In a country where women for many years have been in significant leadership roles in politics and commercial life it is not surprising to see women making their mark in the New Zealand marine Industry. Maryanne Edwards of GMBA asked several of these women to share their views on how they are managing in the current domestic and global environment.
The 4 women Maryanne spoke with are positive examples of what is happening in the small business environment in the NZ industry. The way businesses globally have responded to the pandemic is either driving their success or causing them to question the future. These NZ women are not sitting back waiting for things to change they are driving the changes needed for their businesses to thrive and survive.
Linda Berry has had 25 years in the marine sector having also spent 7 years as the Marketing Director of Alloy Yachts. She Is now the owner of Studio Linda Berry, a marketing and event management consultancy, specialising in the superyacht sector. Linda is most recently associated with the event “The NZ Superyacht Gathering. https://www.thesuperyachtgathering.com
Sofia Ambler has owned and operated Heletranz Helicopters with her husband for the past eight years. When they started the business, they had 2 helicopters and now manage 14. They have since expanded their heliport and their nationwide reach. Sofia works with the marine industry at boat shows supporting super yachts with guest shore excursions. The business also undertakes maintenance of onboard helicopters. Heletranz have created extraordinary experiences all over NZ and were the official filming helicopters for the Americas Cup together with Tony Monk Films. www.heletranz.co.nz
Nicola Webster and her husband started Coast New Zealand with the specific goal of establishing a luxury brand that would reflect New Zealand’s unique quality of life. They hand-make in New Zealand a collection of soft furnishings, bags, cushions and textiles, including their award winning, Marine Bean collection – the original outdoor beanbag. They borrow many of the materials and methods that were previously the reserve of luxury yacht-building: Contemporary ocean-going sailing yachts must be comfortable, even opulent, and yet withstand the harshest conditions at sea. Coast NZ aim to emulate the exacting standards of modern boat builders in their choice of materials and use of good design.www.coastnewzealand.com
Tracey Stevenson with husband Lloyd own Lloyd Stevenson Boatbuilders, manufacturing custom boats from their Auckland based yard for the past 35 years. They serve the local demand for custom yachts and power boats, and the international market for custom super yacht tenders and other specialised craft. Their capabilities cover a diverse range of vessels from traditional timber to fully composite vessels. Tracey is currently Vice President of NZ Marine and a member of the NZ Marine Industry Training board. https://lloydstevensonyachts.co.nz
Q1. Will boat shows continue to be important to your business and do you see it critical to your business to get back to the personal relationship building that tends to be the focus of domestic and global boat shows?
Sophia,“We don’t normally attend Boat Shows on behalf of Heletranz but we have attended several with clients. Both in NZ as well as in Monaco. This is a great opportunity to see the new boats but for us also to see the demo of new helicopters that will go on the larger super yachts.”
Nicola,“Boat shows will always have a place in our marketing, but as the pandemic has shown us, the use of Skype, Zoom, social media and being involved and supporting local events can maintain and even grow your business and customer connectivity. The way companies reacted during the pandemic and their ‘voice’ during the lockdowns, either cemented or eroded customer relationships.”
Linda,“In my opinion nothing replaces Boat Shows. They are essential for building relationships not only in the industry but facilitating introductions to potential clients. If it wasn’t for Boat Shows, we wouldn’t have so many international friends and contacts in the industry that have led to business opportunities and certainly have sustained many of our businesses during the pandemic.”.
Tracey, “We have always seen boat shows as the best way to connect with our clients both locally and internationally. There is nothing that compares to being able to meet with people face to face and build relationships with customers, suppliers and those able to influence purchasing decisions.“
Q2. What are the key changes you have had to maintain your business during this pandemic?
Sophia,“For us, our main business has always been domestic but we were extremely nervous 15 months ago with lockdowns in NZ. In the end, we have still had a very good year and strengthened our focus even more on corporates and local HNWI’s. There has been a desire by New Zealanders to explore their own stunning backyard, so this has helped us a lot in delivering extraordinary experiences.”
Nicola, “We have always sold online and have been active on social media platforms for many years. Online sales have grown significantly over the pandemic. We have had to make ourselves available and active on these platforms including, whatapp, messenger, website chat, text or whatever is the preferred communication channel of the customer. Answering questions, providing quotes and getting back to customers quickly is important for building trust and long-term successful relationships in a virtual environment. Providing relevant, interesting content on social media and having an up-to-date website helps customers to understand and trust your brand.
Linda, “Probably the biggest change I have made to my business during this pandemic is to rely more on digital media as a means of general communication. Electronic newsletters, Instagram, websites and LinkedIn”
Tracey, “The biggest impact of the pandemic for us has been staff shortages as it is impossible to recruit from offshore, and some of our existing team members have returned to their home countries as they were unable to bring family into New Zealand. At the same time the construction industry and other growth industries recognise the all-round skills of our well-trained boat builders. We have started to look to outsourcing and technology solutions to get through a period of increased demand without being able to recruit offshore. Despite the investment in training, we also need to have a path to be able to bring in offshore talent.”
Q3. The world is now shaped by technology change, social media, consumer expectations and hyper connectivity how have you embraced these factors to develop your business.
Sophia, “We pride ourselves in delivering a very personal customer experience and have always been very high touch, this is not always easy to combine with technology change and moving to more automation but this is an area we have spent a lot of resources on and we are lucky to have a good team as this is not an area I excel in at all. Social media is important for story telling but always hard to measure the direct effect.
