Sirens and flashing lights clear a path to success

By Eloise Gibson

A record high dollar hasn't got the better of a Manukau electronics exporter, which grew turnover 60 per cent last year on the back of new manufacturing contracts - including making sirens and flashing lights for the Queensland police.

Nautech Electronics kits out the entire New Zealand and Queensland police car fleets with electronics made in its East Tamaki plant.

Despite the high New Zealand dollar and increased competition from China, Nautech's turnover grew from $8.5 million to $14 million last year - largely on the back of new manufacturing contracts.

"Yes, the dollar does hurt a bit and yes, we are losing business to China - the cheap manufacturing - but we're picking up more and more business," says technical director Andrew Turner, who started the company in 1989 with his wife Alison.

"Quality is number one for us, then delivery, and then price comes third."

Nautech started as a marine electronics company, but in 1995 it won the right to design, manufacture and fit New Zealand's police car equipment. The Australian contract came just over a year ago, after a prototype car fitted with Nautech's equipment proved popular with Queensland police.

Turner says the company now kits out about 80 Australian and 70 New Zealand police cars a month.

A complete electronic makeover, including registration and police graphics, takes two days and costs about $5000.

The Queensland cars are fitted across the Tasman by Nautech Australia, a joint venture with friends Andrew and Suzanne Holden.

Nautech has diversified into ambulances, fire service vehicles and taxis, but these days the biggest part of its business is contract manufacturing.

After fitting out dozens of police cars for Apec in 1999, Turner became nervous about the company's reliance on police contracts, which at that time were awarded on a yearly basis.

"That's when we concentrated more on growing the contract manufacturing."

Contract manufacturing now employs most of Nautech's 90 staff. Of the 90, 12 work fitting police vehicles, and Nautech's Queensland business employs a separate sales and fitting staff of eight.

Turner says manufacturing contracts for cheaper consumer goods will continue to go to China, but his company is aiming for the more high-tech end of the market.

Big contracts include making LED video screens for Day One Digital Media, who returned to Nautech two years ago after moving manufacturing to China, and making in-flight noise-cancelling equipment for Phitek, which supplies it to most of the world's airlines.

And although he has had to make his products cheaper to compete, Turner remains upbeat about New Zealand manufacturing.

"The dollar might be high but it's not the end of the world. You've just got to get on with it."

- NZ Herald

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