Trade shows crucial for Kiwi firms

By Gill South

Companies target their sales strategy for year around being a player in the field and getting their goods noticed.

It's front and centre for CEO Andy Stevens (third from left), who says: 'We don't actually sell anything at the shows, we make connections with the people.' Photo / Supplied
It's front and centre for CEO Andy Stevens (third from left), who says: 'We don't actually sell anything at the shows, we make connections with the people.' Photo / Supplied

In the specialised tech industry, international trade shows are crucial for doing business. "If you are launching a high-value manufacturing business whose customer base is overseas, this is the only effective way to announce yourself," says Southern Photonics chief executive John Harvey.

The engineering company, based in Auckland, was launched at an international trade show in 2002 and launched its spin-off company, Coherent Solutions, at the Optical Fibre Conference in March in Anaheim, California.

"Trade shows are where everything important is announced and everyone who is a player in the field is present. In fact, some companies target their whole sales strategy for the year around these shows," says Harvey, a retired University of Auckland physics professor.

The OFC launch gave the Coherent Solutions team, led by chief executive Andy Stevens, former operations chief of Southern Photonics, the opportunity to discuss the transition with customers.

Coherent Solutions develops and manufactures test and measurement equipment for production, engineering and research teams involved in optical communications. The business has key products and technical skills in the field of coherent optical communications, which relates to new generations of data formats needed to support very high data rates.

Stevens says: "We don't actually sell anything at the shows, we make connections with the people, the engineers doing the work. That's who we are reaching out to, the people doing the research," he says.

"We chose to launch at the OFC show because our two big strategic partners, Teledyne LeCroy and EXFO, were both announcing products that we had developed for them so it made good sense."

It worked well for the company.

"The first day of the show there were four headlines in the daily email newsletter and we were in three of them. One related to the EXFO product launch, one was on the Teledyne LeCroy product we made and one was about us."

Coherent Solutions had commissioned Auckland company Brandstand to design its booth. "We got feedback such as, 'wow, you guys have really grown up, you are really making it now'," says Stevens.

Southern Photonics had been attending the US event for 12 years. "We wanted to show continuity, so as far as the telecommunications market was concerned, Southern Photonics is becoming Coherent Solutions," says Stevens.

Since spinning off the test and measurement division, Southern Photonics has turned its efforts to other areas including the development of a new optical-fibre laser, drawing from recent discoveries in the physics department, with which Harvey still works.

Coherent Solutions has gone from eight fulltime staff when it was formed last September to 14, including a number of electrical and mechanical engineers.

"My roadmap for the company is to build it over the next three years so we can take this to a $8 million to $10 million business. We run on very good operating margins," says Stevens. He would like to see more Government support for New Zealand businesses attending overseas trade shows. "New Zealand does not make things easy for companies trying to do international business."

Trade shows are expensive, transporting equipment the biggest cost.

Top tip

When attending trade shows, all the work has to be done before you leave. Set up customer meetings beforehand.

Best business achievement

"EXFO approached us in mid-December about a new product and by mid-March it was ready to launch at the show. Our team really pulled together."

- NZ Herald

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