Winner Medical hopes to score with cotton fabric

NEW YORK When Winner Medical Group CEO Li Jianquan rang the opening bell at Nasdaq MarketSite this summer, it was the culmination of a career for a man whose dream once had been simply to get enough to eat.

Since Winner’s founding, it has grown into a major producer of such medical products as gauze and masks, exporting its products to the United States, Germany, Japan and other countries. Based in Shenzhen, China -- the bustling commercial city across the border from Hong Kong that was the epicenter of China’s economic reforms that began more than 30 years ago under premier Deng Xiaoping -- Winner began listing on the NYSE Amex last year and began listing on Nasdaq this year.

 

In 2005, the company got the idea to produce a nonwoven cotton fabric that wouldn’t lose threads or produce lint and would be biodegradable, dubbing it PurCotton. Winner has opened more than a dozen stores in Shenzhen, mostly in residential areas and shopping malls, with hopes to expand to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou if the stores are successful. So far, Li said, around a third of the stores have broken even.

 

 

Products sold in the stores include cotton balls, swabs, bandages, cosmetic removal pads and household cleaning supplies, made from cotton imported from Texas. At the moment, Li said, Winner will wait until it has found success in China before opening PurCotton stores abroad, though it does export products made with the fabric to other countries, and it holds patents on PurCotton in more than 50 countries.

 

 

Born near Wuhan, a large city in central China’s Hubei province, Li spent most of his early years working in the countryside. At that time, he ate meat perhaps once a year, for the Lunar New Year. “Before I was 23, I always dreamed of having enough rice to feed my stomach,” Li told Drug Store News. “It was a very, very poor situation at that time.”

 

 

After several years working for a state-owned company, Li founded Winner in 1991 in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, across the border from the gambling hub and then-Portuguese colony of Macao. The first few years were the most difficult, especially because banks at that time could not lend money to privately held companies. The company moved its headquarters to Shenzhen in 2001.

 

 

“We had to rely on ourselves to build up the business step-by-step,” Li said.

 

 

This summer, Li said, Winner had more than 200 PurCotton items available and hopes to more than double that number by the end of this month.