Personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices such as breathing apparatus and ventilators have become coveted items since Covid-19 met us earlier this year.
In countries around the world there was a lack of medical care, especially protective gowns and surgical masks.
Lumiere32 is a company that has been instrumental in ensuring that Singapore has a stable supply of health care devices in the last few months after the pandemic broke out.
They fought a worldwide ban and imported bans from large countries that manufacture medical devices, such as China and India, to bring a steady stream of medical care to Singapore.
We heard from them how they came to join the company that is now playing a vital role in Singapore's fight against Covid-19.
Digitization of the healthcare device industry
The couple behind the B2B online platform for medical devices are Dr. Priti Bhole and Raman Chauhan.
They found that the medical supply industry has followed a more traditional business model in the past three decades.
We have seen that the industry is fragmented. It is so fragmented that a single clinic has to reach multiple suppliers.
– Raman Chauhan, co-founder of Lumiere32
This makes the sales process very inefficient and some clinics may not receive their ordered deliveries on time.
They wanted to create a platform where clinics can order from multiple suppliers in a single order. They also wanted to make it easy for the clinics to request demos and samples via the platform.
However, the medical care industry has high barriers to entry because it requires in-depth knowledge and industry experience to identify the right products, especially when the care is ultimately used to protect, intervene, treat and restore public health.
Fortunately, Dr. Priti is already familiar with the medical regulations since she had worked as a full-time dentist in India for seven years. She also has a deep understanding of the dental device market in the Asia Pacific region.
With the expertise of Dr. With Priti and Raman's technical experience at CISCO, IBM and Microsoft, they built the Lumiere32 online platform.
Scaling from 6 to 130 brands
They started selling mostly dental products to private clinics and at that time only had six brands.
They then expanded their product range to include a wide range of medical devices as they saw a demand for them.
By the second year of operation, there were up to 130 brands.
Their customer base grew exponentially and also included government agencies such as state hospitals and institutions.
Lumiere32, in partnership with Grab Ventures – Grab & # 39; s Venture Building and Venture Investments Arm – has even launched Pay32, Singapore's first digital clinic wallet.
Most SMEs are unable to maintain sufficient amounts of liquidity because they do not have positive cash flow. As a result, they typically turn to alternative lenders to get loans.
Lumiere32 has partnered with the Grab Financial Group to address this issue by providing pre-approved credit lines to Lumiere32 clinics.
This service allows any dental and medical clinic to buy products straight from the platform without paying in advance – instead of paying in 90 or 120 days with 0 percent interest.
The pre-approval process also requires documentation that is as minimal as the director's identification number. This is a major advance over standard credit application procedures, which require multiple documents.
To date and in Singapore alone, Lumiere32 has supplied companies to over 750 clinics, 15 hospitals and 100 companies with up to 3 million face masks, 500,000 thermometers, several thousand hand disinfectants, insulating gowns, N95 masks and other important medical devices.
Challenges at the beginning
However, it wasn't a walk in the park to get to where they are today.
When we started, it was difficult for suppliers to trust us. We appeared to them as a threat. The suppliers saw us more as competition than as partners.
– Dr. Priti Bhole, co-founder of Lumiere32
After 15 months in business, they finally gained the trust of the suppliers and made sure that they worked for and not against them.
"When you work with dental and medical supplies, you need to make sure that you add to their business capabilities. We have licenses from the Health Science Authority and a GDPMDS license for Lumiere32 that we can use to control the distribution of the products," added Raman added.
Against this background, Lumiere32 must ensure that these products are delivered in the right quality and that no counterfeit products reach the clinics.
COVID-19 came and disrupted their business
The biggest challenge they have faced so far is none other than Covid-19.
When the pandemic hit nations at the end of January this year, many markets were unprepared.
"(Suddenly) we received over 300 calls and 200 emails for the bulk purchase of PPE," said Dr. Priti and Raman.
In the same month, China imposed a ban on the export of PPE, which affected most local suppliers in Singapore, as they are heavily dependent on China for medical care.
