Founded in 1987 by John McGregor, Essex-based Contamac is now the world’s largest independent supplier of contact and intraocular lens materials and actively exports to 54 countries. BQ caught up with son Robert, current chief executive, to see how he turned the company into one of the industry’s leading exporters.
Contamac Ltd specialises in the development of materials for speciality silicone hydrogel and gas permeable contact lenses.
The company based in Saffron Walden was founded back in 1987 by John McGregor, now the chairman of the business.
After being told he was set to face redundancy whilst working in the sector, McGregor saw the opportunity to start up as a sole trader and never looked back.
29 years on and the company is now the world’s largest independent supplier of contact and intraocular lens materials and actively exports to 54 different countries.
“The motivation to start selling overseas was as a result of a desire to grow the business,” said McGregor. “The products we sell are attractive to any finished lens manufacturer around the world.
“Had we limited ourselves to the UK market alone, the business would be a fraction of what it is today. At the end of this year I expect we will report up to 90% of our business trading internationally.”
One of the main reasons given by most budding exporters scared to make the leap overseas is the red tape and challenges that can come with breaking into new markets.
Speaking about the challenges Contamac has faced, McGregor said: “There are many challenging parts to exporting that vary considerably depending on where you export to.
“The political landscape has to be respected, if there are countries that impose sanctions on trade this can severely limit the opportunity to export, perhaps the most frustrating is when this happens but communication occurs after you have shipped the goods.
“For some countries letters of credits are used, this is a complex system, other countries have high import tax which may make exporting non-viable.
“Logistics will also play a part, selecting the right courier is an important decision, this again may vary depending on where you are shipping and once goods arrive if customs need to be cleared your goods may still be held for a period of time.
“Any of these points can delay what seems to be a very straightforward shipment into a long winded and time consuming event.”
Determined to grow the business, McGregor didn’t let any of the challenges deter him from his goal of making Contamac a globally recognised name in the industry.
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This led the entrepreneur into the path of UKTI. He added: “The UKTI has provided the best support structure to help Contamac trade around the world.
“They have many initiatives and networks for any business to take advantage of, some of the very basic support is funding for trade missions to conduct market research all the way through to a global network of advisors to help within particular territories.”
Contamac now exports to 54 countries with North America being the company’s largest export territory followed by countries within the EEA.
The two territories make up approximately 70% of Contamac’s exports with the BRIC countries, Asia and South America, accounting for the remainder of the firm’s export business.
And it doesn’t stop there. McGregor is determined to continue pushing his team and has ambitious plans for Contamac over the coming years.
“Contamac is a global business already and exporting is essential to the future growth of the business,” McGregor added.
“In five years’ time the company will have further penetrated the materials market in all categories, our core business has plenty of opportunity to grow but there is a market cap on the size of our particular sector.
“We will also be active in providing polymers for other medical device applications in partnership with a range of companies and will be maximising our research efforts to develop novel polymers for applications outside of our core business.”
The expansion into overseas markets has undoubtedly helped Contamac grow into the market leader it is today and McGregor has some pretty sound advice for other company’s looking to emulate his success.
“The biggest advice I would provide would be to actively visit the country you are intending to trade with and do your research on the market you are targeting. The more knowledge you gather on the area you intend to sell in the more likely you will succeed.
“Some countries are easy to work with from a UK base, others will expect local agents, distributors or even for you to set up a subsidiary business.
“I would recommend that you speak with your local UKTI advisor as they would be able to help conduct the research and certainly provide networking opportunities that you could spend years searching for.”