Getting into the international market can be both exciting and challenging for a business. It offers the chance for new customers and growth, but it’s also a steep learning curve. WNPR’s Harriet Jones visited one Meriden firm that’s sending Connecticut-made medical products all around the world, and bringing work back from overseas.
“So this is our production floor. We have 21 production lines, that are operating on two shifts….”
This is Aplicare, where CEO Bruce Wilson is showing me medical device manufacturing in action.
“So this is a swab stick machine. We form a bag, and in this vibrating bowl, we are aligning the swab sticks and then we shoot them across the room over to the machine, line them up over the bag and insert them into the package.”
This company makes a wide variety of disposable skin cleansing products for use in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Last time you had a shot, your skin was wiped down first with an antiseptic pad that may well have been made in this plant.
“The reality is that when somebody gets sick there’s a good chance they’re going to need our product. As a business we’re insulated from some of the more dramatic trends in the economy. It’s a stable business. We actually grew in 2009, when most businesses didn’t. We grew in 2009 and increased our staff.”
In fact Aplicare employs about 150 people at its Meriden plant, and a further 50 in a smaller facility in West Virginia. And while many companies are outsourcing work to lower cost countries, Aplicare is actually going the other way.
“We were having kits assembled for us by a contract packager in Mexico. The quality was quite good, but the length of the supply chain was just very difficult for us to manage.”
So Aplicare actually brought work from Mexico back to Connecticut, creating a new production line in Meriden.
“So far, so good—the cost is a little bit higher, but our ability to control the volume of product we have, our responsiveness to our customers has increased. We think it will allow us to grow our business and offset any incremental costs.”
When it was founded in Connecticut in 1983, Aplicare was an entirely domestic business. And Bruce Wilson says at first they stumbled into the export market accidentally.
“The wonder of the Internet! People would contact us directly and say, through an Internet search we’ve found your products and your company and we’d like to purchase some.”
Then a few years ago the company decided to focus on selling overseas, beginning with baby steps into Canada and the Caribbean. It’s now in Japan, the Middle East, Central America, and making strides on breaking into Brazil and China. The biggest challenge, says Wilson is the licensing involved.
“We’re a regulated either medical device or pharmaceutical product, so there’s a significant regulatory hurdle to prove that we’re a credible manufacturer to the country that we want to export to.”
He hopes to be able to devote one employee full time this year to the effort of expanding the company’s overseas sales.
“As a company it’s offered us diversification of our customer base, which ultimately makes us more stable as a business. It also is beginning to open doors to growth that we just wouldn’t have if we focused on the US market.”
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.