Se­cur­ing the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket

Meet­ing stan­dards pushes safety equip­ment man­u­fac­turer in the global mar­ket

The Star Malaysia - StarBiz - - Star Sme biz - By JOY LEE joylmy@thes­

COURTING the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket is not easy when you have stan­dards to meet. Par­tic­u­larly so, when you deal with safety equip­ment.

“Ev­ery coun­try has a dif­fer­ent stan­dard and it takes years to pass them,” says Datuk Lee Ngai Mun, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Pro­guard Safety Man­u­fac­tur­ing Sdn Bhd.

The com­pany, which took home the Plat­inum award for Best Global Mar­ket in the up to RM25mil rev­enue cat­e­gory at The Star Out­stand­ing Busi­ness Awards (SOBA) 2017, man­u­fac­tures per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment such as safety hel­mets and eye­wear.

When Pro­guard Safety started ex­port­ing its prod­ucts in 2001, it had yet to es­tab­lish its rep­u­ta­tion as a pro­ducer in the global mar­ket. The com­pany had started man­u­fac­tur­ing works in 1997 but its pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity was greatly af­fected by the slow­down in the econ­omy then. Thank­fully, things kicked into full gear by 1999.

Busi­ness boomed and go­ing abroad seemed a nat­u­ral step to take. But Lee did not ex­pect and was not fully pre­pared to spend so much time and money try­ing to gain ac­cess into other mar­kets.

“It burns a hole in your pocket!” he laughs.

“You have to keep run­ning tests. But we have to meet them be­cause this con­cerns peo­ple’s safety. And dif­fer­ent coun­tries have dif­fer­ent weather con­di­tions, so your prod­ucts have to be tested to suit these dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. But it re­ally takes a lot of time, at least two years. And even that, there is no guar­an­tee that you will pass,” he adds.

The anx­i­ety is real. And for­tu­nately for Lee, ev­ery time he was about to give up on one coun­try, he’d some­how get the needed ap­proval.

But it is not only about meet­ing reg­u­la­tions, says Lee. It is also im­por­tant that its prod­ucts meet the qual­ity re­quire­ment of its in­di­vid­ual clients.

Lee re­calls one of its early clients from Aus­tralia who had re­turned his goods be­cause they weren’t up to par. He had to strike off the loses from the re­jected goods and re­placed them with new ones. On top of that, he had to cough up ad­di­tional funds to ship the new batch over.

It was an ex­pen­sive les­son. “You can­not make sub-stan­dard prod­ucts for your clients. You can­not short-change your cus­tomers. And when you’ve made a mis­take, ad­mit it and be ac­count­able for it,” he says.

To­day, Pro­guard Safety ex­ports to over 30 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ger­many, Ja­pan, Nether­lands, the US, Rus­sia, the Mid­dle-East and South-East Asia. It also car­ries out con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ing work for large equip­ment com­pa­nies over­seas.

Ex­ports make up about 70% of the com­pany’s RM20mil rev­enue. Of this, 70% is de­rived from its orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness.

This year, Lee is eye­ing some 50% growth and is hope­ful of hit­ting sales of RM30mil.

Lee’s wife, Pro­guard Safety chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Datin Cindy Choh, is con­fi­dent that it can meet its tar­gets.

The com­pany has in­creased its man­power to 200 peo­ple and added in more el­e­ments of au­to­ma­tion to cope with the grow­ing de­mand from the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

“We have a lot of new over­seas cus­tomers com­ing in and there’s also in­creased or­ders from our ex­ist­ing cus­tomers. It’s ac­tu­ally quite a chal­lenge for us to cope,” she says.

Lee notes that au­to­ma­tion has helped the com­pany in­crease its ef­fi­ciency by 20% and it will con­tinue to au­to­mate as much of its pro­cesses as pos­si­ble to in­crease ca­pac­ity.

“The global mar­ket for safety equip­ment is huge. Of course, there is com­pe­ti­tion from China and peo­ple like to com­pare prices of your prod­ucts with China’s prices.

“But we em­pha­sise on the tech­nol­ogy and qual­ity. We bench­mark our­selves against pre­mium brands and we are proud to say that, with our qual­ity, our prod­ucts are made in Malaysia,” says Lee.

Pro­guard Safety in­vests heav­ily in re­search and de­vel­op­ment works to en­sure that its qual­ity is in­tact and that its prod­ucts meet safety reg­u­la­tions.

“The ex­port busi­ness is all about hon­our. We don’t want to do short-term busi­ness. We want to be there for the long-haul. So things like hon­esty, in­tegrity and trans­parency need to be there. It takes a lot of hard work and com­mit­ment,” he says.

He adds that the com­pany is reg­u­larly au­dited by its for­eign clients and has al­ways come out sat­is­fac­tory. More often than not, its cus­tomers and sup­pli­ers are im­pressed by its op­er­a­tions.

Pro­guard Safety is look­ing to ex­pand its ex­port mar­ket fur­ther as Lee notes that the lo­cal mar­ket is not grow­ing as fast. He is fo­cused on the South-East Asian re­gion.

But more than just to boost pro­duc­tion for ex­ports, he hopes his ven­ture in the over­seas mar­kets will so­lid­ify Pro­guard Safety as an in­ter­na­tional brand. That will give the com­pany a leg-up as it com­petes with other larger play­ers in the global arena.

So far, busi­ness is do­ing well. Its rep­u­ta­tion, opines Lee, has ex­ceeded even his ex­pec­ta­tions.

“We are grow­ing by word-of­mouth. Peo­ple look us up and they come to us with­out us hav­ing to knock on their doors,” he says.

Lee says he and his wife have laid down a strong foun­da­tion for the com­pany to grow on and it would take a lot to “kill” a busi­ness such as Pro­guard Safety’s.

Key in­gre­di­ents: Lee (left) and Choh em­pha­sise that hon­esty, in­tegrity and trans­parency are im­por­tant val­ues in main­tain­ing a long-term busi­ness. Pass­ing the test: Lee shows the dent made on its vi­sor af­ter it is hit with an ob­ject at high speed. Most vi­sors sub­jected to the same test would have cracked, he says. Safe and sound: Pro­guard Safety man­u­fac­tures safety equip­ment such as safety hel­mets and eye­wear.

Keep­ing up pro­duc­tiv­ity: Au­to­ma­tion helped the com­pany in­creased its ef­fi­ciency by 20%.

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