One of Canada’s leading healthcare supply and manufacturing companies, priMED makes medical products for use in clinical, surgical, and infection control environments, including anesthesia, protective apparel, and wound care.
Competing in an industry dominated by large, established multinationals is a challenge many companies balk at. But such an effort leaves President & CEO David Welsh unfazed. Talk to him, and he’ll describe the advantages his company relies on: end-to-end manufacturing capabilities; the collaborative Alberta health system; and a supportive local business community that embraces risk and entrepreneurship.
With a global reach and an international supply network, priMED brings indispensable medical products to hospitals, clinics, and facilities all over the globe, helping millions of clinical users every day. While you may not have heard their name, you have probably seen their products in action. Here in Canada, virtually every hospital and clinic carry their supplies.
Taking the Lead: Innovative Growth & Sustained Success
priMED’s origin story follows the familiar contours of most entrepreneurial success tales: the dream, the risk, the small home-based operations, and the weary satisfaction of significant hard work leading to first gradual and then sustained growth.
The specifics of this case: priMED was founded in 1995 by entrepreneurs Guy Plamondon, Chris Thompson, and John Veres. Initially, they started as a sourcing company, providing private label solutions to a distributor, or a branded solution to a system buying in lower order quantities. Their product line was relatively simple. They stuck to basic wound care, producing gauze and small bandages.
Business was good, but it was limited. They had little-to-no contact with end-users, a diminished value chain, and a complete dependency upon the distributors they sold to. That changed when they began to transform the business, shifting the focus away from distributors and directly onto the customers, the end users of the product themselves.
This transition to self-manufacturing took place over the next several years, and in the spring of 2007, when manufacturing regulations in China reformed to allow foreign investors to establish wholly owned enterprises, they broke ground on their first fully owned factory. A crucial step, this allowed priMED to transition away from merely being a sourcing “middleman,” to becoming a company in full control of its product and destiny.
Highlighting the importance of self-manufacturing, David Welsh explains, “Self-manufacturing adds an enormous amount of value to our company. It allows us to integrate right across the whole spectrum of the business…We truly own our factories and have 100% control over them.”
Fully owning their own factories in China has proved to be a beneficial decision, one that aids priMED’s rigorous commitment to quality and creates additional time and cost efficiencies as well. It has also allowed them to be agile and proactive in their approach to innovation. With full control of the supply chain and manufacturing process, they are able to embody an experimental ethos, constantly testing out new ideas or modifying old ones. This has greatly improved their product performance over time, cementing their reputation as industry leaders.
Take their face masks, for instance.
Face masks keep clinicians and doctors safe and prevent the spread of disease, making them an essential instrument in daily clinical use. priMED recognized that the market for masks was stagnating in an unhealthy way. Looking around the industry, they were unimpressed with the lackluster offerings available. As Welsh says, “We hadn't seen any innovation within the product. [The competitors] products had been stagnant in design for 10 years plus.” He knew that with priMED’s distinct advantages, including close access to industry due to Alberta’s integrated health system, they could create a much better product. One that improved performance and took into consideration the user experience by making them more comfortable and easier to wear. Welsh continues:
"We decided, we were going to design our own face mask program. And we did this in collaboration with [Alberta Health Services]. We used a lot of input from clinicians here to design that product line. And through the years, we've become a real global leader in the design of our face masks…We now have the most comprehensive line of face masks globally. And we not only market our face masks in our own brand within Canada and Australia and New Zealand, but we are a major supplier to different companies around the world, throughout Europe and the U.S."
By valuing a nimble, controlled manufacturing process, embracing a global mindset, and prioritizing innovation, priMED has been able to grow from being a scrappy upstart company to one of the major medical suppliers in the world.