Contact lenses trader-turned-producer’s bold move of jumping into export market first pays off

Selvam showing the reels of labels in Maxvue Vision‘s storage.

Selvam showing the reels of labels in Maxvue Vision‘s storage.

SOME businesses make it big outside before they are known back home. Such is the case for coloured contact lenses producer Maxvue Vision Sdn Bhd.

The company currently exports its coloured contact lenses to over 60 countries, including in Europe and the Middle East. About 80% of its RM17mil revenue is derived from overseas sales.

But diving headlong into the global market as a manufacturer was by no means an easy feat, said chief executive officer Selvam Kanniah. Although the company had already established a network as a contact lenses trader at the time, selling its own products brought about a different set of challenges for the company.

Maxvue was founded by Selvam and his wife Viji Ramasamy Pillai in the mid-2000s.

The company mainly supplied contact lenses to foreign buyers, until Selvam realised that they could not remain as a trading business in the long run as they had no control over the products and their stock was dependent on suppliers.

Maxvue puts in a lot of effort into dressing up its booth at trade shows.
Maxvue puts in a lot of effort into dressing up its booth at trade shows.

In 2006, Selvam came across a coloured contact lenses manufacturer from South Korea and 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.

So Selvam designed his own products and contracted the Korean manufacturer to produce the contact lenses for him.

Maxvue focused on the export market as it had already established a network as a trader.

However, Selvam didn’t know then that there were licences and certifications that they needed to obtain before they could sell their coloured contact lenses.

“Our first challenge was getting regulatory approval. Coloured lenses are considered medical devices, which require approval from the Health Ministry in almost every country we export to. Such approval often takes months or even years to obtain, with tedious documentation and test reports.

Maxvue participated in many trade shows to boost its branding in the early years.
Maxvue participated in many trade shows to boost its branding in the early years.

“For example, in Russia, the approval took nearly four years. Singapore’s health sciences authority cleared us in three years,” he said.

Maxvue formed a regulatory department and patiently worked on certifications one after another. The goal of the department was to ensure that its products comply with international standards and its work over the years helped the company obtain approval in the European Union, Middle East, Canada and South-East Asia among others.

It was a tough 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 licences, we wouldn’t have gone into making our own products,” Selvam admited.

He noted that finding the right partner to work with in other markets was another challenge and it took time to build trust.

“We also need extra care when it comes to payment collection.

“We are strict on payment. We only ship out our stock upon full payment.

Maxvue Vision set up its own design team early on, for better control of their product presentation.
Maxvue Vision set up its own design team early on, for better control of their product presentation.

“Despite all this, we still do write off bad debts every year. There’s very little you can do when they refuse to pay,” he added.

They spent much of the first two years giving out their products and building their brand presence. They invested heavily to participate in various trade shows to reach more markets.

Over the years, Selvam noted that requirements for safety compliance had stepped up. Likewise, the company had to step up to meet these additional requirements.

He also observed that consumer demands had changed quite a bit over time and Maxvue had to keep up with the trend. The company refreshes its designs every two years and has to ensure that it regularly offers new collections to customers.

“In 10 years, we have accumulated over 3,000 SKUs (stock keeping units). It’s a real challenge to manage such an inventory,” he said.

He lamented that prices of products in the market had slipped by as much as 50% in the last 10 years.

“This is the greatest challenge we are facing now. But branding really helps us deal with the price pressure. Maintaining a premium position helps us retain a better price point,” he explained.

Coloured contact lenses being packed to be shipped out.
Coloured contact lenses being packed to be shipped out.

Maxvue is in the midst of setting up fully automated production lines at its factory in Seremban, to increase capacity and reduce cost.

The first phase will have four lines that can produce about 60,000 coloured lenses per day. The production lines are expected to be completed by June 2018.

Selvam said this additional capacity would enable Maxvue to become an original equipment manufacturer for buyers from Europe and the Middle East.

Maxvue is looking at netting sales of RM22mil for 2017. And with plans in place to grow the company’s capacity, Selvam expects to double its turnover by 2019.

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 besides 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.

Having started off with a strong export market, Maxvue is increasing its efforts to also capture market share in Malaysia.

This will be another challenge for the company as Selvam acknowledges that it needs to secure the support of half of the over 1,000 optical shops in this country in order to have a sizeable share.

“We have set up a new distribution office and employed our own sales team in Kuala Lumpur.

“With our own team, we are able to better service the opticians and offer better value. We will enjoy better margins and we can direct them towards branding and promotional activities.

“The new design we introduced in the Middle East two years ago is a hot trend in Malaysia. Our premium display sets made for the European markets are appreciated by local opticians for their practicality and quality,” he added.

Maxvue’s coloured lenses are marketed under its ColourVUE brand, which includes the Glow and Crazy Lens series. Its products are a big hit during Halloween and with cosplay users.

Maxvue also supplies coloured lenses to the movie industry.

The company is working on new products for the market and has recently tied up with different institutions to carry out research work for upcoming collections.

“We just completed another clinical trial for our Airsoft Silicone hydrogel lenses at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Optometry Department. It’s a comparative study against another contact lens. The conclusion is very encouraging.

“Airsoft performed similarly in all respects. The study was presented at the World Optometry Congress. We managed to secure a number of new customers from Europe upon presenting the study report.

“Our collaboration with Management and Science University (MSU) will kick off next year. We will arrange for a lot more collaborations with MSU,” he said.