A Birmingham manufacturer which specialises in making emergency evacuation chairs has come of age.
ParAid has celebrated its 21st anniversary by smashing the £5 million sales barrier while it is also renewing its efforts in the lucrative Japanese market.
The Tyseley firm started out in 1985 with five employ-ees and has seen its staff levels rise to 50, while turnover has risen from £300,000.
The company, which has its base in Weston Lane makes a range of innovative products for the medical, safety and care sectors including the Evac+Chair, the world's bestselling stairway evacuation chair.
Barry Scholes, owner and managing director of ParAid, developed the Evac+Chair after securing the European manufacturing rights from its inventor in 1989.
After nine months' prototyping, the Evac+Chair went into production at Weston Lane with output growing to 7,500 units sold in 2005.
Almost two thirds of its sales are to government funded bodies including police forces, education authorities and healthcare providers such as hospitals, day centres and nursing homes.
The remainder are sold to commercial and industrial customers including retailers, banks and building societies, sports clubs and charities.
Mr Scholes said: "Any building with more than one floor could use an Evac+Chair. Although it only weighs 10 kilos, it can be used to transport a person weighing up to 150 kilos out of an emergency evacuation such as a security alert or fire." Two-thirds of the Evac+Chairs are sold in the UK, with the remainder going abroad, half to the United States and the bulk of the remainder to mainland Europe, but seven years ago Mr Scholes began investigating the potential to market in Japan. He said: "It's not been an easy journey. When I first explored the Japanese market, it wasn't ready for the product, but after several years' perseverance, we began to make headway.
"Unfortunately after four years we had a major setback when the key contact at our distributor left the company and we had to start again with his replacement.
"Since sales activity started again last year, we are now selling around 50 Evac+Chairs per month, but I believe there is enormous potential for us in Japan and the wider Pacific Rim region."
Mr Scholes has also started investigating trade links with the Middle East and, following an exhibition in Dubai early this year, is receiving very positive inquiries.
In its 21 years at Weston Lane, ParAid has expanded premises several times, most recently by spending over £300,000 on purchasing the freehold and refurbishment of another 7,500 sq ft unit on the site, which has led to the creation of three new skilled jobs and gives scope for further growth. Any spare manufacturing capacity is taken up by offering CNC machining and welding to local companies looking for low volume, high quality workmanship.
In 2003 the directors decided to adopt the brand name as its company name, Evac+Chair International, strengthening its brand recognition on a global basis.
At the same time it has retained the ParAid name to spearhead its diversification into ambulance and hospital products and services.
Mr Scholes said: "If someone had told me 21 years ago that we'd be turning over more than £5 million a year with a growing international business I'd have found it difficult to believe. Much of our success is due to the support, advice and encouragement we've received from Business Link Birmingham."