A former Black Cap cricketer talks about his latest test and the thrill of setting new goals.
I'm just trying to score my first run," says former international cricketer Dion Nash of his new business venture. After several years' groundwork he has just launched a men's skincare range. It is called Triumph & Disaster in a nod to the character-building ups and downs that life tosses up.
Nash has had his share of these, from having his name etched on the Honours Board at Lord's (for the best six-wicket bag scored by a New Zealander at the home of cricket) to grappling with injury and building a future outside the sport. Rather than continue with television commentating duties he has ventured in a new direction, but he says it is the decade he spent standing about in all weathers for his country that pointed the way. And Rod Stewart!
It was the advice of the still sprightly singer that first got Nash serious about skincare, nearly 20 years ago. Stewart, who was then still married to Rachel Hunter, told a magazine that he kept his youthful looks by using Oil of Olay.
"I remember clandestinely hiding it in my cricket gear, putting it on like it was sunscreen," admits Nash.
He liked the product's non-oily texture which he found brought relief to his skin. "A long day in the sun wearing sunscreen and you wash it off with soap and your skin is taut and tight."
So began Nash's experiments with finding skincare to suit, back in the days before sponsored sportsmen advertised their favourites.
Grooming for guys should be a natural ritual, he says. "I don't want to think I'm prettifying."
He believes men's skin needs soothing and says his farmer father who lives just north of Dargaville now follows shaving cream with his son's moisturiser.
"One of the things I remember is my father teaching me how to shave." His dad also passed on a copy of the Rudyard Kipling poem If with the line that resonated over the years:
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same ..."
Those early lessons on a mixed sheep and beef farm have inspired Nash's masculine approach to his products. "The memory I had is we used the same shearing gang every year. I learned to roll cigarettes from them. I remember the soaps they used to clean up."
Nash has developed his own "shearer's soap" redolent of tar and given his shave cream a citrus fresh smell, thanks to time working with a perfumer to fine-tune the aromas. "Guys don't want sweet. We want a manly sort of soap to remind us we've had a day of work - even in Ponsonby ... especially in Ponsonby," he laughs over mid-morning coffee. He is aiming at high-end boutique buyers and reckons there is a market gap for a new approach combining old values with modern-day needs.
Men's skincare, he says, is generally, advertised as: "Either I'm a macho dickhead who doesn't know how to tie his shoelaces or I'm a woman's sideline." This men-are-morons approach as seen on beer advertisements clearly galls. "I have a lot of faith in Kiwi blokes that we're smart enough not to be treated like that."
Nash already knows a thing or two about marketing, having spent time working at 42Below. His sentences are peppered with the curious learned dialogue of both that world and the sports culture he is steeped in, but there is nothing contrived about his enthusiasm.
He is thankful his cricket career, which wound up in the 2001-2002 season, overlapped both the near-amateur and professional eras. From earning $400 a week, the top players of his time ended up on $500,000 a year, but without the post-test career windfall that Twenty20 now brings the best.
Nash has no regrets, just an insider's perspective. "Cricket was pretty good to me," he says, citing life experience and confidence as paybacks. "You're able to pick up the phone and talk to people."
"Professional sport does also step you into business." It helped with him gain an understanding of branding and products, albeit with a big handicap. "Everyone else has had 10 years of working, knows the language, you don't. They want to think you're just a sports jock."
That was one reason Nash stepped away from working in television, deciding he needed a "fresh start".
"It [sport] gets in pretty deep, you want to play for your country from the age of 12, but by the time you get out of it you are 30 or 31."
He remembered the words of a former coach and applied them post-cricket: "You've got to live your life forward."
After a foray exporting meat to Japan, time as a selector, and the turn on TV, he came up with a business plan for bottled water. He "ran into" one of the 42Below guys, resulting in their investing 75 per cent to his 25 per cent, allowing him to manage what became known as 420 spring water. This allowed him to spend two-and-a-half years with the company getting "a great business 101" before 42 (and 420) was sold to Bacardi. He continued in a marketing role for a while, learning the ropes of a massive corporate's time frames while trying to nurture small brands within it.
"I do believe you've got to do something you're genuinely interested in," he says. So came the idea of turning his personal interest in sourcing good skincare into a new project, complete with a 10-year plan and plans to export and develop unisex items. A born competitor, he relishes the challenge of "fighting the good fight that underlies New Zealand business, especially new New Zealand business".
The learning curve has involved arranging manufacture in New Zealand and Australia, fine-tuning the products so he can say "I sincerely believe that every one is the best I've used" and deciding on a market pitch that he feels is honest rather than over-stated. "I'm trying to find the balance between being interesting and innovative and efficient."
Hence there are natural ingredients, but no exaggerated claims of purity: "If it's the right science that feels like it's a benefit, then I use it." There is recyclable packaging with a heritage look, and a quirky website that ties in with his values of sharing some "man time" and building a "brand promise". He hopes this will resonate with would-be customers who might, like him, believe that: "Your character will be your fate."
Clearly, all this positioning strategy has been germinating for some time, but Nash knows full well that "you can have the coolest looking brand in the world and a great story, but you have to have a great product". He might well add "and the luck of the bounce".
Now 40, and married with three children under six to former Silver Ferns' defender Bernice Mene - whose own stellar 10-year career paralleled his - Nash knows there is plenty at stake in fronting up for his latest challenge. "You're dreaming if you think you can get into business without putting some skin on the line."
* Triumph & Disaster is initially available at Black Box, Grey Lynn, The Department Store, Takapuna, and Needles and Threads, Ponsonby, plus online.