Disruption, innovation, pivoting - in this fast-moving digital world they're words we hear a lot of in business today.
But change is a constant in commerce, no matter what the era. This week in Your Business I've interviewed a handful of small business owners whose operations have longevity, and their stories of how they've adapted to change over time give an insight into what it can take for a business to endure over decades.
Peter Hall started his Tauranga-based handbag business Accompany 33 years ago, back in 1981. Raised in the rag trade, in which his parents had a business, and also trained in apparel, Hall found it a natural step to set up his own business in the industry.
Initially the company manufactured its own designs in New Zealand and in five short years the company grew to have a staff of around 20 plus sales agents. But when the advent of Rogernomics removed import protections in the industry, the firm had to adjust massively, shifting manufacturing to Asia and India and letting go their domestic manufacturing team.
"Like so many things in life, the change was a double-edged sword," explains Hall. "We were sad to no longer have our large business family, but it also brought opportunity, in that we could now tap into a really experienced manufacturing base in the East. Due to our limited capabilities, we were constrained in what we could manufacture in New Zealand but now we were only limited by our creativity."
Katikati-based Puma Darts has been around even longer, established in 1970. The firm's managing director, Peter McCormick, says his father initially set up the company to manufacture dartboards for the New Zealand market, but today the company exports more than 95 percent of its production.
Puma Darts has pitched itself as a niche manufacturer at the high end of its market, and McCormick reckons tenacity, innovation and a steadfast focus on customers are the factors that have helped it endure.
"Our dartboards are recognised as the best in the world and used in most of the prestigious dart tournaments around the world," says McCormick.
"We've been really strong on coming up with new ideas, developing the latest and greatest designs in dartboards and darts and then bringing those to market. Sometimes that takes a huge amount of tenacity and commitment to get it done, but we keep going until we get it right."
Brothers Franco and Stefan Boric ditched their office jobs a couple of years ago to run the business that their grandparents started in 1942. They've been keen to carry on their family's tradition of selling onsite the produce grown on their land in Kumeu, but with a modern twist - expanding the retail side of the operation, which they relaunched as artisan food store Boric Food Market.
Franco Boric attributes the firm's longevity to a number of factors, but the primary one has been keeping the business in the family, where knowledge and experience can be passed down through the generations, not learnt from a book.
"I think people appreciate continuity and have trust in businesses that have kept the same name and are run by likeminded individuals," says Boric.
"Our parents and grandparents were always chatting to customers, serving on the till, carrying boxes of fruit to car boots - no job was too big or small - and my brother and I still operate in the same way. I think that's the best way to understand our customers' needs and wants and get to know the people who support us."
Peter Hall, Accompany
Peter Hall is the managing director of Accompany, a Tauranga-based handbag importer with four employees now in its 33rd year.
When and why did you get started in business?
It was 1981, and I was fresh back from my OE and ready to get stuck into my own business. It never really appealed to work for someone else, and having come from a family of business owners it seemed quite natural to begin one of my own with my wife.
I had trained in apparel at what was then called ATI, covering all aspects of the apparel industry from design and manufacture to management. But the best training came from working in our family business, which had the New Zealand licence for Jag apparel. I started working there in my school holidays, and did everything from lugging around massive bolts of denim, to operating sewing machines, to being paymaster for over 100 employees. Just being around the office and listening to all the talk gave me great insights into running a business.
The intention was to go into the family business, but for lots of reasons this didn't pan out. Before leaving for my OE I had designed and manufactured a collection of wine and cooler bags, and this sparked the idea of putting a bag collection together to manufacture and wholesale.
The handbag industry seemed a lot less competitive than the rag trade, but still required a similar set of skills in the way product was made, so Accompany was born. We started with a couple of machinists in our small workroom, plus outworkers and I was the cutter - amongst the many other hats I wore.
How has the business adapted to meet changing market conditions or demands over time?
Change is an absolute given. By 1986 we had about 20 staff plus sales agents. We were working in an industry very protected against imports. There was a cap through government licensing for any imports and if you could buy a licence it cost you about a dollar to buy a dollar's worth of licence.
Then along came 'Rogernomics' and all the import licensing was removed. The writing was on the wall, and to compete going forward we had to look to Asia and India to manufacture. This was a huge transition for us because our staff were like an extended family. Fortunately the clothing industry at that time was still protected through tariffs and so on, so there was still a sizable manufacturing sector where our staff found other jobs to go on to.
Like so many things in life, the change was a double-edged sword. We were sad to no longer have our large business family, but it also brought opportunity, in that we could now tap into a really experienced manufacturing base in the East. Due to our limited capabilities, we were constrained in what we could manufacture in New Zealand but now we were only limited by our creativity. Our ranges had a lot more detail, produced at a lot lower cost, and we ventured into leather ranges that we weren't able to make here, which was all exciting.
The process did come with its challenges, not least finding good factories, but also whether they were prepared to produce in quantities well below their minimum order requirements. But we did find where there's a will there's a way.
What factors do you think have given your business longevity?
Obviously, passion is core. If you haven't got that as a driver, you are on the skids.
I think it's also about understanding your core competencies. For me, they're knowing my customer and being able to create product they want in sufficient quantities to be meaningful, because there's not much point in putting together ranges that your customers don't like and won't buy.
Then it's being attentive to change. We're now going through our next biggest transition since going from manufacturing here to sourcing product from Asia, and that's dealing with changes in the New Zealand marketplace.
Not so long ago we had a large customer base made up of independent and specialist handbag and luggage stores; 70-80 percent of these stores are now gone. The strength of the major chains and department stores, plus the proliferation of handbags into all sorts of retail sectors including online has made it tough going for the specialists. For us it's been a matter of relying on our core competencies and partnering with retail channels that reach our customers effectively.
What does the next stage look like for your business?
There are lots of disruptors in the global economy that are going to bring about change at a faster rate. Online purchasing by New Zealand customers is challenging us all, but I think this should provide opportunity for us as well. Will our core competencies hold us in good stead in the global market? I think the answer to that question will determine whether we need to pivot or not. We have two more family members in the business now, who'll continue the journey.