Small business editor Caitlin Sykes this week interviews a handful of small business owners about how they use brand partnerships.

Brand partnerships are something we often associate with big firms, which have the marketing teams to pull together such deals. But they can also be a worthwhile consideration for smaller brands, where in the absence of mega marketing budgets it can make good sense to leverage off the strengths of other companies.

One small business owner doing just that is John Wadsworth, the inventor of the Unovent home ventilation system, which launched on the market last year. The startup firm has formed a brand partnership with Showerdome - which has a moisture reduction product for bathrooms - as a result of the two companies having a common shareholder and director, Maurice O'Reilly.

There are a number of ways the companies partner, including mentions and links to each other on their respective websites, and packing each other's brochures in with goods when they're sent out to customers. And it works, Wadsworth reports: "We know from Google Analytics that around 8 per cent of the people who look at our website have come there from clicking that Unovent link on Showerdome's website," he says.

Julian Smith, director of strategy at brand, marketing and design agency Richards Partners, says brand partnerships can bring a range of benefits to smaller businesses. For example, partnering with similar-sized firms can be a way to compete with larger competitors, and help them gain skills, know how and resources they didn't otherwise have. Creative brand partnerships are another way smaller brands can gain greater exposure, by showcasing what they do in a new way.

Advertisement

But businesses need to choose their partners wisely to reap such rewards.

"Smaller brands need to understand that by collaborating with other brands they're aligning their brand to the other's values. So it's really important that first up they consider what their shared values are," Smith says. "What are the differences in terms of how customers see each brand? Are there significant differences, and are the brands positioned in similar spaces in the minds of customers?"

Sarah Hutchings is the director of Orsini, a specialist retailer of fine Italian and European jewellery brands, as well as New Zealand custom-made jewellery. Orsini partners with a range of global brands, as well as local businesses including Kathryn Wilson, Storm & India Tea Sisters and Non Solo Pizza, and Hutchings says she looks to partner with brands that have the same values.

"The most important things to consider are whether we have common brand values around quality, professionalism and a luxury experience, and without these I don't think the partnerships would work," she says.

"I also love working with New Zealand businesses doing great things and leading women entrepreneurs. I think we share common bonds and it's just natural that we want to help each other to be successful."

Q&A: Sarah Hutchings, Orsini

Sarah Hutchings is the director of Orsini, a Parnell-based specialist retailer of fine Italian and European jewellery brands, as well as New Zealand custom-made jewellery.

Can you talk me through some of the brand partnerships you have, particularly with other smaller New Zealand businesses?

I have a number of brands I partner with and that includes a nice mix of New Zealand businesses as well as global brands. The New Zealand businesses I've partnered with include the likes of Kathryn Wilson, Storm & India Tea Sisters and Non Solo Pizza in Parnell.

How did the relationship with Kathryn Wilson come about?

My friendship with Kathryn Wilson started a few years back when Kathryn asked me to help decorate one of her shoes with diamonds to raise funds for Ronald McDonald House. It started as a small project, but it took on epic proportions when I covered the shoe with $500,000 worth of diamonds - that ended up making headlines worldwide as the most expensive shoe in the world at the time.

Since then we've worked on a number of fashion parades and projects together and have a really fabulous working relationship. We've found working together allows both brands the ability to leverage each other for a share of the cost. Shoes and jewellery, particularly diamonds, are a natural fit and being able to co-promote is a great opportunity.

What are some of the activities you do with other New Zealand brands?

NSP are a fabulous brand partner. They're just a few doors up the road from me in Parnell and they supply the catering for any events I do or catering requirements in store when I run small jewellery viewings with clients.

For example, a week ago we hosted a diamonds and champagne tasting evening and they popped down with a couple of the most divine platters. What's important to me with these kinds of partnerships is there's an alignment and we have the same values. At Orsini, the Italian aspect of what we offer is very important and so is quality and we share those connections with NSP.

Each year I host an Orsini Luncheon in the NSP courtyard to raise funds for the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation; it's a charity close to my heart having lost my mother to uterine cancer. We have a fashion parade and last year I had Adrienne Winkelmann and Little Stitch provide the clothes for the event - again both small New Zealand businesses with amazing products.

The experience my customers have in the store is also really important. My clients are often in the store for quite some time if we're doing a remodel of a ring or a diamond engagement ring consultation and I love being able to offer them a cup of coffee or tea.

So another business I partner with is Storm & India Tea Sisters, who produce organic premium tea. I personally really admire the women behind the brand as well. They're young, entrepreneurial and doing great things in New Zealand and I love to support this.

What are your key considerations when assessing a potential brand partner and whether it's right for your business?

That we have the same values. The most important things to consider are whether we have common brand values around quality, professionalism and a luxury experience, and without these I don't think the partnerships would work.

I also love working with New Zealand businesses doing great things and leading women entrepreneurs. I think we share common bonds and it's just natural that we want to help each other to be successful.

In your experience, what's been key to making these relationships work for the long haul?

I think if you do your research about a brand first and have a good understanding of each others' businesses and the way you like to operate then it's difficult for it not to work out. Also, if you start small then you can evolve with your brand partners.

Ultimately, it's a give and take situation, so you both need to be giving support to each others' brands for the partnership to work in the long term; if it's all one sided then it will never work. I also believe it's really important to respect each other. We all have business challenges and being too demanding is a sure way for a partnership to fail.