Small business: Jan Harrison - Cactus Equipment

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Jan Harrison, Marketing Co-ordinator of Cactus Equipment, on manufacturing in New Zealand

Cactus Equipment has been making mountaineering supplies since 1992. Photo / Supplied
Cactus Equipment has been making mountaineering supplies since 1992. Photo / Supplied

Cactus Equipment began making packs and bags for mountaineers and trampers back in 1992 in Wellington. We moved to Christchurch in the late 90's so that the owners could be closer to the Southern Alps.

Since that time we have branched out into a variety of products including apparel for those who work and play outdoors and custom-designed industrial sewn goods.

Initially we sold primarily via independent outdoor retailers, many of whom have now gone out of business.

Now we have a retail outlet in Christchurch and our sales people travel the country, but most of our consumer sales are online through our website.

Why do you choose to manufacture in NZ?

We manufacture here in New Zealand because we believe that it gives us greater control over the design and manufacturing process, more flexibility, and a better quality of product than we could get elsewhere. We also feel strongly that manufacturing here in New Zealand fits better with our ethics than any offshore manufacturing we've been exposed to so far.

Do your customers appreciate this?

Our customers definitely appreciate the fact that our products are made here. Customers overwhelmingly tell us that they love the fact that our products really are NZ designed AND made, through and through. We regularly get feedback from customers along the lines of this quote from Jon, an Australian in Melbourne:

"Being disappointed with many local 'Australian' companies manufacturing offshore and seeing the accompanying drop in quality, my spirits were boosted when I came across Cactus In July 2010 when visiting Christchurch. I mentally added you guys alongside Ground Effect and Freeload to my list of "People doing things in NZ the way things used to be done here in Aus before we f*cked it up."

I'm a firm believer in the adage that you get what you pay for. I'm more than happy to hand over the extra money when I trust that what I get for that money will live up to its maker's promises.

With Cactus I believe I'm buying something that will last, and the extra money is not for a "snob" value investment to gloat about but is rather a true representation of the "real" value of what you guys make."

What sort of manufacturing expertise do you have in the business?

Our factory manager and most of our production staff have been with the company for at least 10 years and came to the company from other manufacturing companies that have since either gone offshore or disappeared.

Our board of directors also has more than 20 years experience in manufacturing.

What challenges are there to manufacturing here?

As NZ manufacturing has lost ground, the componentry and fabrics which used to be available to us ex-stock within New Zealand are fewer and further between, which means we now need to import our own specialist fabrics and items. Getting the balance between stock holding of raw materials and sales is a constant challenge.

The other issue that we face is competing with lower priced product from overseas that purports to be of similar quality. These products offer an attractive initial price point to customers that we simply cannot match, but we are able to provide quality and back-up service that they can't, which many consumers don't see at first glance.

Have you had approaches to manufacture elsewhere?

We are approached on an almost monthly basis by agents for factories offering their services to us. It is a choice driven by ethics and values rather than a purely economic imperative. There are fewer and fewer skilled manufacturing staff available and there don't appear to be any initiatives in place to change this unfortunately.

What other issues are there about manufacturing in NZ?

This is probably a question for the likes of the Buy New Zealand made campaign rather than me.

How do you market your local manufacturing story?

We remind our customers regularly that all of our products are made here in New Zealand and our reasons for that choice in our advertising and promotions. We also have a section on our website devoted expressly to answering questions about that choice.

- NZ Herald

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