Success Stories
Health & Life Sciences

PriMED Medical Products: How an upstart medical supply company grew up in Edmonton to become a global success story

Primed-office-stairs
March 4, 2019

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Visit a hospital or a clinic in Canada today and you will find an ordered, sanitary environment. Inside, practitioners and patients alike are shielded from injury and ailment by standardized protocols, garb, gloves, facemasks, bandages, and a myriad of other protective devices. A far cry from the grubby, disease-ridden medical houses and primitive practices of old, healthcare has been transformed by advances in both medical knowledge and the tools, equipment, and accessories used to practice it.

The production of these products is an industry dominated by major corporations such as 3M and Cardinal Health. But, included in this group of heavy-hitters is Edmonton’s own priMED Medical Products.

One of Canada’s leading healthcare supply and manufacturing companies, priMED makes medical products for use in clinical, surgical, and infection control environments, including anesthesia, protective apparel, and wound care.

Competing in an industry dominated by large, established multinationals is a challenge many companies balk at. But such an effort leaves President & CEO David Welsh unfazed. Talk to him, and he’ll describe the advantages his company relies on: end-to-end manufacturing capabilities; the collaborative Alberta health system; and a supportive local business community that embraces risk and entrepreneurship.

With a global reach and an international supply network, priMED brings indispensable medical products to hospitals, clinics, and facilities all over the globe, helping millions of clinical users every day. While you may not have heard their name, you have probably seen their products in action. Here in Canada, virtually every hospital and clinic carry their supplies.

Taking the Lead: Innovative Growth & Sustained Success

priMED’s origin story follows the familiar contours of most entrepreneurial success tales: the dream, the risk, the small home-based operations, and the weary satisfaction of significant hard work leading to first gradual and then sustained growth.

The specifics of this case: priMED was founded in 1995 by entrepreneurs Guy Plamondon, Chris Thompson, and John Veres. Initially, they started as a sourcing company, providing private label solutions to a distributor, or a branded solution to a system buying in lower order quantities. Their product line was relatively simple. They stuck to basic wound care, producing gauze and small bandages.

Business was good, but it was limited. They had little-to-no contact with end-users, a diminished value chain, and a complete dependency upon the distributors they sold to. That changed when they began to transform the business, shifting the focus away from distributors and directly onto the customers, the end users of the product themselves.

This transition to self-manufacturing took place over the next several years, and in the spring of 2007, when manufacturing regulations in China reformed to allow foreign investors to establish wholly owned enterprises, they broke ground on their first fully owned factory. A crucial step, this allowed priMED to transition away from merely being a sourcing “middleman,” to becoming a company in full control of its product and destiny.

Highlighting the importance of self-manufacturing, David Welsh explains, “Self-manufacturing adds an enormous amount of value to our company. It allows us to integrate right across the whole spectrum of the business…We truly own our factories and have 100% control over them.”

Fully owning their own factories in China has proved to be a beneficial decision, one that aids priMED’s rigorous commitment to quality and creates additional time and cost efficiencies as well. It has also allowed them to be agile and proactive in their approach to innovation. With full control of the supply chain and manufacturing process, they are able to embody an experimental ethos, constantly testing out new ideas or modifying old ones. This has greatly improved their product performance over time, cementing their reputation as industry leaders.

Take their face masks, for instance.

Face masks keep clinicians and doctors safe and prevent the spread of disease, making them an essential instrument in daily clinical use. priMED recognized that the market for masks was stagnating in an unhealthy way. Looking around the industry, they were unimpressed with the lackluster offerings available. As Welsh says, “We hadn't seen any innovation within the product. [The competitors] products had been stagnant in design for 10 years plus.” He knew that with priMED’s distinct advantages, including close access to industry due to Alberta’s integrated health system, they could create a much better product. One that improved performance and took into consideration the user experience by making them more comfortable and easier to wear. Welsh continues:

"We decided, we were going to design our own face mask program. And we did this in collaboration with [Alberta Health Services]. We used a lot of input from clinicians here to design that product line. And through the years, we've become a real global leader in the design of our face masks…We now have the most comprehensive line of face masks globally. And we not only market our face masks in our own brand within Canada and Australia and New Zealand, but we are a major supplier to different companies around the world, throughout Europe and the U.S."

By valuing a nimble, controlled manufacturing process, embracing a global mindset, and prioritizing innovation, priMED has been able to grow from being a scrappy upstart company to one of the major medical suppliers in the world.

Edmonton has been a great place to work from. I think we have amazing access to talent in Edmonton.
The Edmonton Advantage

Through their impressive growth, priMED has remained headquartered in the city where they started. Today, they operate out of Alberta’s first LEED Platinum Certified commercial building, the priMED Mosaic Centre. Far from being a hindrance, remaining in Edmonton has provided some unique advantages. For one, Edmonton is home to Alberta Health Services (AHS), the first and largest fully integrated health system in Canada and one that serves over four million patients.

AHS’s presence as a collaborative partner gives priMED a huge leg-up when designing and manufacturing their products, because it allows the end-users a voice in the products they are so dependent on. For many companies in other countries, this invaluable relationship is unattainable.

"The assistance AHS provided us in our initial design work, it was very powerful in building those types of relationships between industry and the actual end user groups. Because these organizations are government run entities, it certainly is a strong way to build the economic advantage for Canadian companies. Having exposure to clinical input on product is absolutely essential [and an example] of where we have competitive advantage over say a Chinese manufacturer…They're manufacturing product for global companies, but they themselves have very little exposure to clinical end users."

Consequently, the health and life sciences sector is one of our city’s greatest strengths. Approximately 70% of Alberta’s health and life science companies are located here, along with numerous globally recognized research institutions. Welsh puts it simply, “The Canadian healthcare industry is very advanced, very strong. And if you can build products to the liking of the Canadian market, they're going to be respected worldwide.”

In being a provincial leader inside an industry-leading country, Edmonton is an exceptionally advantageous proving ground for companies looking to penetrate the world market.

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