Breaking into the US market isn’t always easy but with the right supports, infrastructure, attitude, and product, it is achievable.
Alan Sullivan, Managing Director of Meditec Medical, addressed the Enterprise Ireland knowledge event aimed at helping Irish manufacturers to navigate the US supply chain.
His company has enjoyed tremendous success in the US thanks to the Mediflex, a specialised mattress for clinical use, which prevents pressure sores. While the innovative product is now used in hospitals across the region, initial entry was made with the help of a planned introduction from Enterprise Ireland.
“Enterprise Ireland brings US companies to Ireland to showcase what our businesses do. One day we were told that Boston Children’s Hospital were in – the holy grail for suppliers,” he explained.
Opportunity knocks for Meditec Medical
“Dave Walsh, the hospital’s Director of Supply Chain Administration, came into our office and we showed him around. He said there and then: ‘When can you trial this?’
“We went to Boston with the sample and presented, then started talking about the innovative stain-resistant cover, and the traction started to build from there.”
From the start, Alan was keenly aware that opportunity only knocks once, which drove the company’s rigorous preparation ahead of every visit.
“I have one chance and I have to get that right.
“Before going into the US market, there are certain things you need to be ready for. The last thing you want to do is to go into a big seller and for them to ask, ‘do you have X in place?’ and for the answer to be ‘no’, or to have not even considered an answer,” he said.
“We got our product tested in the east coast of America for compliance with fire regulation. Because we were already looking for our FDA approval, we already had those wheels in motion.”
Securing a long-term relationship
There can be several boxes to tick, he explained, and no value in attempting to cut corners. Teaming up with local expertise is often a good idea.
“For the FDA approval, we did a lot by ourselves, but we also got a consultant in the US. Importing into the US is very different to importing into Europe. You have to have an importer on record, essentially a company in the States who will keep your records to be referenced by organisations like the FDA.”
“When it comes to customs clearance, you have to get a partner to ensure everything runs smoothly,” he added, noting that delays early in the process can have a disproportionate impact on long-term relationships.
“It’s important that all of the details are nailed down before it leaves Ireland. Don’t promise the order will be there by Tuesday, only for it to get caught in customs.
While an in-market distributor can offer big benefits in terms of access, contacts and local knowledge, Alan insisted that staying clearly visible in discussions was key to the success of the product’s sell-in.
“The main thing about dealing with a distributor is that you can’t just allow them to take the products on and present them,” he said. “I know my products, how to present them, the engineering that goes into it. It’s very hard to relay this to someone with 2,500 products in their portfolio.”
Nailing the process
This hands-on approach served Alan and Meditec extremely well over the course of their developing relationship with Boston Children’s Hospital.
“We sent the product over by flight and I followed it over myself. I met key people from the hospital and we got a chance to iron everything out. Anything we didn’t have in place, we nearly had in place. We got the trial.”
The process, Alan explained, was not simply a test use period – but also an ongoing opportunity to refine the product to suit the buyer’s needs.
“We already had a heel section and the clinicians wanted a head section too. So, we went home, added that and came back.
“Labelling, visibility, everything – we changed and customised it to get it right.
“The clinical aspect of the product stayed the same, but we adjusted the features.”
This detail-oriented approach was precisely what the hospital stakeholders were looking for and was an important element in the eventual success of the trial.
“I trained up the people on the ground and put my distributor in the position where they could fix any issues,” he explained.
“If they feel like you’re far away and you’re not going to put in the hard yards, they’ll go for the safe option – like a US multinational. You need to show them.”