Gwalia Healthcare were fortunate to feature in Barclays Corporate Banking Client Stories whereby our Managing Director, Rod Parker, discusses the company's challenges and successes over the last eighteen months.
Gwalia Healthcare's Managing Director Rod Parker talks about pivoting in the face of adversity, making the plastics industry more ethical and capitalising on the power of LinkedIn.
Business in brief
Founded in 1968 by Dennis Parker, Gwalia Healthcare is a pharmaceutical packaging business, medical device manufacturer and, more recently, contamination control and sanitising specialist. Based in Treforest, Wales, its customers include many well-known UK brands across a variety of sectors including pharmaceuticals, healthcare, retail, entertainment and professional services.
Family-owned Gwalia Healthcare, formerly Dragon Plastics, started life as a custom-moulder of plastic injection mouldings and assemblies. But the company's product lines has radically transformed over the years, from designing child-resistant pharmaceutical solutions and developing improved packaging solutions for the vitabiotics sector, to manufacturing and developing innovative, intelligent medical devices.
The business has a strong history of quickly adapting to changes in government regulations, identifying market needs and developing cost-efficient solutions for its customers. Third generation Rod Parker, the current managing director, is proud of his family's achievements: 'We look at what else is out there, and then we see if we can make it better, faster and cheaper than everyone else'.
Gwalia has also focused on finding the right people to drive the business forward and invested heavily in efficient manufacturing processes and specialist equipment.
Weathering the storms
Disaster struck the business in February 2020, when Gwalia found itself at the epicentre of Storm Dennis. 'Our entire factory was flooded. Everything was gone, all our equipment unusable' Parker explains. The team immediately set to work cleaning and repairing what they could, only to be faced with another disaster six weeks later in the shape of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At that point, with only a few machines in working condition, Parker's advisers suggested he close the business and furlough staff. 'But closing wasn't an option. I said I'd find a way to keep going'.
And he did: 'Within 24 hours, I'd received enquiries for over 120 million empty sanitiser bottles. But I thought 'why supply only the empty bottle, and not the finished product?''. Using his extensive network of contacts, along with a large dose of his trademark ingenuity and determination, Parker quickly sourced certified alcohol gel, a filling machine and a labelling machine - And Gwalia began to bottle and supply its own sanitising gel.
Working 24/7 - and with further investment in raw materials, machinery and people - Gwalia was soon able to use its fully integrated manufacturing and filling solution to fulfil significant contracts for various customers , including Arco, local councils and NHS England.
'The demand for new product lines from these customers saw us turn around design, tooling and production in as little as 13 days' Parker says, 'I don't know how the team did it, but they did'.
The power of social media
Parker attributes some of Gwalia's success during the pandemic to LinkedIn, which has enabled the company to create a strong online profile and connect with a lot of new people: 'I'd never used it before, but it's an amazing tool. It provided lots of enquiries and recommendations that we were able to capitalise on'.
Pivoting through the pandemic
While many businesses may have been content with supplying sanitiser gel, it wasn't long before Parker was thinking about what to do next: 'We needed to get people back to work, using public transport and enjoying themselves. We needed to get industry working again'.
Realising that decontaminating large public areas would be key to achieving this, Parker partnered with two local scientists who had developed and certified an alcohol-free anti-microbial biocide product - Hybrisan - that offers quick-acting, long-lasting bacterial protection for treated surfaces. He also researched different ways in which to apply the product most effectively, including trigger sprays and airless sprayers. Gwalia is now the UK distributor for Graco Sanispray decontamination sprayers.
'Together with our partners, we offer a complete service, including disinfecting and sanitising solutions, infection control consultation and contamination control training'.
An ethical approach
Parker feels strongly about reducing the company's environmental impact. 'Fortuitously, the flood provided us with an opportunity to invest in more efficient machinery that consumes considerably less energy. We're now meeting increased demand, while still reducing our carbon footprint'.
Given the company's heavy reliance on plastic, Parker and the team are working hard to make the packaging and products they supply more ethical. He has recently convinced three major brand owners, including a large retail chain, to use 50% recycled materials for their packaging and hopes many more will follow suit.
Gwalia also tries to use 'hyper-local' suppliers and do as much in-house as possible. This approach helps build resilience within the local economy, as well as having environmental benefits. 'By manufacturing the packaging, filling it and shipping the products directly to the customer, we're reducing the significant transport requirements and, in turn, the carbon footprint'.
Parker believes the future will provide many opportunities for Gwalia's new sanitisation and decontamination division, particularly within the entertainment and events sectors.
While the company has experienced rapid growth and significantly increased its workforce since the start of the pandemic, Parker still plans to expand capacity across other parts of the business. 'A lot of our recent success has come from our existing vitabiotics and pharmaceutical sector. Everyone is now taking vitamins to build their resilience and combat Covid-19, and they'll continue to do so long into the future'.
Available at - https://www.barclayscorporate.com/content/dam/barclayscorporate-com/documents/insights/industry-expertise/SME-business-guide.pdf#page=22