NZ-developed mounting device is already selling in Australian stores.
Seasoned sailor Ross Pratt knows the value of securing stuff while out on the water. Over the years, sudden waves have pitched several of his mobile phones, fishing rods and other personal effects overboard.
To counter the problem, the Auckland entrepreneur invented the StarPort, a mounting device with a range of accessories that can hold anything from fishing rods to cellphones and drink bottles.
The StarPort, which sells through Pratt's company Railblaza, has already attracted the attention of an outdoor gear chain in Australia and marine retail chains in France, and has had rave reviews from local industry players.
Pratt came up with the idea while riding a quad bike around his lifestyle block. It bugged him that no matter how well he attached things to the back, they still slipped off the bike.
Although he has mainly targeted the marine industry, he reckons the device also has potential in the farming and campervan industries. He has already supplied orders to Kea Campers and pharmaceutical company Pfizer New Zealand.
Pratt, 49, has big plans for the little device: by 2016 he aims to be selling in 35 countries and turning over $5 million.
He set up Railblaza just over a year ago, four years after he and two partners sold their shares of marine electrical parts maker BEP Marine, which Pratt co-founded with his father, Bruce, in 1980.
At first the going was tough. An unforeseen problem with manufacturing lost him thousands of dollars and put him eight months behind schedule.
He'd needed special tools to make the plastic StarPort, and while on paper it was cheaper to make them in China, Pratt ran into trouble when fine-tuning the design.
The quality controller he'd employed in China "didn't work out as planned".
The tools are now designed and made in Napier. And while BEP's marine electrical parts were niche products, the StarPort's market was much more competitive.
There are "a hundred" fishing rod holders and bait tables on the market, says Pratt, but he's confident the StarPort is unique enough to stand out.
Its main point of difference is that the mounting unit can be screwed or bolted on to flat or recessed surfaces that are horizontal, vertical or curved, such as a rail. Also, thanks to its unique design, you don't need to get behind the surface to attach the device, and it comes with a range of fittings that slot into it. Each fitting can be placed in one of three different positions.
It's definitely the kind of invention that needs to be seen in action, he says, so the company website (www.railblaza.com) shows the product in use on a campervan, a quad bike, a kayak and a yacht. He's also got demonstration videos on YouTube.
Despite the false start in tool-making, Railblaza was in the black after just nine months. Pratt predicts sales next year will be double this year's expected $500,000.
The device sells in New Zealand's largest marine retailer, the 12-store Burnsco Marine and the 75-store Australian outdoor gear chain BCF (Boating Camping Fishing).
Pratt says his European distributor is negotiating with outlets in France and he has distributors in Brazil, Italy and Britain.
Meanwhile, Matamata kayak manufacturer Viking Kayaks likes the device so much it has modified several of its range of kayaks to fit the StarPort.
Viking Kayaks owner and kayak fishing guru Stephen Tapp says the StarPort is "revolutionary in its simplicity".
He says it's a "nice compromise between having a large enough footprint to fit securely on to the boat and small enough to have no problems finding a place to fit it".
Pratt has tried to make as efficient a production line as possible. Railblaza products fit into one of just four types of packaging. He also helped to design shipping boxes that nest inside one another which saves space on the warehouse floor.
Parts and orders are assembled and packaged in a Silverdale factory where Pratt, his operations manager Mike Edgington and several part-timers including Pratt's wife, Julie, follow strict lean manufacturing disciplines.
Pratt reckons he's saved 30 per cent on space and labour this way.