V&S Pharmaceuticals Ltd
A family vision for success
Business View Caribbean interviews Varune Persad, Director of V&S Pharmaceuticals Ltd, for our focus on Best Practices in Health Care in the Caribbean
The V&S Pharmaceuticals journey began in 1976, as a sole trader operation importing generic pharmaceutical and chemical products for redistribution. In the mid 1980s, V&S introduced Benjie’s Balm to its portfolio of products, satisfying Trinidad and Tobago’s demand for this high quality and affordable joint and pain relief balm. As a result, V&S earned status as a major manufacturer in the region’s pharmaceutical industry.
Today, V & S Pharmaceuticals is a growing medium-size business headquartered in Caroni, Trinidad, where they manufacture over 35 products, including Benjie’s Balm, Benjie’s Arthritis, Rite-Aid Muscle Rub, Calamine Lotion, Mag-Trisil Antacid, Quick-Aid Anti-Fungal Cream, Psorex Ointment and Repel-x Insect Repellent Cream, to name a few. They are also the official distributors for the New GPC products (Limacol, Nutrophos, Ferrol, Codol) and Godrej’s Consumer Products throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
Varune Persad, Founder and Director of V&S Pharmaceuticals Ltd, tells first-hand the fascinating evolution of the company – from ‘start-up’ to the impressive family business it has now become. He shares, “The company started in 1976 by myself. I was the only employee. Around that time there was an oil boom and a lot of money flowing into the country, so it was a good time for me to start something. After qualifying as a pharmacist, I never liked the retail trade, so I was looking for something different to do. And I always had a little likeness for manufacturing. So I ventured into that area and was looking to see how I could fit in.”
At that time, pharmacies operated much differently, as the dispensary was almost like a small laboratory where pharmacists would do on the spot mixing and chemical compounding of certain antiseptic solutions, ointments, creams and even some cough syrups and lotions. Such antiseptic solutions included iodine tincture, mercurochrome and acriflavine which are used for cuts and bruises. These solutions would be prepared and kept in bulk at the pharmacy’s dispensary and whenever customers requested any such product the pharmacist would dispense the appropriate amount into a sterilised bottle or jar and attach to it a hand-written label with the product name and directions for use.
Persad recalls that the process was time consuming and so he saw this as an opportunity to possibly satisfy a need in the community and create a business. It was then he ventured into starting up a business as a Sole Trader. He began by purchasing packaging materials such as glass bottles and jars from suppliers locally and made contacts with a printery where he was able to get labels printed to improve on the overall aesthetic of the products being presented to the consumer.
The business started off small with just a few products testing the market’s response to this new approach of pre-packaging these products, as opposed to on-the-spot filling and labelling. It was readily accepted by some pharmacies, however there were those who were skeptical and a bit resistant to this change. This did not deter him and he continued with his vision in mind, undaunted and focused on those patrons who were accepting of this new idea. It was not long before the products started to gain popularity and V&S Pharmaceuticals Ltd. became a household name throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
In the 1980’s, the company started importing a product from the UK called Bengues Balsam which was already on the market as one of the more popular topical pain relief ointments. After some years, this company from the UK was sold to a company in the US under the name Bengay and so the Bengues Balsam, which was incidentally pronounced “Benjies” by most locals, was discontinued here in Trinidad and Tobago. At this point Persad saw a golden opportunity to capitalise and so he did – using the same ingredients and developing a new packaging, Benjie’s Balm was introduced to the local market. This product quickly became one of their front-line products, and to this date is still one of the company’s biggest sellers.
This thriving business that began in a 15 by 20 foot space at Persad’s home, today employs more than 80 people in facilities spread over an acre at the Caroni Industrial Park. Another building has just been acquired by the company to assist with the need for additional warehousing space as the company continues to expand. “We are a family business,” says Persad. “Myself, my son and two daughters – and I am gradually weaning myself out and letting them take the forefront.” Persad explains that while over the years the company has been exporting on a small scale across parts of the Caribbean region, it is an area in which they intend to expand and boost. One of the biggest challenges the company has been facing as of recently is the access to foreign exchange to pay for imported raw materials and packaging materials. However, it is the hope that expansion of their export market will greatly aid in this regard.
At V&S, management always aims to create as comfortable and enjoyable a working environment as they can for the benefit of the employees, and as such they have a low employee turnover. At present there are 16 long-standing employees who have been with the company for more than 20 years, and several more who had retired after being at the company for over 15 years.
In terms of technology, Persad states, “Like any other company, we seek to utilise what technology is available and applicable to our business to make daily tasks easier.” Admittedly Persad notes that in the past the company had been a little in the lag with respect to technological advancements however in recent years it is one of the company’s objectives to keep abreast with changing technologies and employ what resources they can to aid in achieving this. This includes the continuous effort to move away from manual processes in the production department to more semi-automatic and automatic machinery. The company is also currently in the process of acquiring a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and is in the process of transitioning to the new platform, though they encountered some unexpected delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking to the future, Persad shares, “Our aim is to boost our manufactured product range and to focus on exports to the other Caribbean islands to start. This is our plan for 2021 to counter the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the world recession. In addition to improving on the export and increasing our product lines, going forward, we’ll always try to improve on our current processes.” He mentioned that the company’s marketing strategy is another area of focus where they intend to channel additional resources, especially with the impact of social media in today’s world. He notes, “Social media has been a huge game changer in marketing and its influence, especially on younger generations, is evident. We are currently building our social media presence, it is a fairly new venture, but we realise it is important to capture the attention of the younger generation for our products.” The introduction of the company’s profile and brand to social media platforms is new and they are still experimenting with different campaigns and tools that resonates with target audiences. The overall goal is to expand the company’s reach, geographically and demographically, through the accessibility of disseminating product and company information via these platforms.
V&S is blessed with a wonderful family culture. They take a special interest in every individual employee to help them grow personally and within the company. Given that philosophy and the penchant for treating customers with respect and exceptional care, V&S has a very bright and prosperous journey ahead.
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AT A GLANCE
V&S Pharmaceuticals Ltd
What: Provider of quality pharmaceutical products
Where: Caroni, Trinidad