In 2011 Paul Roest founded Industrial Design NZ, a company that produces furniture, as well as retail, cafe and office fitouts using pallets and other recycled materials. The firm is based on Roest's family farm in Auckland, and has two fulltime and four part time staff.
Where did the idea for the business come from?
I got the idea while travelling through Europe in 2010. My parents are originally from Holland and while I was spending a bit of time there I saw a whole lot of cafes that had all this amazing furniture made out of old scaffolding timber. I thought it looked really great, particularly in some of the cafes they have there right on the beaches, and I thought it would be kind of cool to make something similar. I've always loved the idea of making a product out of something that essentially has no value and then turning it into something that has again.
Did you already have a background in design or furniture making?
I don't have a building background. I've actually got a Masters in environmental science, which is why I had an awareness of a lot of material going to landfill and the desire to repurpose materials. And not just timber, but all kinds of things like metals; once I had this idea I did a bit of online research and saw people building furniture out of all kinds of things.
I also grew up on a farm, so I've always been really practical and had a strong work ethic. On a farm if something needs to be fixed that day it's got to be done - you can't just go to the shops - so I've got a good skill set. When my parents emigrated in the early 1980s my dad was actually intending to become a furniture maker himself, so they imported a container load of tools for furniture making. Instead he ended up farming, and the tools were sitting dormant in the shed for 30 years until I dusted them off.
One of my favourite things about my business is I haven't spent a single cent on advertising, other than on Trade Me; it's all been through word of mouth.
So how did you turn your original idea into a business?
When I came home I was doing some contracting work and in my spare time I started putting some things together. First I made myself a coffee table, then I made some mates some tables, then I chucked a few things on Trade Me. Then boom - business had started.
What sort of growth have you been experiencing, and where is your business coming from?
We've been growing around 100 per cent year on year, and business is coming from all directions. One of my favourite things about my business is I basically haven't spent a single cent on advertising, other than on Trade Me; it's all been through word of mouth. Especially with some of the bigger fit-out jobs we've done, customers will ask about the fit-out and for our details and it snowballs. Clients seem to like the one-off nature of what we do; they like having something different.
How about the challenges, particularly related to upcycling materials?
One of the biggest issues is definitely dealing with the materials. The wood is old and used and difficult to work with. It's also time consuming to dry, store and prepare your materials. For example, we have to keep everything dry for at least three months before we can use it, so that creates a huge challenge with space. At the moment, we've got about 400 square metres of shed space, but we could double or triple that, which we are planning to do, but again that costs.
Another is finding skilled staff. Anyone can pick up a hammer but finding people with a passion to use recycled materials and an eye for detail is hard. Labour costs are huge, especially to get someone skilled because there's such a boom with the building industry at the moment. I've tried working with cheaper labour and it's just not worth it because the quality is not there. But ultimately that makes the product more expensive to produce and that's reflected in what the consumer pays.
What future opportunities are you wanting to explore with the business?
At the moment, the business is quite disjointed, so I'd like to have a separate fit-out division that we'd have a separate project manager for, then another division that could solely focus on custom furniture manufacturing.
I'd also love to collaborate with a retail store in Auckland to sell our items. I was inspired by Anthropologie stores in New York, which sell clothes and homewares and also have beautiful furniture in store to display products on, but which are also for sale themselves. Having my own retail space would be nice but the cost is so prohibitive in New Zealand, which is why I think a collaboration with a partner that would get a percentage of each sale would be a good option.
• Coming up in Small Business: At what stage should you bring on an independent advisor or director to your business and what's involved in getting that kind of governance on board? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note at email@example.com.