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Global success for Merlin Vet Export as economy recovers

A SCOTTISH veterinary supplies wholesaler is on course to double exports to £1 million after successfully tapping into the burgeoning demand for UK products in Asia.

Borders-based Merlin Vet Export has won a series of orders from new customers in places like Hong Kong and Singapore after launching a push for growth in the area.

The firm has also won new business in the Netherlands, Lithuania, Germany and Kuwait.

With enquiries coming in from around the world, Merlin is preparing for further expansion.

Managing director David Taylor said: "We're looking for new premises as this will facilitate even further distribution. We're also working on plans to import drugs from overseas for supply and we'd like to target vets in Southern Ireland and Poland."

The company's success provides an unusual example of how firms in Scotland can cash in on the strength of the UK's reputation in overseas markets.

"Our clients are attracted by the price and the quality of the pharmaceuticals that we offer. All of the drugs are licensed here in the UK, which ensures that they are safe and that they work - in other countries this is not always the case," said Mr Taylor.

"The Far East has an appetite for UK branded products, such as Land Rovers and whisky and this extends to our pharmaceuticals."

Growth in Asia has provided a boon for Scottish firms that are able to capitalise on the emergence of a new middle class in countries like China. Whisky makers have been able to cash in on the fact that affluent consumers like to drink Scotch to show they have arrived.

Merlin, which is owned by a veterinary practice, is not able to supply to mainland China because of controls on imports of products for animals there.

However, Mr Taylor said it has enjoyed good growth in Hong Kong where products for companion animals like cats and dogs are in strong demand amid rising prosperity.

There has been a big increase in the number of vet's practices in Hong Kong since Merlin started supplying there in 2007.

Mr Taylor, who is a vet in the parent Merlin Veterinary Group, was approached to supply goods to Hong Kong by a friend who worked there, after a big increase in the value of the Australian dollar pushed up the price of supplies from that country.

Mr Taylor has acquired ten years of experience dealing with suppliers as a director of the Vetcel buying group. This buys supplies for 150 practices.

Merlin mounted a push for growth in new export markets after getting advice from Business Gateway service.

Sandra Campbell, Business Adviser, Business Gateway Scottish Borders, said: "This is a fantastic local business that is having great success oversees.

"We were able to assist with international strategy, support for fact finding for new markets and information and com­munications support and we have also signposted other support available and look forward to continuing to work with Merlin Vet Export as the venture grows."

Mr Taylor said he sees opportunities for Merlin to win export business in Africa.

He has been talking to ­specialists in countries including Ethiopia and Uganda about how the company could support local efforts to increase the productivity of farming operations.

Founded in 1817, the veterinary practice has turnover of around £3m, with premises in Galashiels, Kelso, Duns and Eyemouth. It employs 56 people, plus four on the export side.

Mr Taylor said the core vets business is also doing well.

The recent economic recovery appears to have encouraged people to spend more on pets. Spending fell during the long economic downturn.

However demand on the farming side is more subdued.

Mr Taylor said the strength of the pound has posed challenges for some farmers while uncertainty about reform of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy is weighing on sentiment.

He said the core vet's business is keen to expand possibly by acquiring other practices.

He noted that many practices are owed by people in their 50s who may be thinking about succession issues.

The fragmented sector has attracted interest from venture capitalists who see opportunities to act as consolidators.

Mr Taylor said young vets may face difficulties raising funding to buy practices.

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