Since its founding in 1968 as a clinical laboratory supplies distributor for the Southern Ontario market, ESBE Scientific has expanded steadily and significantly and is widely known as one of the largest 100 percent Canadian-owned distributors serving the clinical, research, industrial, and biotechnology laboratories.
Through alliances with an increasing number of suppliers and by purchasing regional and national distributors—most notably Ingram & Bell Scientific in 1994—ESBE is dedicated to offering the scientific community high-quality goods and expert services at reasonable costs.
With an eye to environmental preservation, ESBE is also committed to collaborating with businesses that make energy-efficient machinery, develop environmentally friendly solutions for consumables and packaging, use environmentally friendly production techniques, and support Green programs in the workplace and the community.
In fact, in addition to minimizing, reusing, and recycling waste whenever possible, ESBE has solar panels installed on the roof of its head office and warehouse.
ESBE has a long and impressive history serving the Canadian scientific community. For more than five decades it has been bringing the latest innovations and technological advances, providing quality products and professional services at competitive prices.
“My dad bought the existing business of ESBE Laboratory Supplies in 1968,” says President Laurel Wiseman. “He was an engineer by trade, and he worked for a number of companies, the last one being Westinghouse.”
After he was laid off, her father went back to school and got into the law field, but he always wanted to be his own boss. When he and a colleague found ESBE for sale, it seemed a perfect opportunity. “My dad quickly realized he didn’t want to work with a partner, he wanted to work for himself. So he bought the partner out.”
Located on Bathurst Street, ESBE initially also had a retail store where it sold birthday gifts, says Wiseman.
“Then my father hired some really good people, which I think was really the key for him, particularly his first sales manager, a woman, who, for that time in the late 60s, was really quite interesting. My dad couldn’t care less what the gender was, as long as they were great at what they did.”
A medical technologist who wanted to get out of the lab, she got the business off the ground, expanded it and spent her entire working career with ESBE, says Wiseman.
“I think this speaks to the culture of being a family, and the inclusiveness of the place,” she adds. Wiseman herself joined the company in 1986 and has since expanded the business “by leaps and bounds” across both its product mix and customer base. Part of its success over half a century, she says, has been the company’s trust in and commitment to its long-serving, highly knowledgeable salespeople, earning in return loyalty and dedication. That continues unchanged.
“That speaks to who we are and the culture we are,” Wiseman says.
In terms of innovation and technology, Wiseman’s father was also innovative in his way, adds Michael Ratos, Vice President of Sales & Marketing.
“He created moulds for some of the urine tubes currently used in the market. He saw a need and he created something,” Ratos says. And when the company early embraced environmental issues, ESBE was the first to put up solar panels, long before sustainability became an industry-wide credo.
Along with its commitment to energy-saving green practices, the company’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system—the brain and nerves of a distributor—saves time and money for the company and its customers.
“A lot of our customers are in a fast-paced industry,” says Ratos. “They require things fast and our system allows us to do this.”
Some examples include Punch-Out, a digital system that enables clients to browse the company’s product catalogues online before making purchases through the client’s e-procurement system. “Currently, we’re integrating a lot of the universities and other accounts with Punch-Out,” says Ratos.
With its perspective on innovation and organizational excellence, ESBE had moved its phones to a VoIP system even before the pandemic. “We were a bit ahead of the game with that,” says Ratos.
In the same way, ESBE chooses to partner with innovative companies, including PHCbi (formerly Panasonic Healthcare Holdings Co., Ltd.), a leader in incubation and preservation, Hettich, a German company that has won numerous awards for innovation globally, and Irish company Randox, a longtime key supplier in the diagnostic division.
Then there’s Montreal-based Galenvs, the only company in Canada producing magnetic bead technology, which was highly in demand during COVID for PCR extractions.
“We’re excited to work with them because they developed everything in Canada, and with us being a Canadian company, the partnership and the synergies were there for the market,” Ratos says, adding that a lot of these companies are at the forefront of their technologies around the globe and that it’s ESBE that’s bringing them to the Canadian market.
“One of the reasons they pick us over the large multinationals is they know we’ll treat their products with respect, as opposed to the larger companies who put them into their portfolio and maybe they’ll get to it,” Wiseman says. “They know we’re going to focus on it, that our salespeople are going to focus, and they know their customers want their product. I’m honoured when they pick us versus someone else.”
ESBE continues to look for suppliers that embrace sustainability and has brought on board many that have a record of reducing a large amount of wastage in the community. “When you look into the scientific industry, there’s a lot of wastage in consumables, so we do our best to look for suppliers that reduce that as well,” Ratos says.
This results in dollars and cents for customers, and as a Canadian company, ESBE is always very sensitive to taxpayer dollar waste, says Wiseman. “If we can do something in our own way to save them money, then we’re for it.”
These are all recipes for success, but there’s more to ESBE’s story.
