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Meet Chung H Lee, The Small Business Owner Helping New York Metro’s Graying Residents Age In Place

Borrower Stories

It was 2014, and Chung was tired of traveling for work. The business consultant’s job required him to travel around the globe, but Chung was tired of sitting in airports and sleeping in hotels. He wanted to work closer to home and be able to spend more time with his kids. Armed with years of professional experience in the finance sector, Chung began to research various industries, opportunities, and trends to plot his next career step. 

Chung H Lee, Managing Member of Alpha Care Supply // Photo credit: Chung H Lee

It didn’t take long for something to catch Chung’s attention: the United States’ population is aging. More so, as demographics continue to shift and America grays, more and more older Americans are wanting to “age in place.” That means that instead of selling their house and buying a condo in Florida or moving into an assisted living facility, most people want to stay closer to friends and family and remain in their home. According to a recent AARP survey, 77% of adults 50 and older want to age in place — a percentage that has been consistent for over 10 years. However, in order to safely and comfortably age in place, people often need to make adjustments to their homes, including modifications like rails, ramps, and walk-in showers.

Chung was intrigued. He liked the idea of working in healthcare and providing a service to people in need, but he wasn’t sure where he could carve out a niche for himself in the market. That’s when Chung met the owners of Alpha Care Supply, a durable medical equipment (DME) company serving the New York metropolitan area. Although Alpha Care Supply’s founders started the business in 1992, they were nearing retirement age and wanted to sell the company. Chung stepped forward as an interested buyer, and over a six-month period, the company’s founders transitioned Alpha Care Supply over to him. 

An Alpha Care Supply project // Photo credit: Chung H Lee

From day one, Chung set out to expand Alpha Care Supply’s operations to offer a full range of products. That meant becoming a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and providing a full range of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility products. Prior to purchasing the business, the company primarily offered compliant wheelchair ramps and indoor/outdoor stair lifts; however, Chung expanded that list of products to include vertical platform lifts, patient handling lifts, and home elevators. Alpha Care Supply even provides full ADA bathroom and kitchen modifications, as well as broader home renovation projects, to help create safe and independent living environments for customers.

According to Chung, it took about 18 months to get his feet underneath him at Alpha Care Supply. “Obviously, it was something new,” he said. “It’s a big move and a challenge going from a corporate environment to now running a small business. As a small business owner, you’re responsible for everything, and I had a lot of things to learn.”

Two factors contributed to that steep learning curve. First, the company works with residential and commercial customers experiencing (or planning to experience) mobility or accessibility concerns: nurses, doctors, insurance companies, concerned children, obstinate spouses, other small business owners, city employees, lawyers, nonprofits, and third-party workers’ compensation administrators. Given that stunning breadth of customers, it’s no surprise that it took time for Chung to learn the nuances of his diverse customer base. Second, Alpha Care Supply receives payments from its commercial clients (i.e. 15% of its business) on a delayed timeline. It typically takes 30 days after a commercial project is completed (e.g. ramps and wheelchair lifts are installed in places like city parks, building lobbies, and restaurant bathrooms) before Alpha Care Supply gets paid. “In terms of funding your operation as a small business owner, getting paid is your bloodline,” Chung said. “That’s been an ongoing challenge for us.”

Avoiding the Cracks

By October of 2021, however, there was a new — and much more daunting — challenge on the horizon. For the first time, Chung and his team weren’t able to meet their inventory needs because of global supply chain disruptions. Faced with the same supply chain issues, manufacturers began to demand more up-front money from buyers like Chung. Whichever businesses could meet the manufacturers’ demands were then first in line to get the kind of ADA equipment and parts that are central to Alpha Care Supply’s operations. Without the necessary cash, Chung was sent scrambling to try to secure the inventory his small business needed to survive.

Fortunately, that’s when Chung received a call from Pursuit Community Finance, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that serves minority- and women-owned businesses across New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. CNote partners with CDFIs like Pursuit through its Wisdom Fund and Flagship Fund, which invest in small business owners like Chung in communities around the country. 

Chung had first learned about Pursuit Lending through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program; however, the​​ call from Pursuit’s Leo Zhang was completely unexpected. With Leo’s help, Chung was able to apply for and receive two loans through the CDFI, including one from the New York Forward Loan Fund, which was set up to help New York small businesses reopen after the COVID-19 outbreak. Together, the two loans ensured that Alpha Care Supply had the inventory it needed to get through 2021. “Pursuit was instrumental in helping us procure and shore up our inventory,” Chung said. “They helped us get funding so quickly, which was refreshing and energizing.”

For Chung, it felt particularly “refreshing and energizing” to work with Pursuit Lending because Alpha Care Supply’s go-to big bank wasn’t agile enough to step up for the small business when it needed it most. According to Chung, between everything Pursuit has been able to offer him — including new lending products and small business coaching — and his perennial frustrations with his bank, he’s now a CDFI believer. “The more opportunities small business owners have to connect with CDFIs, the better,” he said, “because it’s easy to fall through the cracks and not recover. For me, having Pursuit is good for my business because I can bounce ideas off of them and discuss things with them that have nothing to do with lending. They have somebody there to listen and give feedback, and that’s a great help.”

The Alpha Care Supply team // Photo credit: Chung H Lee

Today, Alpha Care Supply has about 20 employees covering installations, repairs, sales, construction, and operations. Considering the company’s service footprint includes approximately 16 million people, that means that Chung’s team is both small and mighty. While he’s pleased with the growth and maturation his business has experienced since he bought it nearly eight years ago, Chung is arguably happier with the work that his employees are doing day in and day out to make a difference in people’s lives. “Unless you’re in their shoes,” Chung said, “it’s hard to fathom what sort of challenges our customers face on a daily basis. My team bends over backwards to get things up and running beautifully and to make a difference, and it leaves people in tears. For me, those are the most exciting days as a small business owner.”

Learn More:

  • Alpha Care Supply is a provider of ADA accessibility equipment based in Nassau County for nearly 25 years serving the NY metro area, including the five boroughs, Westchester, Rockland, Yonkers, Nassau, Suffolk counties, and New Jersey encompassing over 16MM in population. 
  • Pursuit Community Finance, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that provides businesses with affordable small business loans and resources so that they can reach higher, transform and grow.
  • CNote is a women-led investment platform that empowers individuals and institutions to invest locally to further economic equality, racial justice, gender equity, and address climate change.

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