The manufacturing story
CRONZ is a small team, family-owned and operated. My wife Helen and I manage the business and one of our daughters, Anneka, also works for CRONZ. We started out as farmers. We had a farm in Southland, and I guess I liked tinkering in the workshop. That 'engineering bent' look over, and we ended up moving to Canterbury where we had an engineering business - I developed a successful system for washing fresh veges.
Eventually we sold that and developed the process for making fine rugs and carpets.
Our customers can individually specify, literally, every component parameter in a rug.
You'd be amazed how many parameters there are in terms of size, shape, structure, colour, pattern texture, and so on. We combine hand-tufting with a unique mechatronic control system to ensure consistent quality.
Our biggest market is Australia. They would take 70-80 per cent of our production. New Zealand is our second biggest market. We also supply into the US, on a small scale, and have produced carpets for customers in the UAE, Europe and the UK.
New Zealand wool is the best in the world for making carpets. It is already well-regarded and well-promoted internationally, and Prince Charles' Campaign for Wool seems to be generating even more interest in the product. That reputation for quality has definitely helped us.
The most crucial challenges to business
For a small manufacturer like us, the biggest issue is workflow and having skilled staff.
Because so many of our orders come from Australia, they can be relatively large with short lead times. That's where the skills gap comes in: we have to train staff specifically for the type of manufacturing we do. Our hand-tufting process is quite unique. We need people who have good old-fashioned practical skills in hand-tufting and can also handle our sophisticated computer software. It takes us nearly 12 months to train someone, so we don't have a pool of short-term or casual staff. When we get a big order we tend to do double shifts. Then we might have a quiet period. That's the nature of being all custom, bespoke work.
We did consider contracting some high-end production near to European or US markets, but we couldn't find anyone with the right machinery and technical skills. By making our carpets and rugs in New Zealand we have control of the quality - and quality is everything for us.
Differentiating the product
We brought in a Massey University Master of Design student, Rebekah Harman, to look at ways to make carpet dying processes more environmentally sustainable.
Rebekah is a textile designer and she spent last year with us testing out a whole range of options, running experiments, and doing market research.
There's quite a lot of awareness in the industry about the need to make the colouration processes more sustainable, but CRONZ would be one of the few companies actively looking into solutions right now. It's quite a difficult area to grapple with, because it involves energy use, the types of dyes, and the way you get the dyes to adhere to the yarn.
Rebekah's work was very helpful in narrowing down the options, and we'll be talking further with our wool dyers about some of the newer technologies being developed.
Rebekah's costs were largely covered by an MSI Capability Education grant (now run by Callaghan Innovation), and Massey's School of Design in Wellington did the administration.
Other issues for the industry
Hefty advertising of solution-dyed nylon carpet is a challenge for some members of our industry. This doesn't affect CRONZ as much because we're at the high end where wool retains its reputation for quality. New Zealand wool is great to work with, and it's so reliable in terms of its durability.
There's the ongoing issue of skilled staff. A lot of people with backgrounds in wool, especially the spinning industry, are looking for work but you have to retrain them.
The high dollar is a major challenge for us in the US, not so much in Australia.