“The engine behind us is our people,” says Ratos. “It’s a family-style kind of operation, but we’re very corporate in how we manage our business. We treat people like they’re part of the family, but they know at the end of the day we have to produce the numbers and results for ourselves.”
Ratos adds that three legs support the organization and keep it rock-steady, the first being customer-centricity. ESBE continues to make decisions based on the customer and how every aspect impacts the customer.
“That’s important to us because that’s how we drive loyalty,” he says. “We do have a lot of loyal customers, and that customer-centricity is driven across the entire organization from our salespeople to our operation, even to our finance people.”
The second leg is supplier engagement. For instance, ESBE won’t be a company that takes on a million suppliers and loses sight of what matters to customers. “We don’t want to create too much competition among suppliers, but at the same time we want to give our customers choice,” says Ratos. “We actually reduced the number of suppliers so we could form stronger partnerships with them.”
In addition, offering too many choices can be overwhelming. ESBE handles this by reducing the number of suppliers it has to key suppliers only, and who are making quality products.
“Anything a customer buys from us, we stand behind, from a service and quality perspective,” Ratos says. “We’re one of the few companies in our industry that have in-house service, giving our customers peace of mind that whenever they buy anything from ESBE, there’s a service team that stands behind it.”
The third and last leg of the three-legged stool is operational excellence. The company’s Vice President of Operations and Regulatory Affairs, Ari Pires, does a “phenomenal” job in management, promoting customer focus, including the ERP system. Operational excellence, Ratos says, involves doing what the customer wants, delivering when they want, the accuracy rate, the timings, and reducing the number of errors.
“It’s also going that extra mile for a customer. If a customer calls and says they didn’t get their shipment, most other companies will put them into the queue and get to them whenever. Not here. We take it personally, and I think our customer loyalty reflects that.”
Part of ESBE’s dedication to providing quality products lies with its five product managers and two agents that work globally, allowing the company to source the world for products that meet customer needs. Product managers and agents bring quality products to ESBE’s table where they go through an internal vetting process, validation, and quality control before they’re sent to customers.
“Once we’re happy with a product, before launching it or introducing the market, we’ll pick customers we know very well that will help try out the products we’re going to onboard,” Ratos says. Once products pass the customer test, ESBE starts launching into the market, confident they have achieved their high standard of quality.
Ratos adds that the high-tenured service component of the organization is also a critical part of the company, bringing vital reassurance to customers.
“These guys are phenomenal,” he says. “I can’t overemphasize the quality of our service technicians and our service team in providing peace of mind for our customers.”
Ratos also praises the company’s sourcing team, which tackled numerous challenges during COVID, including the stoppage of testing kits from U.S. vendors.
“They chose not to supply Canada with critical products we needed for testing and protecting ourselves,” he says. “Our global sourcing team was able to find the product, and we were able to comply with the government requests and provide them with the kits they needed to do all the testing required during the pandemic—even the provincial and federal governments.
“It was key for us. That’s one of our biggest competencies—that we were able to help the Canadian government when they needed us. We all take pride in that.”
ESBE also helped track down cold storage units for the vaccines when they were initially developed. “Again, it just goes to show that as a Canadian company, we bend over backwards for our customers.”
In late 2020, Wiseman was interviewed by Global News following an announcement by The Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence and former Minister of Public Services and Procurement, that ESBE Scientific had been awarded a contract to supply Canada with PHCbi -86°C freezers to be used to store COVID-19 vaccines. ESBE answered the call and delivered over 30 freezers (-86°C and -30°C) to the Public Health Agency of Canada without any delay. These freezers were delivered to every Province and Territory in Canada in preparation for the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.
As ESBE is a distributor, not a manufacturer, it scours the world for products, but there’s always the risk of doing too good a job, prompting offshore suppliers to decide to sell products direct.
“There’s always somebody looking over our shoulder,” says Wiseman. “If you don’t have a proper partnership with your major suppliers, there’s always that risk and it’s happened once or twice to us. Our job is to make sure the manufacturers understand the value we bring that they can’t do on their own if they want to go direct.”
What does ESBE hope to achieve in the upcoming years? The company is heavily focused on the clinical market and is doing an extremely good job there, says Ratos, but it’s looking forward to expanding into the academic and biotechnology markets.
“We offer great products and great service, we’ve just never gone full force into these different market segments,” he says. “Those two areas will be my next challenge and milestones.”
It’s all about meeting clients’ needs for different products, sourcing them, bringing them to market, and keeping customers happy, all of which ESBE excels at. “We’re proud to be Canadian, and proud to be female-owned,” says Ratos. “I don’t know too many companies in our industry or in the market that are female-owned.”
The company’s succession plan for the next few years includes Wiseman passing the torch to her daughter. Until then, Wiseman will continue to uphold ESBE’s commitment to quality and customer service across the board.
“It reflects the positive culture of our workplace,” she says. “Gender doesn’t matter here. We’re all colleagues working together to get the job done. But I agree with Mike that our culture is truly special and unlike any other.”