From the other side

New Zealand is backing its growth businesses to the hilt as the country seeks to increase its volume of exports.

New Zealand is backing its growth businesses to the hilt as the country seeks to increase its volume of exports.

New Zealand is backing its growth businesses to the hilt as the country seeks to increase its volume of exports.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise set up its Beachheads programme in 2002 to encourage exports and so far it has assisted 60 of its home-grown companies to expand into Europe. After all, in a country with only 4 million people, there’s a natural limit on what entrepreneurs can achieve.

James Nilsson, the MD of Natural Kidsco, which provides clothing made from merino wool for children (pictured), has over 80 stores in New Zealand and Australia. It soon became apparent to Nilsson that if Kidsco was to realise its full potential, ‘we had to build our business in the Northern Hemisphere’. Selling mainly online, the company has seen its UK sales quadruple to £300,000 in its first year since opening an office in Hampshire.

Likewise, Stuart Norris, the founder and ‘chief experience officer’ of tourism photography company Magic Memories, had expanded to take 60 per cent of the New Zealand market. Now the company operates in Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin and Belfast, bringing in a fifth of the group’s NZ$20 million (£9.2 million) revenue.

It’s who you know
Both Nilsson and Norris say that the Beachheads programme has proved invaluable in providing contacts and helping them master Britain’s reams of red tape. Norris says: ‘England is all about who you know in business. The Beachhead programme has the networks which prised the door open for us and we charged through.’

Nilsson acknowledges the importance of contacts, but also the practical help in establishing an office. ‘It’s very hard to set up a business in the UK,’ he says. ‘It’s a lot slower to get things done here than New Zealand. We would have ended up making some costly mistakes and taken twice as long to get going.’

Richard Keyse, the chairman of the European Beachheads board, observes that bedding companies in and putting entrepreneurs in touch with the right people is at the heart of the programme, as opposed to financial assistance. ‘We can provide advice on the marketing, branding, corporate governance and sometimes help them to refine their USP – if it’s too broad a proposition you might have to narrow the focus for a larger market.’

Working with a company for two years (this can be extended), the programme runs a number of events and has schemes in the Middle East, China and the US. Simon Pothecary, the CEO of Comvita, which specialises in natural healthcare based on honey, set up in the UK five years ago: ‘In the early days the programme helped with strategic, specialist advice. A couple of senior ex-retail CEOs were able to give me a pretty hard assessment of what I had in mind for the business, which was very useful.’

There is a consultative element to the programme as well. ‘We regularly present to the Beachhead board. They give honest and direct feedback, which is great because with a small business you can be quite inward-looking.’

Comvita’s sales have primarily been online but Pothecary is planning to open a shop in London later this year, along with expanding in France and Spain. ‘Sales for the entire business are up from NZ$71 million to NZ$85 million and the UK is now a significant part of that growth,’ he says.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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