Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

The big OE: Exporting to the world

There’s a great big world out there – and it’s crucial for Kiwi companies to be part of it, writes Diana Clement

No containers are needed to export nanofibres, one of the lightest products around. Photo / Kellie Blizard
No containers are needed to export nanofibres, one of the lightest products around. Photo / Kellie Blizard

Export is vital to New Zealand's economic wellbeing. And businesses from all corners of the country are courting overseas buyers with everything from vinyl emulation software for DJs to skincare products. Each and every exporter is bringing in vital foreign currency.

Some are very innovative indeed. For example, West Auckland-based RevolutionFibres sells one of the lightest export products imaginable - nanofibres.

A wide range of solids and liquids can be turned into nanofibres and used in commercial applications. The resulting fibre can't even be seen by the human eye. The product isn't something that needs a container to export, says RevolutionFibres general manager Albert McGhee.

The business was founded in 2009 and its first major client was HRV, the ventilation system manufacturer, which uses sticky nanofibres in its air filters. Soon afterwards, says McGhee, the owners and directors began looking for Kiwi companies that could use nanofibres in their production of export products.

"We are a very ambitious company and we want to take New Zealand to the world."

RevolutionFibres identified fishing rod manufacturer Kilwell Fibretube as having products that could be enhanced with nanofibres.

Kilwell Fibretube specialises in supplying niche market fishing rod blanks ? exporting 75 per cent of production. The addition of nanofibres in the rod blanks has made them 100 per cent stronger, says McGhee.

As well as generating export revenues indirectly, RevolutionFibres is now receiving direct orders from overseas. It has attended international conferences, which has helped spread the word about its business and generate enquiries.

"We go to trade shows, market intelligently, and leverage off companies here in New Zealand," says McGhee.

"We also use our own business networks. We might be here at the bottom of the Pacific, but we have a lot of connections to overseas businesses. It is about leveraging off that."

The advantage of starting slowly with New Zealand companies, he says, is that RevolutionFibres has learned to talk the language of the bigger customers who are now looking to buy from it or, in one case, form a joint venture. "You can't say, 'I don't know' or 'we can talk about this later'. We have to be ready for the questions."

Like many export companies, RevolutionFibres has received considerable assistance from regional and government organisations including the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

The ministry helped fund the research and development of the product and helped make connections with other businesses, says McGhee. Both NZTE and Ateed were also able to provide useful advice and forge links with potential customers.

Ateed encouraged Revolution-Fibres to enter the 2012 Westpac Auckland West Business Awards, where it was shortlisted as a finalist for three awards. McGhee says the experience has given the company good exposure and helped the business think in a robust way about its proposition.

NZTE works to boost export earnings of New Zealand businesses. It can provide a wide range of assistance for companies that, says Jacqui Oldham, its sector manager. Not all businesses have their export plans finely tuned. Some, says Oldham, lack the courage or confidence and find the export process daunting.

"I say just go to Australia and have a look at the market," says Oldham. "Understand what is happening and what the trends are." She adds that "chunking down" the process can help a lot.

Each business is different but some find it helpful to join NZTE's Path to Market programme, which helps capable, emerging exporters move into new markets. Being part of a cluster of companies going through the same experiences can be very helpful, says Oldham.

NZTE can provide useful data for budding exporters such as demographics, trends, competitor analysis and price point analysis. Its overseas-based specialists can also make introductions.

A good starting point for businesses that might be considering putting a toe in the water of an export market is completing the Are You Ready To Export questionnaire on NZTE's website, which can be found here.

It covers issues such as experience, scalability, access to finance, management style, and research.

The questions are food for thought, says Oldham. "They give you an indication of what you need to do next or where the gaps might be. It is getting (businesses') mindset in the right place."

Some businesses can and do skip some of the steps. Xero and Serato, for example, saw their primary markets as overseas from day one, rather than building a New Zealand presence and then heading offshore.

For pet food producer ZiwiPeak, the local market is of little consequence.

ZiwiPeak was founded with the intention of exporting and 98 per cent of what it produces goes overseas.

- NZ Herald

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