WHEN Viji Ramasamy Pillai was working as a manager in Singapore, she met a customer who enquired if she knew where to source for branded contact lenses in Singapore.
Viji realised that there was a growing demand for coloured contact lenses, and started looking for suppliers.
At the same time, she drew the attention of a Japanese buyer and made a trip to Kuala Lumpur for a pitch, despite being pregnant.
Within the week, she managed to source contact lenses for the buyer, with the packaging and preparations done by her husband, Selvam Kanniah.
It was at that moment that Viji decided to embark on this business venture, together with Selvam, and opened Maxvue Vision.
Maxvue Vision manufactures and distributes contact lenses; at present, its products are being marketed in more than 72 countries worldwide.
Serving clients from other markets was not a walk in the park because Viji had to respond to queries around the clock due to the different time zones.
The founder and managing director of Maxvue Vision recalls how challenging it was as she needed to balance between work and her personal life, especially when her kids were young.
“However, clients do appreciate my immediate response and quick service,” Viji recollects.
Competition is stiffer on the international arena, but Maxvue Vision is focused with its export strategies to remain competitive, in addition to the relentless pursuit for better design, quality and customer service.
“We set attainable and specific export objectives and indicators, and track them regularly.
“Our extensive market research and analysis of competitor actions also helps us identify market trends and adjust our strategies and actions accordingly.
“Not to mention, we actively pursue customer feedback and ensure that our goods are aligned with their expectations,” says Viji, adding that they assess the risks as well as safety of their products through self-funded research at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Last year at The Star’s Export Excellence Awards (EEA) 2022, Viji was awarded the Woman Exporter of the Year special award that celebrates and recognises the success of women entrepreneurs who drive export growth for the companies they lead.
As a woman in the export business, Viji affirms that she is a strong advocate for encouraging and fostering the growth of other women pursuing their businesses.
“Maxvue Vision has supported many women within the contact lens industry, offering our products at a more economical price.
“We recognise our female customers’ successes through annual dinners and seminars, presenting awards to our best performing female buyers.”
Viji says that they have also supported and nurtured aspiring housewives into successful entrepreneurs, both locally and internationally through free samples, training, and offering goods at lower prices.
“In particular, our German customer who was previously a housewife has now expanded her startup into a multi-million dollar venture through our support.”
In promoting gender diversity and inclusion within the office, Maxvue Vision has established initiatives to support single mothers.
She shares that they have bought a car and supported the children’s education of one of their staff members who is a disabled single mother.
As compared to previous years, they now have more women working at their office and stores; Maxvue ensures to promote a safe work environment whilst providing flexible work arrangements for single mothers.
Viji believes that as the Malaysian contact lens industry experiences growth, it too offers women increased employment opportunities and a chance to advance in business.
Their unique perspective as the primary consumers of coloured contact lenses can be a valuable asset to the industry’s development.
“However, women in business tend to face a greater challenge of maintaining a work-life balance, especially if they are mothers.
“Women also face unconscious gender bias in the workplace.
“However, I firmly believe that if you persevere and work hard, you can break these gender barriers and build a strong business, no matter your gender.”
For women who aspire to become exporters, Viji advises that they first need to understand international trade.
This includes export regulations, branding, pricing, and regulatory approvals.
Women should also build a strong network by attending trade shows and industry conferences to meet potential customers and buyers on top of conducting market research to understand target markets and keep updated with evolving trends.
It is also important to incorporate new technology and innovations to ensure business runs efficiently, maintain strong online presence, and keep learning.
“Setbacks are normal, so it is important to learn from failures and go on.”
Submissions for the EEA 2023 are still open, with nominations closing on Oct 19. The EEA 2023 is organised by Star Media Group in partnership with Standard Chartered Malaysia, and PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd as a co-sponsor, Malaysia External Trade Development Corp as patron, and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation as Technology Partner. It is audited by BDO.