access to traditional financing when we started.

Within a year, Madame Ye from the Suzhou Import-Export Company visited our home looking to do more business in the United States. Talking through an interpreter, she informed me she would like Dukal to buy more product through her company. I let her know while I had the customers, I did not have the financing for the letters of credit. I then asked the single most important question in the growth of Dukal, "can you please give me open credit?"

I then asked the single most important question in the growth of Dukal, "can you please give me open credit?"

She initially said, "no, I can't do that; it's a government company; you need to set up a letter of credit."

Knowing how important this conversation was for Dukal, I pulled out the big guns and let our 6-year-old daughter Aimee sit on her lap as we continued our conversation. Aimee would spend time coloring, and she would then say, "I need you to buy more product," and I would respond, "I need you to give me credit." Then, she would play with Aimee a little more, and we would have the conversation again. 

Then I finally said, "Madame Ye, you're here in my home, with my family, you're sitting here with my daughter, you can see we're honest, hardworking people, can you please help me."

And she said "yes." 

I still believe that Dukal is one of the only companies to successfully receive an open credit line from a government-owned trading company. Our business with Madame Ye continued to grow, it worked, and she continued to increase our credit line. 

After a few years, I received a call from Mike Xu, who informed me he would be our new agent at the Suzhou Import-Export Company. When I asked about Madame Ye, Mike said, "I'm about to marry her daughter, and I'm going to be her son-in-law," so I knew he would continue to help Dukal and our mutual growth. Years later, Mike started his own company CareMax, and after 30 years, Mike is our longest-tenured supplier in the history of Dukal. 


How was the transition from sales to manufacturing? Can you tell me a little bit more about that process during the early days? 

As a start-up, you are quickly thrown into the need to understand finance, banking requirements and relationships, accounting, supply chain management, purchasing, operations, trucking and transit, and just running a good business. Like my years at Medical Action Industries, we made many good decisions as we built the company; we certainly made a lot of mistakes. I always learned as much from the things we did well as we did from the mistakes, and I can honestly say I don't think I ever made the same mistake twice. But I found a whole bunch of new mistakes that we could make. 

In the end, you are constantly looking to learn and strive for improvement.  


How did you grow Dukal in the early days? How did you find your first set of customers and grow from there? 

In order to grow, you go to anyone that represents an opportunity. You make phone calls, meet with sales reps, talk to customers, knock on their door, and call them again if they say no the first time. As your exposure within the industry grows, your network of contacts continues to broaden, and sometimes their success becomes your success. 

So again, it's the importance of those relationships and friendships. I still believe that people like to deal with those they know, like, and trust. 

"I still believe that people like to deal with those they know, like, and trust."

It's different today with blogs and social media, but I hope that it still comes down to you having to shake someone's hand, look them in the eye, and get to know them - so that you know, like, and trust them. 

I always tried to speak in the spirit of partnership and mutual success, emphasizing what we, together, needed to do to compete and build a successful market. That approach has built trust and long-lasting relationships. 


What set Dukal apart from your competition in the early days? 

I've been to China close to 100 times in 35 years. Having a network of people in China to continue finding new suppliers and expanding our product offerings was an excellent asset. Opening our own office in Shanghai with the expertise of Pat Lamb and Lucy Yang was critical to our early and continued growth.

Thirty years later, we have over 3,000 products and 110 suppliers in 12 different countries.

Dukal may have started as a sales-driven company, but we have pivoted to a culture of operations where we look to find best-in-class suppliers that can make products to our specs, price points, and volumes and align with our quality systems.  


Was there ever a time that you realized your start-up was now a business? 

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about family. When you start a business, you have to have a family that believes in what you're doing. You put everything that you have at risk. 

The kids would go off with a babysitter or to school. I would work all day on Dukal while Donna worked at NatWest Bank. Then, we'd come home in the evening; Donna would get dinner ready, we'd help with homework, and then get the kids off to bed. After, we'd go down to the basement, and Donna would be doing invoicing - until 1:00 am to 2:00 am, and we'd do this every day.

It was a family commitment. We didn't take vacations. We lived very conservatively, and everything we made was invested back into the business. 

As you grow, you see your revenue grow, but what also grows is your exposure. You have growing bank loans, higher receivables, increasing market and price pressures - so there is never a good time to sit back and look at what you built. 

The challenge of being self-employed is that you will continue to put assets and money at risk.  


Gerry with his family Donna, Andrew, and Aimee at the Share Moving Media Hall of Fame induction ceremony


When did you hire your first employee?

We hired Kelly to help answer phones, billing, and other general office duties. It was our second, almost third year of business, and we were now a full-time company of two.

When we first moved out of the house, the first location was with a sterilizing company in Syosset. We rented 10,000 square feet in the back of their building. Knowing it was temporary, I rented a mobile trailer, like the kind you see at a construction site, and set it up on cinder blocks. That 10-foot by 40-foot trailer became our first official office.

At that point, Yussi Ylitalo came on board, unloading the trucks and maintaining our warehouse. He was our third employee, and he's been with the company for 28 years. 


When did the Shanghai office take shape?

With our growth, it was necessary to implement ongoing quality systems to make sure our products were made consistently well and that we could source what our customers were asking for. It was time for us to add in-house expertise on China manufacturing to Dukal. Pat Lamb, now our Vice President of International Operations, would join us and bring that knowledge to our processes.  

Almost 20 years ago, when we received a contract to produce items for a large consumer company, they requested someone at the factories to manage the quality systems. The job scope required that Pat move over to China for 8 to 9 months a year.  Within a year, we hired Lucy Yang, now our Vice President of Asian Operations. From there, it grew; Lucy and Pat worked out of their apartments, then they had a shared workspace, and now we maintain a growing office space. Our Shanghai team is instrumental in continually validating our existing vendors and procedures that ensure our products are made safely and ethically.


Dukal’s Shangai office celebrates the 2020 rebrand 


Are there any lessons you've learned about managing and working with people over the past 30 years? 

As I started to work, my father said to me, "treat people how you expect to be treated yourself." To this day, I still use this as my moral compass. 

When we closed our corporate office due to the pandemic, we had everyone in the conference room, and I said the company's health is most important, and it starts with everyone in this room. If you're not healthy, the company is not healthy and sent everyone home with laptops and hoped for the best. By the end of the day, phones rang, and orders and phone calls continued to come in. 

It's teamwork, it's care, it's conviction, and it's hiring people who are more intelligent than you. Always hire the best, most intelligent people you can find, and we continue to do that. 


What are some other lessons you've learned from the journey so far? 

I've always focused on running a good business, not so much on the bottom line. I always felt if you're running a good business, the profits will take care of themselves. 

We're a company that, over the years, at whatever level we are dealing with, is small enough to be responsible and know that the relationships are important and that they're not just a number to us. They truly become family to us. But we're large enough to have the resources to meet the customers' needs and invest in our company's continued growth.

One must never forget where they come from and have a healthy respect for others. I don't want to lose the personal relationships that we built or the ability to get to know, like, and trust our customers and our suppliers. 

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