Meeting standards pushes safety equipment manufacturer in the global market
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-of-mouth. 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.