Vector Laboratories - Small Business Scheme

Vector logo Operating in a competitive market dominated by larger companies, Vector Laboratories aims to 'punch above its weight’ and increase its market share. Central to this drive is their quality management system which has been certified to ISO 9001 since 2002.


1. QMS Implementation

1. QMS Implementation

“ISO 9001 is considered a gold standard, it gives us greater kudos and confidence, it helps us to be taken more seriously and it meets clients’ expectations and requirements.”

Dr Ann Brighty Managing Director, Vector Laboratories Ltd

Operating in a competitive market dominated by larger companies, Vector Laboratories aims to continually improve, ‘punch above its weight’ and increase its market share.

Central to this drive, Vector Laboratories’ quality management system (QMS) has been certified to ISO 9001 since 2002, and was recently recertified to July 2014.

In 2001, Vector Laboratories established its QMS to formalise and develop its management systems, increase operational precision and efficiency, and ensure continual improvement at every level. To help do this it appointed a quality manager, Helen Tabor, and uses a consultant to provide internal audits and additional advice.

Dr Ann Brighty, Managing Director at Vector Laboratories Ltd, says: “Helen is highly experienced in process mapping and has a keen eye for detail. She’s still with the company today – in fact all our staff have been with us for over 10 years – working hard to enhance our QMS.”

2. Continual improvement

2. Continual improvement

With its emphasis on preventive and corrective actions and continual improvement, Vector Laboratories QMS has enabled it to further strengthen its business.

For example the company holds regular management review, business planning and service review meetings. Involving all operations and sales staff, these are minuted and include action-point deadlines to maximise accountability, responsiveness and effectiveness.

Other improvements include:

  • becoming much more proactive with sales leads
  • encouraging, analysing and responding rapidly to customer feedback, and copying feedback to Burlingame
  • reducing paper consumption and enhancing general environmental performance
  • implementing and ensuring 100% accurate stock-taking and complete audit trails
  • communicating better with customers and launching a new, more interactive UK website, with further developments planned:

“Our QMS helps us to trace, measure and act on everything we do,” says Ann Brighty. “This includes measuring sales order processing, delivery times and overall customer satisfaction. Our QMS keeps all staff informed of where we are – for example on customer compliments and complaints – and where we’re going.” 

3. Why ISO 9001?

3. Why ISO 9001?

“ISO 9001 takes our QMS further and makes it even stronger. Our ISO 9001-certified QMS helps us to hold our heads high, stand out in a tough market and punch way above our weight!”

Dr Ann Brighty, Managing Director, Vector Laboratories Ltd

Ann Brighty says: “With our QMS in place and working well, we decided to apply for ISO 9001 certification for several reasons. When we first looked at the standard, it seemed relevant to us. Also, ISO 9001 is considered a gold standard, it gives us greater kudos and confidence, it helps us to be taken more seriously and it meets clients’ expectations and requirements.

“We’re a small, privately owned company surrounded by bigger players. Faced with this, our robust, finely honed QMS helps us to be super-efficient, lean and mean.

ISO 9001 assessment and certification

“We chose LRQA as our certification body as they were recommended to us by an industry collaborator,” says Ann Brighty. “I knew LRQA was a highly reputable, professional company and was happy to follow this recommendation.

“LRQA’s Small Business Scheme and general assessment methods seemed a good fit. I particularly like LRQA’s focused suggestions and input, its broad, company-wide approach to business improvement and the way it helps me to manage key risks.

“LRQA has proved to be professional and very good all round. Parvinder Kaur, our assessor for many years, is personable, thorough and has suggested areas for improvement.”

Adopted by Vector Laboratories, Parvinder Kaur’s suggestions have included:

  • introducing a product recall procedure and practising product recalls
  • regularly backing up records and copying these to an external location
  • formalising a simple business continuity plan
  • monitoring late deliveries (where they actually affect the customer)
  • reducing paperwork and ending the unnecessary production of hard copies
  • testing processes that have not been used for a while, or ever
  • setting deadlines for meetings action points

Ann Brighty continues: “We thought preparing our QMS for assessment would involve a lot of box filling – that it might be a bit of an ordeal, like an exam. However, this wasn’t the case, partly because we were already in good shape. From the start we’ve constantly improved our QMS and have always aimed for excellence, not just the ‘satisfactory’ or, later on, compliance.”

4. Benefits

4. Benefits

LRQA carries out surveillance visits at Vector Laboratories Ltd every nine months, and full certificate assessments every three years.

“With health checks every nine months, there’s no room for slipping in anything we do,” says Ann Brighty. “When LRQA visits us it provides a fresh pair of eyes over our business. We value our ongoing dialogue with LRQA – it’s useful and assists us in reaching our goals.

“Our QMS and ISO 9001 certification have been highly worthwhile. They’ve brought benefits at every level, both internally – such as greater efficiency and staff motivation – and externally in the market.”

5. Forward Thinking

5. Forward Thinking

At the recent LRQA Agenda 11 client event, Ann Brighty was interested to see a presentation on a new tool for operational risk assessment. “The excellent interactive session involved using the risk-assessment tool in a practical way, which encouraged discussions between delegates. It highlighted the fact that ‘risk’ does not always involve a major catastrophe.”

The tool is now used in Vector Laboratories Ltd  formalised business continuity plan, currently being integrated into its QMS.

At the same event Ann Brighty was also impressed with a presentation on ISO 9004:2009. Focused around eight key quality management principles (including customer focus, staff involvement, fact-based decision-making and mutually beneficial supplier relationships), this standard provides a framework to help organisations improve their performance and succeed long term. It builds on, and complements, ISO 9001 and all other management system standards based on plan-do-check-act cycles of continual improvement.

ISO 9004:2009 also focuses on risk and therefore complements LRQA’s Business Assurance and focused, risk-based assessment approaches.    

Vector Laboratories Ltd is currently considering embracing the principles of ISO 9004:2009. More broadly, the company aims to raise its market share and increase exports in existing and new markets, such as Europe and the Middle East respectively. “We want to be known even more widely for our product and service quality – we want to be the first choice for reagents,” says Ann Brighty.

6. Learning Points

6. Learning Points

Are you thinking of implementing a QMS and going for ISO 9001 certification? Ann Brighty of Vector Laboratories Ltd offers her advice:

  • Keep your eye on the big picture – lower costs, increased efficiency and effectiveness, and continual improvement – rather than getting bogged down with the mechanics.
  • Avoid a paper exercise – never have a form, or fill out a form, just for the sake of it. Instead, use your QMS to make your documents and processes relevant, useful and meaningful.
  • Continually review, simplify and streamline your procedures – retain only what works and adds value.
  • Keep your documents up to date and constantly evolve in everything you do – don’t become complacent or fall behind.
  • Get all your staff involved and engaged at every opportunity.

Fact box

Vector Laboratories Ltd produces and supplies immunochemicals, reagents and detection systems for biomedical research and diagnostics. It employs: 50 people at its Burlingame, California, R&D centre, manufacturing base and headquarters; six at its Peterborough, UK, sales, wholesale distribution and support centre, opened in 1986; two at its Canadian office, opened in 1996; and 40 distributor agents worldwide.

Vector Laboratories Ltd distributes around 800 product types, mainly in the UK and Ireland but also in countries where they have no official distributors. It prides itself on its customer service, flexibility and speed: for example, orders received by 4pm are delivered the next working day. The UK office distributes US-made, finished products. If required it can also mark, label, assemble and customise certain products, packaging and kits.