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Sustainability is about more than ecology – it’s about looking after people as well.  For our second long form interview talking to New Zealand exporters actually doing the mahi out in the world, Andy Mitchell (Katabolt Growth Strategist) spoke to Richard Shirtcliffe, Co-CEO of Noho. 

Richard discusses his lived experience as a New Zealand exporter launching D2C in the US market during a global pandemic and we unpack how the values of a business drive behaviours and everything that they do.

  • The value of designed and made in New Zealand – How is the NZ brand tracking in the US market?
  • Pivoting towards values-driven, sustainable business models
  • “Building riches in niches” – High volume manufacturing in NZ vs high value manufacturing
  • D2C and Sustainability – Owning the customer experience throughout the entire product journey

Richard has extensive senior leadership and consultancy experience with a CV that includes previous titles such as CEO of Tuatara Brewery and CEO of Coffee Supreme. Now based in Colorado, Richard is Co-CEO of Noho  – a NZ business producing furniture that is designed and manufactured in NZ, looks good, feels good and does good for our planet… 

Our key outtakes from the interview:

Pivoting towards values-driven, sustainable business models

  • The Noho brand has been built on twin pillars of ecology and sustainability, and the wellbeing of the individual.
  • The decision to make Noho a B-corp right out of the gates was very deliberate. It’s harder to retrofit sustainability thinking into an organisation. When you build sustainability into an organisation from the ground up, it allows you to start making much firmer, well-grounded decisions.
  • Going market by market for sustainable growth, not rapid growth – RS: “So you go narrow and deep in the market, get real focus, learn everything you can… I think that’s a long term sustainable way to grow a brand out of New Zealand.”

D2C and Sustainability – Owning the customer experience throughout the entire product journey

  • Being able to eyeball manufacturing on a daily basis gives you much more quality assurance – having the factory virtually next door to the Formway designers allows them to direct that process and shoot for perfection with every single unit.
  • RS: Great products are the heroes of great brands, right? So if you cannot deliver a good product, then your brand is going to crumble over time. It’s crucial you get the customer experience right in the context of sustainability. 
  • D2C allows you to choose to deliver outstanding design at an accessible price point to the ultimate consumer and define all the areas you may not be able to manage if you outsource e.g. packaging. For Noho, D2C created the opportunity to ensure the entire custom experience honors their brand values.

The value of designed and made in New Zealand – How is the NZ brand tracking in the US market?

  • There is a real advantage at a brand level in the United States in being seen as made in New Zealand as opposed to made anywhere else. “There is a real drive for local manufacture and if not that they manufacture from countries that are seen as quality assured.”
  • Renewable energy, trust and perception of quality assurance are the key things associated with a brand that is designed and made in New Zealand, as opposed to designed in New Zealand and made somewhere else.
  • The general awareness of the US populace holds brand New Zealand in good stead in amongst the protectionism of support local. If they can’t buy local, New Zealand is the next best thing.
  • RS: “Brand New Zealand has never been stronger in the eyes of Americans and never been stronger for the right reasons” – It’s not about hundred percent pure New Zealand, it’s actually about caring, empathy, leadership in a modern world. 

“Building riches in niches” – High volume manufacturing in NZ vs high value manufacturing

  • New Zealand will never be known for volume manufacturing and nor should we want to be. We’re good design thinkers, we’re good creative solution creators and we should be taking those powers and driving them into products that have high perceived and genuine inherent value.
  • RS: “Will manufacturing in New Zealand erode your profits to unsustainable levels is incredibly archaic thinking. Price that value, price that design into your product and the perception of value in the market in which it drops will be sufficient to ensure that you make enough money to crank a business”

Lessons from trading in a business D2C inside the US during Covid-19 and a time of social change and unrest

  • RS: “Damn the torpedoes because you just don’t know what’s around the corner.” We don’t know what the next 5-10 years will look like, will there be economic doom and gloom, will Covid-19 still be around. ”Don’t just put your life on hold, and put your business on hold, just figure out a way of going forward anyway.”
  • RS: “Everything was kind of ranked against us. But in the end, we said, No, we’ve got a really good story and a really good product. Let’s just get out of here, get it out in the hands of enthusiastic customers. It’ll be slower… and it won’t be quite as exciting. But, we’ll be underway, and we’ll learn some stuff.”

Richard’s advice for anyone looking to or trying to step into the US but hasn’t done so before

  • Tap into the network of kiwis in the US, you can connect to them through Kea and NZTE. RS: “We’re pretty good at answering the phone when someone calls… and it doesn’t seem to matter how successful the individual who is being asked to do that.”
  • Collaborate – more Kiwi businesses need to get used to the idea that modern business should be done in out of New Zealand by sharing IP and helping the next generation of business be more successful.
  • RS: “Be prepared to give up IP, not the secret sauce necessarily of what drives your business, but it is a sort of a playbook of here’s what works, what doesn’t, don’t do those things.. this is what I’ve learned, go do those things instead.”

If you missed any of our previous webinars or interviews, all the Export Recovery Series Webinars and Interviews are available to watch here, alongside contact details of all our panelists, and the key outtakes and resources from each.

The Export Recovery Series team would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our friends at Kea New Zealand and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, for helping to make these webinars possible. Thank you.

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