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« What restaurant chain is shopping Roch? | Main | Big change + Roch. sports business »

August 25, 2008

Roch Medical growing

Here's some from a piece I have in today's print edition on the growing Rochester Medical and its catheter business:

In a classic business story, Anthony Conway cooked up a device in his Rochester kitchen in 1979 that he, his brother and a partner have built into a $36 million, rapidly-growing company.
Gal_rochester_medical_2
However, it was nothing as sexy as a spicy pizza recipe or a super-fast computer chip that stunk up his newly-built kitchen.

Curing in his oven was a very early version of external male catheters, a condom-like device that patients wear to collect urine.

“If you need one, they are a life-saver,” Conway says of the line of catheters his current company, Rochester Medical, makes. “If you don’t need them, you don’t want to hear about them.”

Today, Rochester Medical is the largest maker of silicone catheters in the world, and it ships products to 65 countries. Manufacturing equipment in Stewartville runs 24 hours a day, with a worldwide staff of about 285 employees.

So why catheters?

It goes back to a third Conway brother — Chris — who had a Minneapolis-based medical supplies company. He was having trouble getting catheters, so brothers Anthony and Phillip, along with partner Ricard Fryar, created the company Arco in 1979 to make latex catheters.

Later they sold the company, and the trio founded Rochester Medical in 1988, which eventually focused on making silicone catheters.

For a while, they considered making sports equipment like tennis racket grips and bicycle gears.
Eventually, they settled on making what they knew best — catheters.

To compete in what is now a $1.5 billion market in the United States and Europe, the small startup company zeroed in on a strategy.

“If you don’t have something better and unique, you can’t compete with the big guys, you just can’t,” says Phillip Conway while standing among manufacturing equipment.

The result is products like antibacterial-coated catheters and Foley catheters — ones inserted in the body — made with super-soft silicone. Industry competitors made those catheters with a stiff PVC material.

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Since 2003, Rochester Medical has approximately quadrupled in size.

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