Coloured contact lenses manufacturer looking to grow its local market
SPENDING money on branding may seem like an afterthought for most SMEs, but Maxvue Vision Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Selvam Kanniah knows that building a brand is a necessary investment.
“The brand is the face of the business,” he says, adding that marketing and branding is the heartbeat of any business.
Selvam notes that most of the coloured contact lenses manufacturer’s profits in the first five years were ploughed back into brand building exercises.
They took extra care to meet regulatory requirements to ensure that their brand is associated with quality products and put in extra effort into presenting their products. Much thought went into designing their packaging and display materials, he says.
Although they had limited resources, Selvam took the risk of hiring in-house designers even in the early days so that they’d have creative control over their coloured contact lenses brand, ColourVUE.
Maxvue was founded in the mid-2000s by Selvam and his wife, Viji Ramasamy Pillai.
Selvam was then working as an engineer in Singapore while his wife was doing sales for a perfume company.
On one occasion, a customer of Viji enquired if she knew where to source for branded contact lenses in Singapore. She didn’t.
But she found out that there was quite a bit of interest in branded contact lenses suppliers in Singapore.
When Viji got pregnant, Selvam asked her to quit her job. He then registered a company in Johor for her and told her to do whatever she wanted with that company.
After she left her job, she looked up branded contact lenses suppliers and even found a Japanese buyer.
That led the husband and wife to start their contact lenses supply business.
But after a while, Selvam realised that they could not remain as a trading business in the long run as they had no control over the products and they had to rely on suppliers.
In 2006, Selvam came across a Korean coloured contact lenses manufacturer at MIDO, the largest international eyewear show.
That was when Selvam found out 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.
It was also the start of the company’s journey as a coloured contact lenses producer.
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.
Maxvue was focused more on the international market as it had already established a network globally for its trading business. Although competition was stiffer, being in the international arena turned out to be a good thing for the company.
“We were pushed in the international market. We had to do better,” says Selvam.
Viji recalls their early years when they had little experience in participating in trade shows.
“When we did the Milan show, our booth was so plain compared to the other booths! It was good exposure for us. So after that, we really put in more effort into our booth,” she says.
In fact, they put in that much more effort that Maxvue’s booth started to become the standard for other brands to follow. On occasions when Maxvue wasn’t present, they were missed.
“I’m proud to say that our booth looked even better than some of the multinationals. They are following us,” adds Selvam.
Maxvue also spent more money to ensure that their display materials are eye-catching. Selvam notes that some of the visitors that come by their booth at trade shows have even offered to buy their product displays.
It certainly feels good to know that you’re leading in terms of product presentation. Selvam attributes this to his team of designers.
“We are always thinking of how we can do better than others,” he says.
But brand building is an expensive investment, admits Selvam.
In 2015, Maxvue spent about RM500,000 on its advertising and promotion works in Malaysia alone. In 2017, RM500,000 has been allocated to billboard advertising alone.
Branding is, however, one of the best ways to grow the company organically.
Their efforts have certainly borne fruits.
Today, the company exports its coloured contact lenses to over 60 countries around the world including to Europe and the Middle East. About 80% of its RM17mil revenue is derived from exports.
This year, Maxvue is expecting sales to grow to RM22mil.
The company’s efforts were recognised at The Star Outstanding Business Awards 2016. Maxvue won Platinum awards in the Best Brand and Best Global Market categories and Gold award in the Best in Marketing category in the Up to RM25mil revenue tier.
Maxvue also took home the coveted Malaysian Business of the Year (Up to RM25mil) award.
But branding is not only about presentation, emphasises Selvam. You have to ensure that you have quality products to back it up.
“We are also investing in software and ensuring we have solid certifications,” he says.
Selvam explains that contact lenses are considered medical devices and exporting them require strong brand building backed by solid regulatory compliance.
Maxvue has obtained approvals from medical device regulators around the world, such as European CE mark, Australian TGA, Singapore HSA, Health Canada and most recently, Russian Ministry of Health. The clearance from Russia came after a four-year approval process, Selvam adds.
He is hopeful its US FDA approval will be cleared by the end of this year.
Moving forward, Maxvue is looking to grow in the local market.
Selvam believes brand building will once again be key in growing its market share here.
“There are a lot of local players in the market but they don’t sell their own products. And products can be found very cheap in places like night markets,” he says.
Maxvue has opted to maintain its premium brand for the local market instead of competing on a price level. He doesn’t want to dilute ColourVUE’s value.
ColourVUE’s range of products, which includes the Glow and Crazy Lens series, are a big hit during Halloween and with cosplay users. Maxvue also supplies coloured lenses to the movie industry.
Trying to capture the local market will be a challenge but Selvam is looking into all the necessary things such as putting in a new team, systems and resources to handle local distribution.
He is confident of capturing a sizeable market share by 2018.
Innovation and technology will also be key drivers to stay competitive in the market and Maxvue plans to set up a local research and development centre to develop new material formulations and new manufacturing processes to produce products with a competitive edge.
Maxvue has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Management and Science University (MSU) to collaborate on research and training programmes.
He notes that researchers from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Monash University have also shown interest in collaborations.