Nicola, “Being present and available across a number of platforms is important and now expected. You need to be able to respond quickly and be available when the customer wants to chat or message. This can be late or early, depending on the client’s time-zone and can mean sending samples, etc to far-flung places. A good remote set up and flexitimes are very much part of everyday business nowadays. Technology has helped us to communicate with our customers, but there is no substitute for the human touch – all interactions are with a real person – very often me!”
Linda, “I find that I can only do so much personally when it comes to working with new technology and with digital media etc and so for the first time have hired a graphic design and communication company to help with everything new that is coming out. It is a full-time job keeping up with it and the time was right to hand it to the experts rather than clunking around myself. I have learned through the pandemic (or perhaps it is just with years of experience) to do what I do best and hand the rest to others that do it better.”
Tracey, “We have an online presence, but this is an area of challenge for a business that thrives on face to face connection. We have embraced technology but see room for growth and are investing in both a strong digital presence and in production technology. Our design team are now 3D printing prototypes to test before final manufacture.”
Q4. Many stakeholders tell me that customer expectations have changed since the start of the pandemic, and everyone has to work harder to achieve customer satisfaction or over deliver have you experienced this and how do you address it?
Tracey Stevenson summed this question up for everyone by stating “Building customer relationships and delivering excellent customer service which meets or exceeds our customer expectations has been something that we have always had as part of our DNA.”
This statement was corroborated by everyone I interviewed stating successful businesses today must have the customer first philosophy front of mind if they want to survive.
Q5 Many businesses say that they now must think more locally than globally given the many covid restrictions and border closures. All of you have aspects of your business that are global and local – has the mix changed?
Sofia, “Yes we definitely are working harder to reach larger companies that prior to the pandemic might have organised incentive trips with clients to experience NZ. This was a target market for us.”
Nicola, “Our local market (New Zealand and Australia) – and especially the marine sector – has really grown in the last 18 months. The lack of overseas travel has fuelled both the marine and the holiday home (bach) market in New Zealand which has refocused our marketing efforts in these sectors. We manufacture our products locally in New Zealand so have been lucky that our supply chain has experienced minimal disruption compared to some companies. However, the increased cost and timeframes for freighting goods has been a pain point. We have had to redouble our efforts in managing fulfilment and customer expectations.”
Linda, “Yes definitely with our event “The Superyacht Gathering” in the past 2 years we have had to ensure the speakers and guests are within the Oceania region in case of lockdowns and border closures but the interest here in hearing what is happening globally is still strong and with digital technology and the sponsorship support we have managed to provide great speakers and profile some key international companies.”
Tracey, “The mix of global vs local has always been a cycle for us that can swing either way depending on the projects that we have on the go. Local demand has certainly increased because of the pandemic and we have a strong network of local customers and suppliers. Marketing globally is more challenging currently. However, we need to focus on both markets to survive in the future”
Q6. What is your view of the current Australia/NZ marine industry and where do you see the opportunities/threats if the borders remain closed and the uncertainty we face in regards to this pandemic continues?
Sofia, “I think Australia had a slightly more relaxed border approach for super yachts during the America’s Cup with at least one very large super yacht for whom we had work booked in going to Australia instead of coming to NZ when crew/owners were denied entry. Incidences like this have a detrimental effect on our economy when, if allowed, and risk is mitigated, these vessels could bring significant revenue and jobs into New Zealand.
Nicola, “Localised interest in boating/sailing is strong, particularly with the lack of overseas travel and we think sales will remain solid in the immediate term. There is still more opportunity to develop and explore the new local interest in the industry. It remains to be seen, if there is still an appetite to head overseas when we can travel again, or if people will feel more comfortable staying closer and holidaying in the Pacific. I think we will see more cruising closer to home in the medium term.”
Linda, “The marine industry in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific need to stop seeing themselves as individuals but as a destination when it comes to attracting superyachts. As Covid continues to roam the globe I believe certain regions will be seen as “safe” or “safer” at the very least. We need to promote our Oceania region. By doing this we will be able to take advantage of travel bubbles that will allow superyachts to travel around the South Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand without restrictions. We have already seen an influx of superyachts returning to our regions so the owners can enjoy their yacht in home waters, we need this to continue and to use this to attract more. Once boats are here the individual companies can compete, but the region needs to do the work first as a collective.”
Tracey, “The New Zealand marine construction market is very buoyant on the back of strong local demand; however it is difficult to see it staying at the current levels if the borders remain closed for a significant period of time. As I said earlier, we are investing in ways to be able to connect digitally with our international markets– including cameras for clients to monitor projects remotely and tools to assist communications, however nothing beats being able to build relationships and connections in person, have customers come to us and for us to be able to visit overseas markets to generate leads. We are also looking to connect more with our Australian neighbours to see if there are more ways that we can collaborate within our Trans-Tasman bubble.
Q7 Lastly I asked everyone what was the best bit of advice they had been given since starting their business?
Sophia, “If your gut feeling says something is not right, stick to that.” I think it took me too long to allow myself to trust my gut feeling if people who I perceived to be more experienced advised differently.
Nicola, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it”
It takes many years of consistent, hard work to build a trusted and respected brand.
Linda, “Treat your suppliers like you do your customers and they will always have your back.”
and a quote by a Canadian Hockey Player that I subcribe to, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Tracey, “Get really good advice and surround yourself with really smart people that can inspire and challenge your business to grow and develop.”
N.B. Global Marine Business Advisors and its associated website www.gmba.blue are not registered legal entities. GMBA is a network of independent marine industry advisors.