High on the hog

Small Business of the Year runner-up

Prima Tech USA Inc. Headquarters: Kenansville President: Kim Quinn Employees: More than 40, 25 full time Founded: 1996 Projected 2012 revenue: More than $10 million Business: Design, assembly and sales of animal-health applicators and related products

 

clientuploads/Archive_Images/2012/12/SBOY-Primatech.gifThere are far more pigs than people in Duplin County, and that posed a predicament for Kim Quinn. “My family owned a farm, and I worked on it a couple of years. I didn’t enjoy it. So I decided if I was going to live where I grew up, I was going to have to find something else.” That search resulted in Prima Tech USA Inc., now the nation’s largest maker and distributor of animal-health applicators.

After graduating in 1989 from N.C. State University in Raleigh with an animal-science degree, Quinn married and moved back home to Warsaw, where his family raised turkeys, cattle and pigs. There he met a Florida rancher who’d had success vaccinating livestock with plastic syringes made in New Zealand rather than expensive metal ones. Quinn tried them on hogs. They worked, and he started VAC-PAC Inc. in 1995 with $10,000 from savings, selling them from the trunk of his car. “I worked the Midwest and sold about $250,000 in syringes the first year.”

Working out of his spare bedroom in Kenansville, he imported the syringes and continued to peddle them out of his car. The business grew quickly. Near the end of 1998, he started KMQ Inc. in Kenansville, which sold livestock markers — products that use dye or colored wax to identify an animal that, for instance, has been vaccinated — and artificial-insemination catheters. In 2000, about the time the company’s name changed, Quinn began developing Prima Tech-branded vaccinators with a New Zealand-based partner, unveiling them a year later at a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association expo in San Antonio. “We concentrated on high-value, high-quality products under our own brand.”

In 2002, sales and distribution operations moved to the company’s current site just outside Kenansville. A year later, after Quinn bought out his partner in New Zealand, Prima Tech moved assembly there. “We get better quality control and quality checks,” Quinn says. “We go to injection molders with tooling and design, and they mold them for us. It’s much like automobile assembly.” Quinn makes it sound easier than it is. In truth, the process requires surgical precision. “One of our problems has been finding in eastern North Carolina the skill set of labor that we need,” such as project managers, design engineers, assembly workers and salespeople.

One solution has been what the company calls its product ambassador program. Selected students from 16 universities with strong animal-science disciplines are trained to use and demonstrate the devices. “We bring them in every year to tell fellow animal-husbandry students about Prima Tech and our products, and from that, we’re able to recruit.” Participants get a $1,000 honorarium after completing the program.

KMQ and Prima Tech merged in 2005, selling all products under a single name. It has started offering items such as polyurethane boots and gloves, but applicators generate about 60% of sales, with about 60% of that from hog operations. Last year, the company surpassed $10 million of revenue — a 30% increase over the year before. By streamlining assembly, it increased productivity by 20%.

But to Quinn, 46, its global presence is even more promising. He markets products at trade shows throughout the U.S. and as far away as Bangkok and Hanover, Germany. With accounts in more than two-dozen countries, nearly a third of sales now come from exports. “In 2003, we brought that assembly operation here from New Zealand,” he says. “Now we’re an exporting company. We’re bringing jobs back to the United States.”

— David Bailey