Inside Track Q&A: Pamex

Pharmaceuticals distribution company supplies products that sooth irritating problems such as dry eyes and shaving burn

Castlebar-based pharmaceuticals distribution company Pamex has made a business out of making life more comfortable for those suffering with irritating problems such as dry eyes and shaving burn.

What is special about your business? We are probably best known as the company that brought the product Total Shaving Solution to Ireland 20 years ago. Since then we have grown into a pharmaceutical marketing and distribution company employing 15 in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

How did your business come about? I was in my local barber's shop on a Saturday morning and as a martyr to nicks and razor burn, my interest was piqued when the barber handed me a bottle of shaving oil. It was called Total Shaving Solution and he said it would consign my broken skin to history. I overlooked the irony that the man making the recommendation was the owner of a luxurious beard. It was as good as he promised. I tracked down its creator (a retired builder) in the US and came home with the world marketing rights.

What sets your business apart in your sector? Our aim is to make life more comfortable for people and our focus is on high-end niche products that do so. We conduct rigorous checking to determine a product complies with Irish regulatory standards and also look at the track record of a manufacturer. Lots of products don't get beyond our initial screening.


What has been your biggest challenge? Managing the impact of the recession on our growth – it stopped us in our tracks – and continuing to knock on doors as assiduously as ever in search of exceptional new products. We are a €4 million turnover business with nine reps on the road. This dropped to four during the recession. We had to tread very carefully, really manage cash flow, forgo price increases and trim margins.

They say timing is everything in business. How was yours? Pamex was born out of tribulation, so neither good nor bad. Prior to setting it up I was general sales manager for Syntex Pharmaceuticals and life was good. That all changed when Syntex was taken over. My post was made redundant and I was a father of four in the dole queue. Having consulted colleagues, I decided to use my experience and local knowledge to help manufacturers seeking a foothold in the Irish market.

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business? Don't shy away from asking for advice. We Irish tend to be a secretive people. We don't like to share our ideas in case someone might steal them. As a result we cut ourselves off from advice that could prove invaluable. This is why I'm a firm believer in having an outsider on the company board.

What has been your biggest success? Building a portfolio of products that make life better for people. Thousands of people who suffer from dry eyes; dry mouth, dental problems and even irritable bowel get great comfort from using products we introduced to the Irish market. And we have changed the way people shave with Total Shaving Solution.

Who do you admire most in business and why? The former head of Chrysler and Ford Motor Company, Lee Iacocca, who famously said, "we are continually faced with great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems." His decision-making and leadership skills are legendary. Closer to home the basic lessons I learned from my Mum and Dad continued to be invaluable. I also greatly admire the business acumen of Michael O'Leary and Castlebar native, Niall McGarry of Maximum Media, the founder and brains behind the extremely successful websites and

How could the Government help SMEs like yours to prosper? By changing its mindset. It is reckoned that over 85 per cent of employment in Ireland is provided by SMEs but they don't get the recognition from government agencies they deserve. The rules and regulations surrounding the setting up and ongoing development of small businesses are choking the sector.

Also, we must get rid of this old fashioned thinking that you must manufacture in order to be successful and to get with State aid. That’s complete nonsense.

It’s also completely and utterly wrong that if a business has employed people and paid all its VAT and taxes and goes to wall, that employees are far better off than the employer as far as social protection is concerned.

In your experience are banks lending to SMEs? Yes. I think banks have improved their approach over the past few months especially. However, I notice that crowd funding has become very popular and no doubt will continue to be attractive. We have practically no competition in the business banking sector. As a consequence interest rates are way too high.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in business? Taking too long before appointing a "pair of outside eyes" to advise us on strategy.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business? Red tape and having to wade through badly worded job applications with incorrect spelling and no grasp of grammar.

What's your business worth and would you sell it? We have a five-year strategy to grow the business. We intend to concentrate on increasing our product range, increasing our revenues and employment over that period. The actual worth of the company will be determined by how much a suitor is prepared to pay, but right now we are not for sale!