BizStarts Hall of Fame Member

Bob Hillis

Jenny Hillis and Jim Robichaud devised a logo and a new name for a company that Bob Hillis had envisioned would deliver products to customers like never before – via virtual distribution. In 1985, Direct Supply came to life in 8,000-square-foot of a warehouse on the Northwest side of Milwaukee, WI.

Our first catalog was assembled and mailed by eight employees to 5,000 prospects. It did not turn a profit. Undeterred, we redoubled our efforts around service, and in 1987 we pioneered a radical idea – virtual distribution to the nation’s 22,000 nursing homes. Our drive to deliver Outrageous Customer Service became our foundation as well as our commitment to serving Seniors.

Direct Supply turned its first profit In 1991 when sales exploded to more than $11M. Two years later, the company begin selling stock to employee Partners, profit sharing was instituted for every Partner and today Direct Supply is an employee-owned company with more than 1,300 Partners.

In 1995 we launched DSSI – the nation’s first cloud-based eCommerce site for Healthcare. DSSI processed more than $6B in sales to Senior Living in 2021.

Direct Supply’s design-build firm Aptura launched in1997 to break the stigma of the traditional nursing home. Since then Aptura has grown into a national, multi-award-winning design firm committed to building life-enhancing senior environments that drive operational efficiency and return on investment. launched in 2000 enabling customers to easily search for and order millions of essential Senior Living products online.

In 2003, we began manufacturing products designed specifically for Senior Living based on our intimate knowledge of our customers’ unique needs. We now virtual manufacture products in 12 countries under the Direct Supply Brands umbrella.

Also in 2003, we launched Direct Supply’s innovative tech-driven approach to building management – the TELSbuilding management Platform. By 2021 more than 16,000 healthcare building used this technology to manage their buildings.

In 2011, we launched TELS Building Services, making daily maintenance and large projects simpler than ever before for customers.  Today more than 65,000 Certified Maintenance Professionals service TELS buildings nationwide with HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing, Landscaping, Fire Service and many other building maintenance services.

Since 2019, Direct Supply’s Innovation & Technology Center (ITC) located in downtown Milwaukee in the historic German English Academy located on MSOE’s campus has been advancing cutting-edge Senior Living technology never thought possible. The collision of people and ideas at the ITC led to the DS smart app in 2018, empowering nursing staff to instantly capture, protect and connect resident data to their electronic medical records.

In 2020, Direct Supply stepped up to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and instantly configured a reliable, high quality PPE supply chain for the Senior Living industry. Additionally, our advocacy in Washington delivered billions in relief for senior care providers reeling from the pandemic.