What percentage of your materials are sourced from overseas?
We have been working with overseas manufacturers to produce our outdoor furniture ranges since 2006, and today we source up to 75-80 per cent from overseas manufacturers which includes our factories in Asia and a growing percentage sourced from high end European brands of leading furniture made in Italy, Austria and the United Kingdom.
What elements of production do you do in New Zealand?
We are increasing our NZ-made production by introducing more bespoke lines to our existing ranges such as fully upholstered custom furniture pieces, tailor-made in NZ, including locally sourced timber dining tables. For five years we have sourced product from local NZ textile houses which includes our own design of outdoor cushions and accessories to compliment our furniture collections.
How did you find the overseas factories you work with? And which markets are they in?
After deciding to launch the furniture brand in 2006 and doing a lot of research into various regions for manufacturing and liaising with several factories, I engaged the services of a specialist agent here in NZ with 25 years of importing experience particularly with Asian manufacturers. This was was a very wise move - there are a lot of potential mistakes that can trip you up. Having someone guide me through the rigours of off shore production who had all the right 'contacts' and knowhow helped me succeed early on.
Are there parts of the world where they specialise in furniture fabrication?
Asia is well recognised as a leading region for rattan furniture for many of the world's leading furniture brands. Today I source components from all over the world for our ranges, to create a best-in class product. This season we are importing European specialty italian-milled Sunbrella marine fabrics for our outdoor sofa ranges. As well, I source and import various components from the USA, UK, & Indonesia - all high level marine-grade materials which are then used in the manufacture of our NZ designed collections at our factory in Shenzhen.
What challenges have you had with international manufacturers? And what lessons have you learned from these?
We have been very lucky. Over the last few we have had relationships with our international manufacturers that have grown into partnerships. They are not just manufacturers making our products, we are actively pursuing opportunities in new global markets for export which combine both NZ design and off shore manufacturing.
I think like any business a key factor for successful partnering is having a good relationship with your key suppliers, and really investing in that, for example a personal visit always makes such an enormous difference. I'm doing the 15 hour journey each way next week.
How much communication do you have with overseas manufacturer partners?
During production in our key season which is at the moment, I'm up until midnight most nights conversing with my factory in Asia on details relating to samples, production and design details. I also visit them twice a year at the start of each season. It's a great way to personally see what's new in terms of production capability and new materials.
With my European suppliers I usually fly up every season and spend a week with them, looking at new trends, emerging technologies. It is great to learn more and share information on the outdoor furniture market worldwide trends in general. The more communication the better.
What does manufacturing overseas do for your business model?
Manufacturing overseas allows us access to some of the best materials available in the world -including some that are not available in NZ - and it allows us to create and design a world-class product.
It helps with volumes, too. It's pretty simple, the more we can produce, the greater our ability ability to bring high quality products to market at the best possible price point both in NZ and internationally.
Do you emphasise that Coastal Design is a NZ business to customers?
Yes absolutely. I'm extremely proud that Coastal Design is a 100 per cent NZ owned and run business. I think this resonates extremely well with our customers. I'm even more proud that we are designing world-class products right here in New Zealand, and that we are also taking these products to export.
Is currency a factor for you?
Yes of course. This season we are dealing in multicurrency markets so while it is not an exact science, with my new stores opening overseas, I generally factor in currency fluctuation. There are many other things that can be a bigger influence to the final cost of a product which is just outside our control such as political unrest leading to shipping delays or other holdups.
Any other tips to other businesses at the beginning of their international manufacturing journey?
Do your research and don't try and do everything yourself. I have learnt so much in a short time and I have made sure that I surrounded myself with people who know more than I ever will about export and off shore markets. The Icehouse runs great export courses. I am fortunate to have a great business coach in Zac de Silva and I have terrific accountants who help me plan and crunch the numbers, and I'm very lucky I have a lot of very clued-up entrepreneurial friends.
Next week: Many small businessses are extremely proud of their company culture and it's something they establish very early on. But what happens when your company gets bigger and the boss gets spread ever thinner. How do you protect and continue to nurture that small business culture?