Bay of Plenty kiteboard makers Switch Kites is making steady progress towards its goal of becoming one of the world's leading brands through its online direct marketing model.
The company's co-founders Jacob Kajavala and Ralph von Brause are now exploring options to grow the company to the next level.
"Sales have been growing steadily since we set up our online shop in June 2011," said Mr von Brause, an experienced kite-boarder, who was inspired to get into the business when he realised the high price of kites in New Zealand.
Kiteboarding, which combines wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing and paragliding, comes under the extreme sport category.
In his first taste of marketing kiteboards, Mr von Brause secured product from a declining brand in the United States and experimented with selling the kiteboards online in New Zealand and Australia at wholesale prices.
"Despite being really a dying brand, they still sold like crazy," he said, proving the concept that good quality kiteboards would sell if the pricing was right.
He subsequently met up with Mr Kajavala and they decided to set up a new brand, buying the "dying" US company in order to the secure the contacts they needed to sell worldwide.
"Our concept was to develop the world's best pro-design kite, then sell it online," said Mr Kajavala, who asserted that Switch Kites was the only company in the world that designed, manufactured and sold its own kiteboards directly online.
After a year of research and design, the company set up manufacturing, with the kites coming from China and the boards from Tunisia, which was where the US company had been sourcing its boards. Switch Kites has an exclusive agreement with noted US kiteboard designer Bill Hansen.
The company now sells to nearly 100 countries worldwide, said Mr von Brause.
The global market for kiteboards was difficult to estimate, he said, but according to some estimates was 200,000 to 250,000 units sold annually worldwide.
The company's main markets are Europe, with France, Italy, Spain and Germany being especially strong, and the US.
The company has attracted 500 Switch "team riders", expert surfers that act as ambassadors for the Switch brand around the world, including Tauranga local Marc Jacobs, who is one of the world's top kiteboarders.
Mr von Brause said that while a decade ago a kiteboarder might have bought a kiteboard, gone out and "got hammered", these days people tended to take a course then look around for suitable equipment. Switch Kite provides an online world map with links and email contacts for Switch Kite users worldwide so that potential customers can contact a kiteboarder in their local area and ask for a demonstration.
Asked whether the co-founders were good kiteboarders, Mr Kajavala said: "He [von Brause] does it brilliantly, I do it badly."