How a swift pandemic response paid off for a Finnish growth company

“We’ve always tried to ride the next wave. This time we ended up in a hurricane,” says Minna Åman-Toivio, CEO of MedKit Finland. The growth company that imports healthcare products reacted swiftly to the coronavirus pandemic, and it has paid off.
Finnish

About MedKit Finland Oy

  • Established in 2008.
  • Turnover EUR 4.0 million (2019, +18%)
  • Largest supplier of emergency medical products in Finland
  • Customers include health care units, ambulance operators and the Finnish Defence Forces
  • Aims for significant growth through international expansion

When news started trickling in in January about the spread of the novel coronavirus in China, the people at MedKit Finland Oy didn’t waste any time. An importer of health care and emergency medical products based in Oulu, Finland, the growth company could see a pandemic on the horizon. Waiting for it to hit would be too late.

“Our first priority was to secure the availability of products for our own customers,” says MedKit founder and CEO Minna Åman-Toivio.

The company soon realised, however, that merely preparing for possible interruptions in deliveries wasn’t enough. It soon faced an explosion in the demand for protective gear and testing equipment and began stocking up on its products.

For a company already on a strong growth track, this meant stretching resources to the limit. The team of twelve grew by one new recruit every week, and warehouse employees began to work in two shifts. At the same time, the company had to adjust its own operations to prevent the virus from spreading among its employees. While one team worked at the office, the other teleworked from home.

“The growth I had dreamt of for ten years all of a sudden fell into our lap. We’ve had to turbocharge our operations, demanding a lot from everyone on our staff. It’s not easy to manage the situation while avoiding the risk of the entire team being on the verge of burnout,” says Åman-Toivio.

 

“The growth I had dreamt of for ten years all of a sudden fell into our lap. We’ve had to turbocharge our operations, demanding a lot from every one on our staff,” says Åman-Toivio. Founder and CEO of MedKit Finland.

 

Phenomenal growth doesn’t come from playing it safe

MedKit’s impressive growth curves might suggest the company was a lucky beneficiary of the coronavirus crisis. In fact, the growth came after years of systematic work and controlled risk-taking.

“We’ve had to adapt quickly in the past, too. For example, when a large wave of immigration took Finland by surprise some years ago, we quickly tailored a solution for providing products to reception centres. As a small company, we can change course rapidly if need be.”

Predicting demand has also forced the company to take risks even when the stakes are high. In extraordinary circumstances, normal ways of doing business no longer apply – speed is key.

Read more about how small businesses can adapt to change and improve their odds of riding out the coronavirus pandemic.

MedKit Finland

Growth doesn’t come by accident, says MedKit’s Minna Åman-Toivio. The company has participated in Growth Open coaching sessions to improve its growth capabilities.

“In China, the government strictly regulates the production and export of protective equipment. The prices of shipments vary on a daily basis, and decisions on orders must be made in minutes. You have to take risks, but you have to do it in a controlled way because sometimes you might miss. So far, we’ve dealt with our failures by swearing and through humour,” says Åman-Toivio chuckling.

“We’ve got a situation, I don’t have time to explain”

Once the virus descended on Europe and purchase orders started flooding in, Åman-Toivio soon realised that the company needed external financing for its day-to-day cash flow.

“Over the weekend, I contacted Nordea saying we had a situation, that I didn’t have the time to explain it all, but we needed cash,” she says.

“Luckily we’ve had continuous communications with our bank since before the coronavirus crisis. Since Nordea knew our company and background well, it was able to open the money taps quickly. We completed the loan documents and the Finnvera guarantee documents digitally, and, by the next week, we had the money in our account. Without a close relationship, we would never have been able to do everything so quickly.”

“Everything was just bang on. It was great to see how people at Nordea and Finnvera were able to put themselves in the business owner’s shoes, showing how attuned they are to the customer’s needs,” says Åman-Toivio.

“Everything was just bang on. It was great to see how people at Nordea and Finnvera were able to put themselves in the business owner’s shoes, showing how attuned they are to the customer’s needs,” says Åman-Toivio.

“A week later, we would have been in trouble with our cash flow. Thanks to the quick financing we received, we were able to get a large order of protective gear delivered to Finland,” she adds.

Scanning the entire globe

Right from the get-go, it has been clear to MedKit’s founders that they can’t limit their horizon to Oulu or Finland. They need to watch for signs of weakness and opportunity across the globe. The basic principle of understanding the customer’s needs holistically applies everywhere.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re trading in Muhos [near Oulu] or Mozambique. Customers have the same kinds of problems everywhere in the world, and the entrepreneur’s job is to find solutions to them,” says Åman-Toivio.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re trading in Muhos [near Oulu] or Mozambique. Customers have the same kinds of problems everywhere in the world, and the entrepreneur’s job is to find solutions to them,” says Åman-Toivio.

When asked about the secret to MedKit’s success, she replies immediately:

“Taking things slowly is not one of my strong suits! When you act swiftly, you don’t always hit the target. But the whole company knows that, without speed, there is no growth.”

 

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