Demand for thermometry products spiked amid the pandemic. How the nation’s leader worked to balance critical orders with traditional supply.
The thermometry business has long been a staple of a healthcare provider’s product needs, whether it be hospital departments or alternate site offices. Hillrom, the market leader in the United States, has built up a solid customer base fulfilling product orders – replacements for older thermometers, orders for a new office or hospital wing, etc. Traditionally, the demand has been predictable and easy to forecast.
However, COVID-19 turned all that upside down. Within a short period of time, calls came in for rush orders, preparedness orders, and requests from regular customers who wanted an unprecedented amount of product. “In some of our categories, we ended up getting 10 years’ worth of orders in a matter of a couple weeks,” said Sean Karla, director, Marketing – Physical Exams and Diagnostics, Hillrom.
Hillrom was determined to get all available product to healthcare providers as quickly as possible. The challenge was determining which orders coming in were critical, and which were simply for preparedness.
First, the manufacturer relied on its field sales force to gauge the needs of its customer base through proactive outreach. Next, instead of its automated process, Hillrom went to manual allocation, making tough choices of how the product and supply would be divided among a global customer base. There was also increased communication with distributors so each part of the supply chain could have better visibility into the needs of end users.
For existing customers, Hillrom used historical run-rates to fulfill orders. The manufacturer also wanted to be agile enough to expedite requests from hotspots, such as New York, Arizona and California. Each week – practically each day – was different. Its operations and sourcing teams worked around the clock to fill all types of requests, including an unprecedented number of drop-ship orders coming via distributors. “More often than not, we were able to put out fires and help customers when they were in really critical situations,” Karla said.
Indeed, the pandemic really pressure-tested Hillrom’s supply chain. As a result, the company now has more duplicate sourcing options for certain product components, and a better forecast for demand overall. The company also developed and refined new systems and internal tools to safeguard against situations similar to what the healthcare industry went through in 2020.
“Our supply chain is more robust than it’s ever been,” Karla said.
It will need to be, as the market for thermometry products has expanded. While the company’s focus in the early days of the pandemic was on its traditional healthcare customers, non-healthcare customers from businesses such as hospitality and restaurants have been inquiring about thermometry products and supplies. Facilities, schools, airports, warehouses, factories – the list of settings that will now need temperature checks is nearly limitless.
“That’s a good thing for community public health purposes,” said Karla, “and it poses an opportunity for us to make future-focused changes within our business to make sure we’re able to help those customers, while meeting the needs of our traditional healthcare partners.”