Who says you can't manufacture in Australia?
With all the news of manufacturing going offshore, it’s nice to be able to profile a local manufacturer with its sights on Asia that intends to maintain production in Australia – at least for the moment.
Impression Healthcare is a commercial dental device laboratory disrupting the dentist market.
It sells a range of dental devices directly to the consumer through its e-commerce platforms at a fraction of the price a regular dentist charges. The devices it manufactures include mouth guards, night splints, custom teeth whitening plates and, soon, an anti-snoring device.
“We’re in the early stages of expanding internationally, still manufacturing out of Australia. We’re looking at logistics and how that affects our pricing; we have to have new pricing to absorb the logistics costs,” says chief executive Matt Weston.
At the moment the business can manufacture 50,000 units a year, but Weston says this could be quickly scaled up. He also has a program to train more technicians.
Impression Healthcare, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, made revenues of $282,045 in the last financial year on the back of a net loss of $21 million, which included $17 million to buy the Gameday Mouthguard company.
While it’s difficult to access market data about dental devices in Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics’ records shows the annual value of medical device exports is $2.1 billion.
ABS statistics say there are around 4,000 medical technology wholesaling and manufacturing businesses in Australia, most of which are small to medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 20 employees and revenue of less than $2 million.
As this shows, Australia is a small market and Weston, who lived in China for five years, has Asia in his sights.
“The set-up for that is creating a digital platform and footprint in an international country, developing content and AdWords campaigns and getting the logistics right.
“There’s work to be done; but not a lot of barriers stopping us. Australia is a good place to incubate your product and find out what’s right and wrong. Then you roll it out into bigger markets you can scale quickly,” he explains.
Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong are his three targets. “China is going to take a while, because of regulations,” says Weston. Secondary markets include Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.
A lot of people are like gamblers; they like to tell you about their wins, but they don’t tell you about their losses.
Quality control is the reason for staying in Australia for the moment. Says Weston: “If you look at our Facebook reviews, people speak about the quality of the product and the convenience of it. We want to maintain that.”
Longer-term it could make sense to manufacture in Asia. “Then someone from here has to go and manage it, because we’re very conscious of brand. You can lose that pretty quickly when you start scaling and using third parties,” he adds.
Aside from plotting overseas expansion the business has recently cranked up marketing and branding, and introduced teeth whitening and a night split for teeth grinders into its product range.
“From 1 October we don’t have to worry about building new websites and product development, it’s all about building brands and marketing which is really 80 per cent of what this business should be,” Weston explains.
Brand awareness has been the greatest challenge. “There’s no one out there doing what we do. So one of our challenges is trying to get people’s attention,” he explains.
Weston says the biggest risks he has taken have been on the marketing program. For instance, as far as he knows the business was the first custom mouth guard product to advertise on TV.
“There have been significant costs for marketing campaigns; that’s been one of the bigger risks we’ve had to take,” he says.
Weston’s advice to other entrepreneurs is to learn from mistakes and have a mentor.
“Look for someone a generation above you who has experience. A lot of people are like gamblers; they like to tell you about their wins, but they don’t tell you about their losses. When you can build a relationship with someone and they can tell you about their challenges and when they’ve gone wrong, you can take something out of that.”
One of Weston’s mentors is Singaporean Mark Chung, who built online job site jobstreet.com. “It took him 20 years to build and he sold it to Seek for $524 million,” he says.
Weston describes Chung as very softly spoken and structured. “Whenever I’m in Singapore I catch up with him. You can imagine how busy he is; but he dedicates time because he feels he owes that back to young people.”
Ultimately, Weston, 44, says his secret for success is keeping things simple. “Emotional intelligence and self awareness is a big one. As you get older, you can become more humble. You start to understand your self-awareness.
“Knowing what you can and can’t do is really important, because I know when you’re young you want to do everything and give everything a go. But they can become expensive mistakes. That’s what I’d say to myself if I was talking to myself at 25,” he says.
It’s a great attitude to have as he spearheads the next stage of Impression Healthcare’s development.