Maxvue grew from an obscure operation into an established coloured contact lenses producer with a strong international presence.
SOME entrepreneurs launch out with solid business ideas. Some, unintentionally become entrepreneurs.
For Selvam Kanniah and his wife, Viji Ramasamy Pillai, both in their mid-40s, they unintentionally became a contact lenses producer after a series of random events. The venture has since grown and shaped up into a rather solid business.
Their unexpected journey of founding Maxvue Vision Sdn Bhd started in the mid-2000s. At that time, Selvam was working as an engineer in Singapore while his wife was doing sales for a perfume company there.
One fine day, a foreign customer of Viji enquired if she knew where to source for branded contact lenses in Singapore. She didn’t. But she was intrigued by the request.
She did some research and found that there was quite a bit of interest in branded contact lenses suppliers in Singapore as they were seemingly cheaper there.
Not long after, Viji got pregnant and Selvam insisted that she resign from her job.
“I didn’t think it was good for her to be around so much chemicals like perfume. So I registered a company in Johor for her and told her to do whatever she wanted with that company,” explains Selvam.
He, of course, did not expect her to do anything serious with the company.
But Viji was resourceful and driven.
After she left her job, she looked up branded contact lenses suppliers and even found a list of potential buyers.
One of these buyers was from a Japanese contact lenses supply company. He was interested to meet them and had wanted to check out their operations before placing an order with them.
Selvam was dumbfounded. He did not expect his wife’s venture to turn into a proper business.
On top of that, they did not have an office to show this Japanese buyer around.
Fortunately, he had an old office space available in Kuala Lumpur, which had been used for his short-lived software company prior to moving to Singapore. Like a fly-by-night set up, Selvam spruced up the office in time for the arrival of the Japanese buyer.
“I whacked whatever answers I could for all his questions and somehow, he seemed very convinced with what we were doing. He wanted us to supply him with branded contact lenses. And to our surprise, he took out a contract from his bag for us to sign,” he says.
The next day, the Japanese buyer placed his first order and wired over the payment the following day.
Their seemingly makeshift business was quickly becoming a legit one.
Orders started picking up. Within eight months, their Japanese customer alone had placed some RM4mil’s worth of orders.
Selvam eventually left his engineering job to focus on building Maxvue with his wife. They relocated to Seremban, where the business is still based today.
He started travelling around to source for more stock to keep up with the orders.
“That was when I realised we couldn’t do this trading business long-term. We don’t have control over the products and we have to keep relying on suppliers to meet our business needs,” he says.
In 2006, Selvam took a trip to Milan to check out eyewear trends at MIDO, the largest international eyewear show.
There, he came across a Korean coloured contact lenses manufacturer’s booth.
“There was no one at the booth. The guy manning the booth sat quietly at his corner and I decided to go over and see what they had. I picked up their brochure and I thought coloured lenses were quite an interesting product,” he notes.
After some research, Selvam found that 90% of the world’s coloured contact lenses market was controlled by a single player. And it was a growing market. It seemed to him that there was potential to grow with the market.
Maxvue drew up designs for three series of coloured contact lenses and contacted the Korean manufacturer. They managed to negotiate a deal to purchase the coloured lenses from the manufacturer at half price for the first six months, a feat that still amazes Selvam till this day as it is a deal that is unheard of in the industry.
What he didn’t know then, though, was that there were licenses and certifications that they needed to obtain before they could sell their coloured contact lenses.
“Contact lenses are considered medical devices but we had no knowledge of all the medical requirements. So we applied for the licenses as we went along. Whenever we came across a need for one, we’d apply for it,” he says.
It was an arduous journey. But on hindsight, going into it blindly turned out to be a good thing.
“I think if we had known that we had to get all these licenses, we wouldn’t have gone into making our own products,” he admits.
Maxvue focused on the export market as it had already established a network as a trader.
They spent the first two years giving out their products and building their brand presence. They also invested heavily to participate in various trade shows to reach more markets.
According to Selvam, most of its profits in the first five years were ploughed back into brand building exercises. They took extra care to meet regulatory requirements in various countries to ensure the quality of their products and put in extra effort into presenting their products. Much thought went into designing their packaging and display materials, he says.
Their efforts have certainly borne fruits.
Today, the company exports its coloured contact lenses to over 60 countries around the world including in Europe and the Middle East. About 80% of its RM17mil revenue is derived from exports.
The company’s efforts were recognised at The Star Outstanding Business Awards 2016 when Maxvue took home the coveted Malaysian Business of the Year (Up to RM25mil) award. Maxvue also won Platinum awards in the Best Brand and Best Global Market categories and Gold award in the Best in Marketing category.
“It was a pleasant surprise for us because we weren’t expecting to win Business of the Year. This is one of the best awards for us because it is not a paid award,” says Viji.
Selvam notes that the company has also gotten a little more attention, including from private equity firms, since winning the awards.
“This has given us the motivation and the confidence to go further,” he says.
This year, Maxvue is expecting sales to grow to RM22mil.
Maxvue is also hoping to grow its market share locally as its ColourVUE brand is already established in the international market. Its local business was previously handled by a distributor but Maxvue is looking to work directly with retailers this year to boost its presence in Malaysia.
Maxvue is also in the midst of installing new manufacturing lines at its facility so that the company will be able to have control over its own production. At the moment, manufacturing work is outsourced to manufacturers in Korea, Taiwan and Australia.
“We wanted to do our own manufacturing earlier but getting the technology was difficult,” says Selvam.
The first line will be ready by the end of this year and will have a production capacity of 7 million lenses per year. Another three lines will be added on after that.
Once its production lines are up and running, Selvam is confident that the company will be able to cater to demand from the Malaysian market. He hopes to grow revenue contribution from the local market from 20% to 25% by the end of this year.
Maxvue is also looking to grow its OEM business even further in the coming years.
Selvam has some aggressive growth plans for the company over the next five years, particularly for the local market. And if all goes well, he is eyeing an initial public offering exercise at the end of the five-year period.
“We didn’t expect to come so far. But in a blink of an eye, here we are. We hope we can continue to grow further. And it is not just us who grow, but also those who are with us, including our staff and partners and suppliers.
“We are happy to see them grow as well. Some of them have amazing stories of this journey with us. We have disabled employees whose lives have been transformed and we want to hire more disabled workers. All this gives us a lot of satisfaction,” he says.
Maxvue currently employs a staff of about 45 but its headcount is expected to go up to 100 by the end of the year once it starts its own manufacturing works.
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