“Our local suppliers were out of stock within 3 to 4 days and we had to look for suppliers and manufacturers overseas to meet demand. The team's workload has increased tenfold and we only had 24 hours a day to manage it, ”said Dr. Priti and Raman.
Raman then quickly booked a flight to India to procure medical care because India is the closest and largest country to China to provide medical care after China.
He traveled to Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai to meet manufacturers and suppliers.
In the meantime, customer inquiries flooded their communication channels as they struggled to take care of everyone.
We slept about 3 to 4 hours a day for almost a month and a half to make sure we could respond to every request. We worked 7 days a week for almost three months as demand and requests kept us busy.
– Dr. Priti Bhole and Raman Chauhan, co-founders of Lumiere32
According to them, the real obstacle was when countries around the world began to block their borders while medical care was desperately needed to leave overseas factories to arrive in Singapore.
Dr. Priti repeated at the beginning: "We even had to travel across borders to receive medical care ourselves."
The following month, India followed suit and imposed an export ban on face masks, and one of its huge programs couldn't get through at the last minute. They were only able to secure a small shipment of face masks shortly before the ban was implemented.
Luckily, Raman managed to carry some high-quality N95 masks by hand on the way back to Singapore, which they later donated to old people's homes here.
They also donated 45 boxes of PPE to Gvt. Medical University & Hospital in Nagpur, India / Photo credit: Lumiere32
At that time, they were also in contact with manufacturers from countries such as Turkey, Malaysia, Korea and Vietnam to integrate their products on the platform so that they could secure some PPE and hand disinfectants.
In addition to struggling to ship deliveries, manufacturers increased their prices daily due to a shortage of raw materials and as buyers around the world rigorously bid on products.
Since most of the major airlines were based, shipping costs also increased 9 to 10 times. Finally, the prices of the products rose due to the scarcity of raw materials and the increased logistics costs.
"It was very difficult for us to inform consumers about the sudden rise in prices," said Dr. Priti and Raman.
Before the pandemic, Lumiere32's PSA sales made up only five to eight percent of clinic and hospital purchases.
Today, PSA sales have increased 9 to 10 times, including, but not limited to, masks, thermometers, hand sanitizers, gloves, face shields, insulation gowns, and goggles.
How it will look beyond COVID-19
The world has recognized the importance of medical devices more than ever.
"We assume that the demand for PSA articles will continue for some years after Covid-19 has been contained," said Dr. Priti and Raman.
"Healthcare professionals worldwide will take stricter disinfection, sterilization, and personal protection measures to prevent unforeseen events."
To curb the lack of face masks and protective clothing, companies around the world have switched their original production lines to manufacture these coveted items.
“Even in personal terms, people started to produce and sell PPE. However, this is a temporary phase in an hour of need. "
Lumiere32 assumes that this will cease after the end of the pandemic and the supply of these items will decrease.
Once Covid-19 wears off, all organizations will resume work as the medical device space requires deep knowledge and expertise about the products and consumer buying behavior.
– Dr. Priti Bhole and Raman Chauhan, founders of Lumiere32
There have been many counterfeit products or products that do not comply with the market regulations.
New manufacturers and buyers who don't know better have jumped on the bandwagon to manufacture or sell medical supplies with inadequate expertise.
How health care retailers can better manage bottlenecks
In the future, medical device companies should be open to using technology and digitizing their procurement, emphasized Dr. Priti and Raman.
This will eliminate inefficiencies and also speed up the process of procuring medical care in times of need, as Covid-19 has shown the importance of digitizing what we can do.
In addition, traditional companies rely heavily on a few manufacturers and mostly one or two countries to procure supplies.
The pandemic has resulted in many companies stopping their deliveries due to import bans imposed by large producing countries and national barriers.
"Instead, they can use technology to connect to multiple verified manufacturers and suppliers around the world, which can help them procure supplies, address bottlenecks, and facilitate outbound cross-border transactions," said Dr. Priti and Raman.
Selected image source: Lumiere32