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Global success for North Wales manikin firm as company eyes £4m turnover

Ruth Lee Export Manager, Ian McCulloch and Managing Director, Paul McDonnell

A family run business from Corwen, Denbighshire, is on track to reach record sales of over £4 million thanks to recent export success across North America and Europe, supported by the Welsh Government.

Ruth Lee is a world-leading supplier of manikins and training aids utilised by rescue training experts across the world. Designed and manufactured in Corwen, the manikins are primarily used by the military, fire and rescue services, healthcare sector and those operating in water rescue services, from swimming pools to flood zones.

The firm works with companies and organisations across the world, including the US military, US Homeland Security, United Nations, Australian Navy, Australian SES, energy companies including Siemens and Orsted, and airports such as Changhi Airport in Singapore. In the UK, the company is also a major supplier to the NHS.

Exports account for around 70% of the company’s turnover. Recently, Ruth Lee has identified significant potential in the US for its patient handling and bariatric plus size manikins, which were originally redesigned and refined during the pandemic for medical professionals who could no longer train on real people anymore, but who still needed to complete their ongoing professional qualifications. While these products were initially designed for the NHS, they are now seeing significant success in the US, largely due to the litigious nature of its healthcare sector, where patient handling is a legally fraught area and intensive training in this skillset is becoming more of a focus.

After attending the Association of Safe Patient Handling Professionals in Arizona, the President of the Society asked Ruth Lee to attend a second conference, The Bariatric Solutions Conference where a number of connections across the US were made, including with bariatric equipment suppliers. The company was supported by the Welsh Government to attend both events, as part of the Overseas Business Development Visit (OBDV) grant.

Another success across the Atlantic is the Canadian water rescue market, specifically for the company’s pool rescue manikin, which in early May won the coveted King’s Award for Innovation. The product, which is now shipped around the world to over thirty countries, was originally developed for the Canadian market to train a new generation of skilled lifeguards and it is in this region that the company has seen continued interest.

To showcase the water rescue manikin worldwide, supported by the Welsh Government, Ruth Lee recently attended the Perth World Conference on Drowning Prevention, led by the International Life Saving Federation. Later this year, again with Welsh Government support, the company will be attending several more water safety conferences and exhibitions, including the World Waterparks Association Annual Symposium & Trade Show in Las Vegas, as well as the National Water Safety Conference & Association of Aquatic Professionals Conference in Florida.

“Events have become a huge part of our export strategy”, said Paul McDonnell, managing director at Ruth Lee. “We’re attending more than ever before all around the world and really looking to grow our brand awareness in global markets.

“As well as doing a lot of work in the US, we’ve also been extremely proactive in the Middle East and Asia and have recently appointed new distributors in Dubai and another in Malaysia, who will look after the whole of South East Asia for us.

“India is another huge target market that we are actively exploring. I’ve recently returned from a market visit to Mumbai and Bangalore hosted by the Welsh Government, where some excellent in-roads were made to establish new market partners and we’re looking forward to announcing some new deals in the Indian market very soon.”

Jeremy Miles, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language said: “It is vitally important for innovative Welsh businesses to have the opportunity to showcase their products and services to potential new customers across the globe. I am extremely pleased that Welsh Government export support programmes, delivered as part of our Export Action Plan, has contributed to the success of Ruth Lee in their target export markets, supporting the overall growth in the business.”