Asian mega centre boost for Christchurch business

By Amanda Cropp

Delta Strike is one of three Christchurch businesses that will operate in a huge new centre in Cambodia. Photo / Supplied
Delta Strike is one of three Christchurch businesses that will operate in a huge new centre in Cambodia. Photo / Supplied

Three New Zealand companies will leave their mark on Kids City, a massive new family entertainment complex in Cambodia offering 7000 square metres of indoor activities, shops, cafes and an ice skating rink on the top floor.

When it opens in March, visitors to the 12-story centre in Phnom Penn will play Laser Tag supplied by Delta Strike, scale Clip N' Climb climbing walls installed by Sheer Adventure, and experiment with hands-on science exhibits created by Science Alive.

All three businesses are Christchurch-based and Science Alive CEO Neville Petrie says the work couldn't have come at a better time.

His organisation's $500,000 contract with Kids City was a major boost following the loss of its science centre in the February 2011 earthquake, and creating 50 of Science Alive's most popular interactive exhibits for Kids City provided six months work for a team of skilled fabricators.

Those exhibits include a giant kaleidoscope and a bicycle that visitors can ride across a 12mm wire suspended three metres above the ground. "It's just like you see at the circus, but it has a big counterweight underneath so it's perfectly safe."

Petrie says developer Meng Hieng, a Cambodian entrepreneur who runs a chain of toy and book stores in South East Asia, is well connected. "His business partner is the (Cambodian) Prime Minister's daughter and her husband is the deputy prime minister's son. They approached him to work with them."

Petrie says their pricing helped clinch the deal, but some compromises were necessary: instead of Science Alive making cabinetry bases for exhibits, it proved more cost effective to have them built in Cambodia.

Dealing with a multi-story building presents some unique challenges too. "There's no freight elevator so we've had to look very carefully at the size of stuff because it has to go up the side of the building (via crane or outside lift) and in through the windows."

When some of the exhibits, such as a human gyroscope, arrived in Cambodia customs officials were mystified by the shipment. "There had never been anything like that imported into Cambodia, so we had to send images of what was being sent, so customs knew what was in the boxes."

Science Alive will also supply teaching resources for the Kids City science centre and train staff of how to relate the exhibits to the educational material.

Petrie says there was no need to adapt the exhibits to take into account cultural differences, other than translating instructions. "Science is science; it doesn't matter where it is. For example, we built some mobile exhibits for the National Museum in Thailand about three years ago and they took them out to villages as part of a road show."

Science Alive ended up on the Kids City radar thanks to a referral from Sheer Adventure director John Targett, who also introduced Meng Hieng to Delta Strike when he visited New Zealand.

Targett's first contact with Kids City came about through an email via his company website and he says it highlights the importance of following up all enquiries, regardless of how tentative they might seem. "I always give every enquiry the same attention because you never know. . . "

Clip N' Climb's imaginative brightly coloured climbing walls have a self-belay facility allowing participants wearing safety harnesses to scale walls then lower themselves to the ground. The company opened its first Clip N' Climb centre in Christchurch in 2006 and has since secured contracts in Australia, Canada, the UK, and Europe as well as Cambodia.

There is interest from Korea and also from Japan where Sheer Adventure would like to negotiate a manufacturing licence (as it has done in the UK and US): although some Clip N' Climb components are still manufactured in Christchurch, freighting the bulky climbing wall pieces is costly.

Delta Strike CEO Doug Willems is excited about the possibility of the Kids City high-rise entertainment centre concept being adopted in other major cities.

He began making his own laser tag gear after running a Laser Strike outlet in Christchurch for six years and 18 months ago he also opted for offshore manufacture in China to remain competitive.

Willems says Asia accounts for about 20 per cent of Delta Strike sales and with the appointment of a dedicated Asian sales person; he believes market share could grow to 70 per cent as interest in laser tag takes off.

"It's a very young market in Asia but it's expanding quite rapidly because disposable income is increasing. In places like China and India and many other Asian countries a lot of people are moving into cities and there's a gap in terms of what's available in terms of entertainment."

Petrie is equally upbeat about prospects for further work in Asia because of China's commitment to developing sciences centre in all cities with a population of more than a million people. "There's something like 54 science centres being built in China. If we could get even a small amount of a build in a science centre, it really would keep us occupied for a long period."

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