Fourteen years ago, keen sailor Ian McFarlane decided to jump ship from his 28-year career in textile and product development to set up Nautilus Braids in Springston, a rural town located 30 minutes south-west of Christchurch.

The successful business now employs five staff and supplies ropes to the marine, equine, caving, dairy and civil construction sectors.

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"I've sailed most of my life and have plenty of experience with textiles, so it made sense to set up a business to supply the marine industry with ropes made from high performance multi filament polyester and synthetic materials".

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However, McFarlane found Nautilus Braids wasn't just for the marine industry.

Being based in rural Canterbury, McFarlane and his team had created some valuable innovations for local farmers, which were now sold globally.

"My neighbour had a problem with a cord used during milking. When cows are milked on a rotary platform, there's an ACR cord which pulls the milking cups off the udders. If the cord breaks, the cluster of cups falls into the effluent which is a real problem.

"We developed a hard, durable cord with an increased twist level" said McFarlane.

"We manufacture 168,000 metres of it per year for the New Zealand market and now sell it into Australia, Ireland and the US".

McFarlane said it was impossible to compete with mass-produced Chinese ropes, so he focused on tailor-made ropes designed specifically to meet his clients' specifications.

Technology provides global reach

Harnessing the power of the internet had allowed Nautilus Braids to supply clients around New Zealand and the globe with the tailor-made high-performance ropes.

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McFarlane relied on good internet connectivity to send drawings to clients, along with emails discussing applications and requirements.

"For example, riggers setting up a new or second-hand boat will describe applications for the rope and send through plans. We interpret their needs, make a rope sample, send it to them and then continue the discussion by email".

Along with discovering new markets online, Ian also used the internet to research and source high-tech fibre and machinery.

"We're always breaking into new areas, so sometimes we need to modify our machines.
We've sourced new carriers for our braiding machines when we had requests to braid wire for safety harnesses and to make bungies for electric fences. I found the manufacturer online and we had ongoing communication to get the right product".

McFarlane preferred a personal approach at the beginning of a new business relationship, backed up by ongoing online communication.

"I like to visit suppliers and clients in person initially and then we continue building our relationship via email and phone calls.

"We can do a quick turn around and produce excellent custom-made rope. We recently had an email from a guy in the US who is testing our ropes for a dairying application. He said they are 2.6 times better than anything he's had before, and he wants to start a business relationship".

Nautilus Braids used cloud-based MYOB for its accounting, business projections, turnover, project management and "so staff can see how we're tracking" said McFarlane.

The business was currently upgrading its website which also provided plenty of technical information for customers.

"We're updating the website at the moment, but we'll still have lots of information on topics such as how ropes stretch or the impact of knotting rather than splicing ropes".

McFarlane said that his business wouldn't be where it was today without digital connectivity to communicate with clients and suppliers through the country and the world.

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the internet. It has opened up the world for us and enables us to be quick on our feet in response to the wide range of requests we get".

A better connection would be helpful though, as the business is still using the copper network which was slow and could be affected by adverse weather conditions.

"A faster connection would help us a lot, especially when we're collaborating with clients to develop new products.

"We've found that wet weather seems to slow the connection down, but we're still persisting and hopefully we'll get upgraded to a new network soon".

Intermittent connectivity hasn't slowed McFarlane down however, as he has just confirmed a contract to provide the rope for a new yacht which, when completed, will be the largest in the world.