Jack Yuan, a 19-year-old undergraduate student at Stanford University, knew very little about personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of 2020. But Yuan was in China when the novel coronavirus first hit and witnessed first-hand the impact of COVID-19.
When he returned to the United States, he felt compelled to help supply PPE to healthcare professionals on the front lines. So he jumped into action—going back to China and launching Tianchi Med, a PPE supply company, in the port city of Guangzhou.
So far this year, Yuan says, Tianchi Med has built a global PPE supply chain that has provided hundreds of millions of PPE items—including N95, KN95, medical three-ply masks, nitrile examination gloves, vinyl gloves, and isolation gowns—to local governments, hospitals and distributors. He pegs Tianchi Med’s revenue so far at more than $200 million.
Through online channels including Tianchi Med’s own ecommerce sites, which is at WatchtowerSupplies.com, third-party site themimm.com, and the Alibaba.com marketplace, Yuan is out to build a dominant presence as a PPE supplier.
“We’re trying to be the Walmart of PPE—a one-stop-shop that anybody can go to and find what they need,” he says.
Launching a PPE supply chain
In the early days of the pandemic, Yuan recognized that the need for PPE would spike dramatically after he analyzed data on the number of daily international inbound flights in the U.S., public transportation use rate, reproduction number of COVID-19 and number of healthcare workers throughout the world. He began putting together a business plan and returned to China.
Back in China, Yuan surveyed mask factories and negotiated with more than 200 manufacturers and 20 different freight companies to secure high-quality PPE equipment at affordable prices for the end users. He then worked closely with friends in the U.S and Brazil to help procure PPE supplies for local governments and hospitals that desperately needed PPE in the middle of the pandemic.
But building a supply chain in a new market was difficult. Coming in with zero knowledge of how mask production and procurement worked, Yuan had to quickly learn about different masks standards around the world. In addition, China’s annual PPE production capacity had more than quadrupled within the span of a couple of months, resulting in PPE quality issues and fraud. And governments around the world were introducing new PPE regulations every few days.
“I was trying to learn everything while building up a team to help with all the legal, logistics, sales and quality control issues I was encountering,” Yuan says. “I had to make sure our factories were honest and of high-quality, our clients weren’t pulling out at the last minute, freight companies were delivering on schedule, neither the Chinese nor the American customs were holding our stocks, and our cash flow was healthy—while also dealing with the ever-changing customs regulations and politics in both countries.”
All the pieces ultimately fell into place for Tianchi Med, and it began providing essential supplies to governments, hospitals and retail chains—as well as anyone who didn’t have access to PPE supplies for whatever reason, Yuan says.
Building and growing
Today, Tianchi Med consists of 50 employees in China, Hong Kong, Brazil, the U.S. and Canada. They work on quality control, sales, logistics, operations and transportation, as well as in the warehouse managers and as drivers. The company also has six global partnerships: three in the U.S., one in Canada, one in Brazil, and one in Hong Kong. And it has two warehouses: one each in New York and Los Angeles.
Tianchi Med designs and manufactures its own PPE equipment, and it also acquires PPE products from other companies. To ensure high standards of PPE equipment, Tianchi Med’s quality control team oversees the production lines of reputable manufacturers within the southern region of China. It also helps its contract manufacturers negotiate lower prices with raw material suppliers.
All of Tianchi Med’s products are certified with the local regulations, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Brazil National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) and the Conformitè Europëenne (CE).
Tianchi Med operates its own ecommerce site, WatchTowerSupplies.com, on the Shopify ecommerce platform to reach customers in the Americas. In China, it uses WeChat to sell its products.
Tianchi Med also operates a company information site at TianchiMed.com, where visits can view products and request more information about them. “The Tianchimed.com site is mainly used to provide information to potential and existing customers,” Yuan says. “Because trust is a critical factor in the industry given quality control issues that have surfaced, we find communication with the customers important.”
Since launching its ecommerce site, TianchiMed has recorded increases in online sales in the low single digits, Yuan says. The company says it has provided more than 600 million pieces of PPE equipment to governments and hospitals throughout the world, including the national governments in Brazil, Canada and New Foundland, and state governments in New York and Michigan. It has also supplied products to PPE distributors, hospitals, and major retailers including Amazon.com, The Home Depot and Walmart.
Now that it has established a strong presence in North and South America, it’s looking to grow in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as Europe and Africa.
“Our goal is to deliver to those in need wherever they are,” Yuan says.