Danvers Devereux, owner of Matakana Botanicals, recalls a defining moment for his business half a dozen years ago.
He'd spent three days taking an offshore distributor around rural Matakana and Great Barrier Island showing him where the bath and body products brand sourced and processed its key ingredients.
"But when we got back to our base in the commercial hub of East Tamaki," says Devereux, "this distributor said to me 'you have this jigsaw puzzle with all these wonderful pieces, but there's a really odd piece that doesn't look good'. They pointed at our building in East Tamaki and said 'this just doesn't fit who you are'."
With the company's lease about to expire on the East Tamaki property, Devereux's thoughts on how to bring together all the right pieces of that puzzle started to take shape.
After years of planning, the company this year relocated its operation to Matakana, which Devereux says brings the firm closer to its farm-gate suppliers and its creative home.
Matakana Botanicals (formerly known as Les Floralies) was started by Devereux's mother, Colyn Devereux, 26 years ago. And for the past 25 years the family has had a beach house at nearby Leigh, where all of the company's product design has been done.
"I feel us being here is really part of our DNA, and it's made us completely 'real'," says Devereux.
This week in Your Business I've interviewed a handful of businesses operating from rural locations, asking them about why they've chosen to base themselves rurally, and the challenges and benefits of operating from the countryside.
Gretchen Bunny is managing director of AgRecord, an IT company that she runs from an office on the 1000 hectare sheep and beef property, near Porangahau in Central Hawke's Bay, where she and her family live.
AgRecord has a cloud-based software solution called Cloud Farmer, which allows for all of a farm's operational information to be kept online in one central place so all farm staff, management and other invited parties can access it.
Having a rural base means clients can better identify with the company, says Bunny, and running the business from the farm gives her the flexibility to juggle her work alongside farm and family commitments.
But Bunny says her biggest challenge is working in isolation, so to counter this she's started working one or two days a week from The Chook House - a coworking and meeting space in Waipukurau, which is about 30 minutes away.
"I work best in an energetic environment and I get motivated by people around me, so working from The Chook House has given me those networking opportunities," she says.
Another challenge has been internet connectivity. However, rural broadband, including mobile phone coverage, recently came to Porangahau and Bunny describes the development as "an absolute game changer".
But connectivity issues for many in rural areas persist, she says. "The two standard conversations I have with clients are about the weather and the challenges around internet access. I have clients spending thousands of dollars trying to find their own solutions to increase connectivity to their businesses. I can't emphasise enough just how debilitating a lack of access to decent broadband is."
Gerhard Egger runs his photography and book publishing business from Paradise Valley, on the outskirts of Rotorua, where he and his family live on 17 acres along the Ngongotaha Stream. Poor cellphone reception has an impact on his business, he says, but not having a decent internet connection is a bigger issue.
"My images are sold worldwide through both national and international photo libraries," says Egger, "and the company we use for the pre-press of our books is based in Auckland and the printing is done in China. All this should be able to be done online, but because of our slow internet service I sometimes still have to courier work."
Moreover, photo libraries are increasingly moving to provide video clips - as well as photography - but slow internet speeds mean it's a market that's cut off for him because libraries will only take submissions online.
But a rural base presents opportunities, as well as challenges, he says. For example, not having access to teams of collaborators, like art directors and stylists, brings out "the number-eight wire mentality in me", he says.
"You just have to adapt and do things for yourself. This has its own challenges, but it's also really rewarding when it all comes together and you see that in a finished image or book."
Danvers Devereux, Matakana Botanicals
Danvers Devereux is the owner of bath and body products brand Matakana Botanicals (formerly known as Les Floralies).
Can you tell a bit about the background of your company?
The company was founded 26 years ago by my mother, Colyn Devereux. Les Floralies was set up on an idea of creating an eco-friendly room fragrance as an alternative to the products around at the time containing CFCs. So we started off creating potpourri - fragranced wood shavings - in a bathtub under our house. We had the name Les Floralies because at the time you needed a European name to conjure up images of luxury and pampering; 25-odd years ago luxury bath and body products really only came out of France.
All of our family have a connection with gardening, and I was studying horticulture at university when mum was starting the business. I did a bit of landscaping after that but found it very quiet - I'm more inclined to want more people contact - so I said to mum maybe we could export. We did a trade show in Australia and took a few orders and then next thing I was operating out of a garage over there, distributing our products nationwide.
When my mother wanted to retire, I purchased the business from her 14 years ago, and my vision has been to create products inspired by New Zealand and that utilise local ingredients where possible.
You recently moved the company from its base in East Tamaki to rural Matakana. Why?
I had a defining moment around six years ago, when we hosted an overseas distributor. We'd spent three days driving them up here to Matakana to take them to the olive press and show them how our ingredients are processed, then flying them over to Great Barrier Island to see similar things there.
But when we got back to our base in the commercial hub of East Tamaki this distributor said to me 'you have this jigsaw puzzle with all these wonderful pieces but there's a really odd piece that doesn't look good'. They pointed at our building in East Tamaki and said 'this just doesn't fit who you are'. Our lease was about to expire so ideas started evolving.
One of the reasons we moved the business to this region in particular is that our hero ingredients - like the olive and macadamia oils, and honey we use - grow locally around here. So it puts us closer to the farm gate of our other growers and suppliers. We've also had a beach house at Leigh for 25 years, which has been a sanctuary for our design. I'd say all of our products - even while Colyn had the business - were designed at the beachouse, so it's become a great creative space, along with the area, for our family.
What was involved in the shifting the business to your rural location?
Planning, planning and more planning. It was about three-and-a-half years ago that we saw this property come up for sale. It's on six acres in the best location, but we bought the worst house on the best street, so there's been a huge amount of development involved.
We're a small team of eight including myself, and two of my key staff - my production manager and customer service manager - moved up here. Unfortunately the rest of the warehouse staff in East Tamaki, because they had family in south Auckland, weren't able to move. That was probably the hardest thing with the whole transition, because we've had a long association with our warehouse staff.
But I said the move wouldn't be complete until I'd got them all new jobs and it was fantastic because most of my suppliers snapped them up quickly. And I think because I did that they put out their hands to help me, and for the first two weeks we were up at Matakana they commuted with the production manager in the company van to help train up the new staff.
So what advantages do you feel you've been able to gain from being in your new location?
Next year we're opening an organic cafe and retail store, which will allow us to really showcase our products and what's involved in producing them. We've also set up a distillery for distilling botanical oils. So here we're able to do some research, particularly on New Zealand native oils, and that's something we weren't able to do in East Tamaki.
I feel us being here is really part of our DNA, and it's made us completely 'real'. One of our Japanese distributors has already done a tour through here, and brought with them some media and buyers from retail stores, and being in a location like this makes us quite transparent. They can see we live and breathe what we do.
What advice would you have another business owner looking to make a similar move from town to country?
If you're going rural and are going to build I would suggest getting professional advice from town planners, engineers and so on early on to make sure you have all your bases covered. And prepare a budget with time lines attached.
I'd also think about taking any opportunities to make your property sustainable and cost effective to operate. Another reason for moving up here was to try and make our entire property as green as possible. So we've aimed our warehouse roof towards the north, for example, and we've got big solar panels on it. It's a fantastic system and it's reduced our power bill by 90 percent compared with when we were in East Tamaki.
Coming up in Your Business: What does it mean to start a business later in life? I'm keen to learn about what's motivated some laterpreneurs to set up their ventures, and the challenges and opportunities they've encountered along the way. If you've got a story to tell about being a laterpreneur, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org