Commercial Review: Medical Firm Has Sealed Up Global Sales with Innovative Product Line; Skin Adhesives Manufactured by a Small Comber-Based Medical Company Are Helping Ostomy Patients around the World. HELEN McGURK Reports on the Firm Which Is Forecasting a Healthy Outlook for the Year Ahead

Article excerpt

Byline: HELEN McGurk

TG EAKIN'S marketing director is all too aware that his business operates in an area most people would rather not discuss. But being prepared to get involved in the ostomy products market has paid off handsomely for this small family-owned firm.

TG Eakin takes an innovative and competitive approach to business, which has helped it become a major force in the global economy with turnover currently standing at pounds 4 million.

Situated near Comber, it began as a pharmacy, but moved into manufacturing its own products in 1974 after Tom Eakin, its founder, discovered that many of his customers were unhappy with the ostomy products they obtained from him.

"The setting up of the company was always less important to me than the product. The fact that I ultimately set up the company to deal with it was simply logical," says Tom.

Ostomy is a type of surgery (due to bowel cancer, Crohns Disease or other complications) where a piece of the bowel is brought out to the surface of the skin and body waste is collected in a bag. There are three main types of ostomy - ileostomy, colosotomy and urostomy.

Originally Tom developed a range of disposal ostomy pouches. Throughout the development he also had to make an adhesive which attached the pouch to the body and also protected the skin.

The adhesive was much more successful than the pouches so the company now supplies ostomy and wound care products (Eakin Cohesive Skin Seals and Barriers) around the world.

"The skin surrounding the stoma (the opening) is vulnerable to attack from body waste which contains toxins which can be acidic and will burn the skin, so the adhesive goes around the stoma and protects the skin from any waste which might seep from the edge of the bag and prevents sore and irritated skin,'' explains marketing manager Jeremy.

Sales grew steadily in the UK, but the breakthrough came in the early 1990s when the company began exporting.

Now the US, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are among 20 countries to which it exports.

Indeed the Eakin name is better known abroad than at home, because while in the UK the products are sold under distributors' names, elsewhere they are sold under its own name.

"The products came to prominence between 1979 - 80 and it was about that time that we set up a distribution system with a company called Salts Healthcare in Birmingham and that was the start of the growth in sales. In the UK and Ireland the products are known as Salts Cohesive Seals because it is sold under their brand name.''

In such a small operation strict demarcation of responsibilities is not practical. But, as Jeremy puts it, his father is involved in product development his brother Paul (operations director) "makes it'' and he "sells it''.

All the products are made at the factory - a converted school bought in 1985. The company currently employs 30, a figure which is set to grow due to an increase in export sales

"In the last 12 months we have started to get a lot closer to the IDB and are working with them on an expansion project to double the size of our existing premises. This will create about 20 new jobs and after it is completed at the end of this year there will be ongoing growth," says Jeremy.

Eakins has also become an award-winning name in the industry. In the last few years it has scooped a number of prestigious titles including Northern Ireland winner of the Parcelforce UK Small Business Awards, national winner of the Parcelforce UK Awards in recognition of the fact that two- thirds of its annual sales come from overseas, Northern Ireland winner of the UK British Trade International Export Awards and it was hailed Small Business Exporter of the Year at the IDB Trade International Exporter of the Year Awards.

Jeremy says winning the awards has been a huge morale boost for the company. …