Axotan stays focused on service

Axotan in Sweden is one of our longest-standing distribution partners. A family-owned business, it may be one of the smaller stoma care companies in Sweden, but that does not affect the dedicated service it gives stoma care nurses or the wide range of Welland products it offers Swedish ostomates.

We spoke to Otto Hermansson, responsible for leading Axotan, to hear more about business in Sweden and the challenges of 2020.

Axotan is a family business; what is the story behind it?

“Axotan was founded in 1991 by my father. He was working for a small diagnostics company at the time and met Welland Medical founder Chris Raper at a medical equipment fair. Based on the meeting he decided to set up a stoma care company in Sweden. It took him some time to get the products listed in Sweden, and business was very slow to start with, but my father was very persistent.

“When Welland brought out its innovative Curvex flange, HydroFrame® Flange Extender and the flushable stoma pouches, that helped us establish ourselves and grow. In 2009, I started at the company. I’d been working within the banking industry up until then, so I had a lot to learn. My father and I worked actively together until 2014/15 when he left the day-to-day business. We’re now one of the oldest stoma care companies in Sweden.”

What is your ethos and approach as a company?

“We have three stores in Sweden, and we deliver to 1,400 pharmacies across the country. As a company, our main activities are – and always have been – marketing and customer relations. My father outsourced all non-core activities such as IT and logistics.

“Our focus is on excellent relationships with stoma care nurses. We aim to provide the best service in this sector in Sweden. That has always been our goal – to have excellent knowledge and provide very good service that people can rely on. If a nurse calls us with a question, we give them the answers quickly. If they need a sample or products tomorrow, we make sure they get them. I think I know almost every stoma care nurse in Sweden!

“Key to giving this good service is our team and our logistics. We have excellent stock control and work with a third-party logistics company that specialises in consumables and medical supplies. They can get our products to any pharmacy in the country normally within 48 hours.

“We also take a different approach to most companies when it comes to the range of Welland products we offer. We offer and stock the full range of each product group we sell in Sweden, because we believe it’s important to give ostomates and stoma care nurses the choice. Holding that stock has a cost and a risk associated with it, but we believe it is worth it and that is the service we want to be able to offer. If stock is nearing it’s expiration date we have a charity that distributes it to countries where it is needed.”

How have things been going in 2020? What have you as a company found particularly challenging and how have you had to adapt to overcome those challenges?

“Year by year we’ve been growing our market share and our position, and our business has grown in 2020. Slowly, but it has grown. However, our company has been affected by Covid in a very real way.

“Our full-time team itself is small. It consists of three people. Very sadly, we lost one of our team to Covid in May. Olof Rosengren was a wonderful man, taken too soon. He was very sociable and outspoken. He was a stoma care nurse who had been working in the industry for many years and was well known and regarded by many of our customers as a good friend. That has made this year very hard for us, as myself and my colleague Emil Ehnberg lost a colleague and a friend, and need to remember and respect that our customers lost him too.

“The most important thing right now is to be available. To help people. We are being respectful of the situation. I don’t think this is a time to be aggressively marketing our products, and we’re not pushing to meet with nurses at the hospitals. Some of the nurses are open to have video meetings though.

“I believe we have to wait until the situation moves on, and I believe it’s possible to do that. Yes, business is slow, but being available is enough, and that the most important thing is to keep a dialogue with all our customers. We are using different media to stay in touch, but in a respectful way. Our key message is that we’re here. Just give us a call and we will help you in whatever way we can.

“We have also taken this time where we would’ve been meeting people to do other things. Among other things we’ve redeveloped our website and developed an online sample ordering system for stoma care nurses. It’s designed to make it much easier for them to order sample products on their tablet or smart phone, by having an interface that will be familiar to anyone who uses e-commerce sites. Each stoma care nurse now has a personalised account and we are currently running team meetings with each one of them to introduce them to the system”

“It all comes back to good service built on strong relationship. It should be easy to work with us. Nurses have a tough job, and a huge workload. They want to work with people they can rely on, and we should make less work for them, not more. This should help do that.”

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