Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small business: Pacific entrepreneurs - Patrick Schuster, Schupepe Tents

Patrick Schuster is a director of Auckland-based Schupepe Tents, a marquee and tent hire firm with three permanent staff and up to ten casual workers during its peak summer season.

Patrick Schuster (left) and Va Leaupepe (right), directors of Schupepe Tents.
Patrick Schuster (left) and Va Leaupepe (right), directors of Schupepe Tents.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

I am Samoan but was born and raised in Auckland. My parents emigrated to Auckland in the late 60s and like many islanders of the time, left their parents in Samoa and started new lives with aunties, uncles and cousins in New Zealand.

My business partner is Va Leaupepe who is also Samoan with a similar background to myself.

How did Schupepe Tents get started?

We started the business in 2007. The idea was born when my business partner and I saw a different kind of marquee while we were living in London. We'd been overseas for nearly 10 years and were keen to head home but always said we'd need to have our own business to do that, so we were alert to any opportunities.

Through our network in the UK we were introduced to Freeform, which is a South African product, and the company invited us down to Cape Town. We then flew home to Auckland, did our research and once we were satisfied we made the decision to introduce the Freeform product to New Zealand.

In the beginning we stored our equipment for free at the back of a friend's warehouse and both worked from home as we'd invested a large amount to purchase the necessary stock and equipment to get the business off the ground.

Both myself and Va had a long history working in the events industry, but we had very little business experience, so it was a case of hitting the ground running and learning as we went. However, we did try to surround ourselves with friends and family that were already running successful businesses to help us out.

For the first few years we only paid ourselves enough to cover our expenses, but we committed ourselves to trying to carve out a successful business. We knew it wouldn't be easy but were prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve our goal.

What's the current state of business?

Year-on-year we have increased turnover and maintained a cash-positive business. We have been going through a steady growth phase in the last 12 months, which has seen us take over a larger warehouse, recruit staff, increase stock and develop more strategic marketing campaigns. We are also planning on becoming a wholesale and nationwide distributor of the Freeform tent by working with selected agencies over the next year.

What do you enjoy about running your own business?

I enjoy being my own boss and the daily challenges of that. I also relish in being able to take pride in our achievements. We love working with the product and are passionate about it.

We enjoy learning about the intricacies of business; over the years we've had to learn quickly from our mistakes, sometimes at a cost! We've also gained a much better understanding about how a business is run.

We also enjoy the flexibility that running your own business offers, although this sometimes seems like an ideal when, in reality, this isn't always possible as you are very much tied to your business.

What are some of the other challenges?

We have families to support so there is financial pressure to consistently perform well. We also have the financial strain of being responsible for our staff.

It's often a balancing act of running a business and being able to spend time with family. It can also be emotionally draining running your own business because there is always so much to think about. During the harder times it has been tempting to walk away but we've dug deep and stuck with it.

What do you think could be done to encourage and support more Pacific people to start their own businesses?

Pacific Islanders are deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and expectations. It's often a case of 'following in the footsteps of your elders', and traditionally for my parents' generation university attendance or additional courses post-school simply weren't an option. Once you left school - if you completed it at all - it was time to enter the workforce.

This tends to be a model that has been repeated throughout generations, but times are definitely changing. More Pacific Island school leavers are travelling overseas and broadening horizons. Also within the Pacific community of my generation mixed relationships/marriages are not as unusual as in my parents' generation and this is introducing a mix of other cultural ways and beliefs. I think this mix of cultures is bringing an exciting change.

What's the vision for the future of your business?

The plan is to move from small business to medium-sized player. We intend to develop better systems and processes, increase turnover and profitability, grow the agency side of the business to become a nationwide product and maintain our positive staff attitude and 'family friendly' approach to business. We would also like to take the business abroad and expand into the Pacific Islands and/or Australia.

What have been your key learnings from your time in business?

• Be sensible with cashflow, don't overspend and keep within your forecast restraints.

• We've been working closely with a business mentor for the last 12 months and this has really opened our eyes to what we should be doing to make it a better business.

• When building a brand how you present yourself to your target market is key. We've taken a little while in getting our brand's look and feel spot on, but now we have we've been able to build on this and take the business to the next level.

• Sales is key in our game, so getting the sales process right was essential. It is easy in our field of work to lose leads to the competition if your sales process isn't effective

• Earn trust and respect from your staff and other players in the game. There have been many times where our product has been used in conjunction with competitors'; we have established ourselves as key players and offering respect to our competitors has stood us in good stead to be able to do this.

• Always try to increase business, even in quieter times. We tended to rest on our laurels during our early years but we are now just as busy during winter months with forward planning and office-based duties.

Coming up in Small Business: What are some of the cool Kiwi scientific innovations that are being turned into companies? If you've got a good story to tell about this, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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