A culture of care

20 July 2016

Bruce Mascull / International Business Development Manager / New Zealand

Tapping into New Zealand’s rich seam of innovation, over the last 25 years, Medifab has gone from a small family business to a company headquartered in Rolleston with significant international potential. We’re now recognised as a leader in the development of life-enhancing postural-aid products. 

Our focus is on the provision of high-end, customised disability solutions. Medifab provides specialised equipment – such as walking and standing aids, strollers, car seats and bathroom accessories – to help those with physical disabilities. We also manufacture specialised wheelchair seating and children’s mobility equipment. Globally, an estimated 18 million wheelchair users have high-end needs like those served by Medifab.  

But, unlike many Kiwi companies, we didn’t start the business intending to export. Two key external factors pushed us to make that step. Medifab was doing well serving the New Zealand health market, until a Government funding crisis in 2003 that some in our industry didn’t survive. Realising we had all our eggs in one basket, we decided to explore the Australian market. It was do or die, but we successfully opened a direct supply route there a few months later. Our Australian branch office has been flourishing since 2009 with 25 dealers now covering different markets.  

The GFC was another turning point for us, as the international market changed overnight. Governments could no longer afford expensive medical products and manufacturing went back to basics. The GFC hit us hard, but we managed to come out of it stronger by adopting corporate structure and values, and changing the entire DNA of our company.

Our business is founded on listening and learning, and asking questions – even the ‘dumb’ ones – so we don’t remain ignorant. 

Willingness to learn and accept advice has taken us from a simple service-based industry to a global manufacturer. Innovation and product development are also vital to our success. We’ve recently hired more design staff to resource our innovation.  

It’s important for New Zealand companies to recognise the negative perceptions around the Kiwi number-8-wire mentality. You can’t knock something up in your shed and attempt to sell it to a health market in Europe; it just won’t fly. We’ve had to tune our attitude and put significant time and energy into building an export ‘vehicle’ by strengthening relationships and demonstrating that we’re a Kiwi company with quality engineering and innovation.

We develop all our products and make most of them in New Zealand, but it’s a global market and as volumes increase we’d be foolish to ignore overseas resources. It can be more efficient to have some of our componentry produced offshore. We believe it’s better to have a healthy company based in New Zealand, than to stifle our business by turning down global opportunities.  

We’re working on creating the right culture and structure to drive our exports. We plan to expand into America and other parts of Europe, and have been carefully studying those markets. The US is challenging but with co-funding and support from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise we can enter that market having worked through the required research.

NZTE has also introduced us to industry veterans who have helped us shape our strategy. We’ve derived a lot of value from the Path to Market programme – we lap up everything NZTE can throw at us. 

Last year, half our turnover was from exports to Australia, the UK, UAE and Europe. We expect the balance to tip more towards export growth as the larger overseas markets come on stream. Our experience is that the more overseas challenges we face, the more innovation we are able to offer back to New Zealand.  

Bruce Mascull is International Business Development Manager for Medifab. The company designs and manufactures customised postural aids to help those living with disability and special medical needs. 

This story was originally published in NBR.