We relaunch our weekly Business Extra Q&A series with Aly Bennett, who started Lake Okareka-based Native Creative with husband Harm Zuidmeer in 2010.
In a nutshell, what does your business do?
We design and produce native New Zealand bird and plant-inspired art, gift and homeware from sustainably harvested bamboo plywood - an Earth-friendly renewable resource. The products are all made locally and the range includes furniture, prints, wall art, jewellery and more. Our design aesthetic is clean lines, pared back, utilitarian and elegant - people have often commented that it looks a bit Japanese influenced or Scandinavian (great compliments).
What inspired you to set up your current business?
A desire to explore my creativity and earn some income working from home while raising our two young children. Being my own boss was very much a motivating factor - avoiding a regular "office job" and providing us with the flexibility to have quality time as a family.
What was the best business decision you have made and why?
Attending our first big trade fair in Auckland recently - the New Zealand Gift & Homeware Fair. This is where retailers find products to stock in their stores and it's an important place to be seen and to connect with these customers face to face. We had good success and picked up some fabulous new stockists, contacts, tips and ideas.
What was your worst business mistake (if any) and what did you learn from it?
So far we're lucky enough not to have made any mistakes big enough to worry about. Long may that last.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for your business in the year ahead?
Working towards the next Gift Fair at the end of August, which is the big pre-Christmas one and, by all accounts, is very busy. Developing desirable new products that enhance people's lives by their usefulness and/or their design aesthetic. We've got some exciting new ideas in the pipeline.
If you could do any other job for a day, what would that be?
A heli-biking tour guide.
How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
This is a tricky one because when you work from home it's always "there" as you never really walk away from it. However, since we are both at home (Harm also has his own spatial and joinery design business Studio Zedd), one of us is always available for our children after school and we're lucky enough to live near the lake with after-school swims being a regular activity in the summer time. I make sure to take time out to go mountain biking (a great love) and exercise our dogs.
What's the best thing about being in business in Rotorua?
Fortunately, our production is all able to be done right here in Rotorua where we utilise local businesses for our printing, machining and laser cutting. Travelling into town is so easy without any traffic to worry about (we've lived in Auckland and Europe so we know how bad it can be). Being surrounded by stunning lakes and forest really makes this place so valuable to us as a family.
If you were mayor of Rotorua for one day, what one change would you make?
I would work hard to create really fantastic "people spaces" within the CBD. The recently refurbished Central Mall would be changed from a hard, cold white box into a lovely space with lots of natural greenery, places to sit, open areas, light and sunshine. The whole of Tutanekai St would be enhanced into areas where people are given priority over cars and parking spaces, therefore providing people with a reason to stay longer and keep returning, which in turn would greatly assist our local economy and would be a unique opportunity to put our city back on the map. Creating "people friendly" town centres has been a proven formula in other major cities throughout New Zealand and the world.
Our reasonably flat CBD and the close proximity to the lake that gave our town its name are valuable resources that we can benefit from.
See Aly and Harm's bamboo creations at www.nativecreative.co.nz
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