Small Business: Pair put Kiwi ideas out into world

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Oliver McDermott and Ben Thomsen say inventors must have a sound business plan before Blender will work with them.
Oliver McDermott and Ben Thomsen say inventors must have a sound business plan before Blender will work with them.

It is not unusual for Oliver McDermott and Blender Design co-founder Ben Thomsen to have an inventor come to them with a good idea for a product, but in need of help to market it.

"More often than not, they need to go away and validate their market. We won't work with them unless they have a sound business plan," says McDermott, managing director of the award-winning design and development consultancy.

Blender helps New Zealand businesses take products from inception to manufacturing, here or overseas. It has worked on mainly consumer products for customers including Event Cinema, workstation tools specialist Integ International and Sealegs International.

Based in Albany, fresh Massey University industrial design graduates McDermott and Thomsen and a friend set up the business up in 2006.

"I started my first company when I was 19 and still at university. In our final year of study we were already helping a few local businesses create new products and be better by design so it was an easy decision to set up Blender," says McDermott.

As well as helping companies with their products, the Blender team work on their own.

The business has a partnership with a Guangzhou-based Chinese manufacturer for which it designs homeware products, including Ubstor-branded kitchen tidies and rubbish bins. These are imported in New Zealand by Rocket hardware.

One of its longest standing clients is Pet-corp, the New Zealand business with which it has developed a range off Chinese-made cat and dog doors.

Blender has helped its clients find manufacturers locally and overseas, including in Thailand, China and India. "Some want to manufacture in New Zealand. It comes down to the product spec, the brief and cost constraints; also where the product sits in the market price-wise."

One of the biggest factors in deciding to manufacture overseas is the required volumes and lead times, says McDermott.

And when the decision is made, it's about finding a manufacturer that's the right fit and the right size "so that your company is not just a number".

"You have to have empathy for their culture, remember they are people and they don't like overseas people coming in and treating them like slaves."

It is crucial to provide detailed production drawings when liaising with manufacturers, too, he says. "Where there is no point of reference it can quickly get out of hand."

Blender is working on projects through Kickstarter with some entrepreneurial clients. Kickstarter and crowd funding is increasingly viable for new product development.

"The way a product is designed has changed a lot. The ability to quickly prototype, attract crowd funding and validate a project is the way things are done now."

With turnover close to $500,000, McDermott has ambitions to more than double company size.

"We would like to grow to 10 staff and head to the US."

The business has a team of four industrial designers and is recruiting a product design engineer.

"We are still focused on helping New Zealand businesses do better by design and push exports," says McDermott. "As a country we can't carry on exporting primary goods. We need to export our knowledge and intellectual property."

Top tip

When looking for an overseas manufacturer, shop around for someone you like and someone who is a good fit for you and your business.

Best business achievement

Helping New Zealand companies create great products for the world.

- NZ Herald

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