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Eric Ethier went from event planner to running one of the largest PPE distributors in the countryKyle Scott/The Globe and Mail

I WAS RUNNING AN events company in 2019 that did some work for pharmaceutical firms and doctors—seminars, stuff like that—and we also manufactured customized masks and isolation gowns for them. Before Christmas that year, our suppliers started telling us they were getting a lot of orders from Chinese provinces and governments, and warned us we’d better get ready. So we ordered a ton of PPE. At the time, it was super-cheap. Then the pandemic struck, and our customers asked us to help them get PPE. We were the only ones who had these products on hand, and that’s how we rapidly ramped up MedSup. Now we’re one of the largest medical distributors in the country. Other distributors are based on a just-in-time model. They don’t have a huge inventory ready to be delivered in case of an emergency. We have warehouses full of masks and other PPE—that’s how we’ve been able to rapidly supply governments and huge retailers like Costco.

Our next step is to bring medical device expertise back to Canada. We’re manufacturing masks here in Montreal, but those are super-simple. So we’ve created our own research and development branch to manufacture new products, including test kits, which are far more complicated than masks. Right now, we’re extremely dependent on Chinese manufacturers. There’s no real production here in Canada—there’s repackaging, but not expertise. With our friends mainly from Université de Sherbrooke and Bishop’s, we’re creating a new line of Canadian-made testing kits. We’ve also partnered with an R&D company to develop brain scanners for assessing neurodegenerative diseases. PPE is the trend right now, but we sell way more than that. And we can’t just rely on having one or two high-paying government contracts for manufacturing—we need to be competitive on the international market.

Another thing we’re doing is trying to make the medical industry more sustainable. On a typical day, we ship 20 truckloads of PPE around the country. That’s a lot of plastic, and since the pandemic is in part due to global warming, taking care of the environment will prevent more disease in the future. So we invested in technology to recycle PPE and created the Go Zero recycling program. We bring used PPE to one of our depots across the country, where it’s quarantined and decontaminated before being broken down and turned into new recyclable products. Go Zero is now a separate company with its own external audits, so our customers can have full confidence in the program. The challenge we faced early on was people saying, “Masks aren’t recyclable.” Before the pandemic, medical devices were only in the hospitals, and the general public didn’t know that much about the pollution they created. Now everybody’s extremely conscious of it, and we have to make sure we fulfill our promise to have more sustainable products.

Our team has been working 24 hours a day for two years now. Everybody here knows that so many Canadians are relying on MedSup, and we’re asking a lot from our employees. We’re giving a lot, but we’re doing what we want, and we’re having fun, too. We’re young and agile. I’m 35 years old, and I don’t have a boss.

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