February 23, 2021

Todd Grayson and Greg Brebner, Blunt Umbrellas | Having A Single Minded Vision

Learn about the opportunities and pitfalls of exporting in a post-lockdown world from New Zealand exporters actually doing the mahi out in the world. We talk to Todd and Greig from Blunt Umbrellas about the importance of having a single minded vision.

We are excited to move forward with the next phase of our Export Recovery Series to help NZ exporters better understand the post lockdown world we now find ourselves in.

Friday the 3rd of July saw the release of the Export Recovery Series in-depth interview with Blunt Umbrellas’ Todd Graydon (Global General Manager) and Greig Brebner (Founder).

Andy Mitchell (Katabolt Growth Strategist) interviewed Todd and Greig about their lived experience as a New Zealand exporter navigating through a post-lockdown world and their vision for New Zealand moving forward.

  • How do we fit into the world? What difference do we make? What will be remembered for?
  • Why NZ needs a single minded vision
  • Blunt Umbrellas’ vision for NZ as a leader of multiple sustainable technologies
  • How can New Zealand leverage its greatest strengths to transform our economy?

Blunt Umbrellas’ journey in the export market hasn’t been easy sailing but they never gave up, stuck to their vision and even in financial strife, came out the other side with a high-quality innovative product that has changed the world of umbrellas.

The two founders share some of the strategies they use in the market, where they see the opportunities for New Zealand exporters going forward and their vision for New Zealand.

The interview covered:

  • Insights and lessons from the Blunt Umbrella early days
  • Lived experiences of an NZ exporter in the market during covid-19
  • Why we need single minded vision and clarity of positioning of New Zealand
  • A vision of New Zealand as a leader of sustainable exports
  • Is there a place for NZ production again as kiwi exporters look to take back more control?
  • How can New Zealand leverage its greatest strengths to transform our economy?
  • What next for Blunt Umbrellas?

Here’s some of our key outtakes:

Insights and lessons from the Blunt Umbrella early days

  • GB: I grew up wanting to invent a product that was of significant value to the world… It took four or five years to even get a prototype together. It sent me nuts in some ways but obviously worth it in the long run.
  • Kiwi companies with specialist high value niche products need to think about a hyper local approach – It limits the reach of where you go increases your chance of success. In the early days Blunt didn’t have that depth; it was the home market that really sang. It was about recognising all those wins in the home market and making them work in other places.

Lived experiences of an NZ exporter in the market during covid-19

  • Asia swung around quicker than some of the other markets. Over the last two years Blunt Umbrellas’ has reduced the number of export markets that they’ve been selling in and focused in on five and taking back distribution in 3 of the 5 to get full management control.
  • TG: International markets and export markets are driven on relationships and 90% of everything you do in these markets is based on a relationship with that person. [In a low touch world] it’s a different way to develop a relationship but Zoom doesn’t create a barrier… but we have a boots on the ground strategy that goes in line with those markets.
  • TG: It felt like we were powerless because we didn’t have anyone up there that directly works for Blunt and we couldn’t get on a plane and get up there and into the factory to see what the state of it was. At the end of the day we did feel like we were a little bit exposed.

Why we need single minded vision and clarity of positioning of New Zealand

  • GB: Scaling up the single minded vision for the whole country – We’re all doing so much great stuff and it’s sort of going in the same direction but it’s not being defined as such so it sort of feels like everyone is sort of doing their own thing trying to go in the same direction but it’s not honed to a point.
  • To be effective you’ve got to go deep in one area you can’t do everything. For Blunt it’s really about the lifespan of the product. It’s about creating a product that is not diminishing in value over time; it’s actually increasing with a few inputs on the side. It’s just a different way of thinking.
  • NZ is known for beef and lamb and milk powder and these sort of products, but why can’t it be known for high quality, scalable premium products that can match it with anything in the world?.

A vision of New Zealand as a leader of sustainability

  • GB: Sustainability has got so much potential in new zealand. We’ve got so many great ingredients and the world just loves us for what we’ve got.
  • We’re moving into a period of almost post consumerism – for the next 12-18 months people will be consuming in a much more conscious way. There is an opportunity for anyone that’s looking to create some disruption and change the dynamic of the market to make something that lasts, that is modular, it’s intelligent, it’s higher in value and sustainable.
  • TG: There’s two different business strategies, building for greater good vs building to sell. For us it’s about the greater good and building a sustainable business that we can hold, employ more kiwis and actually turn this thing into a long term game or goal.
  • There’s got to be a win-win where we’re looking after the environment, we’ve got sustainable technologies, and we’re making damn good money out of it. There’s win-wins in these things, they shouldn’t be seen as compromises for being green – just get the best of everything, get the best of both worlds, you can.

Is there a place for NZ production again as kiwi exporters look to take back more control?

  • If we can design well, you can do the final assembly here or anywhere else in the world, close to your market. There’s so much flexibility in that because you can customise and have a lot less stock holding of a whole lot of different products.
  • If you’re going to manufacture anything in NZ it’s got to be super value add and it’s got to be using the ingredients of what’s around here as well – natural materials.
  • Think and act global but love local mentality – If you can put a bit of that kiwi ingenuity in with the DNA and package it up and tell a better story it’s only going to help us achieve a better price at the end of the day on the other side of the world.
  • Taking back control from centralised manufacturing to move to a more distributed manufacturing base – it’s quite difficult because it’s all or nothing. You’ve got to rip the plaster off. It’s 90% planning.
  • It comes back to what we’re doing. We don’t want to just bring back the same processes that they’re doing in China and think it’s going to work. If we took a process that was inefficient here in the 90s to China, we can’t just bring it back and think it’s going to work now. We’ve actually got to be smarter.
  • Design is where it starts, you’ve just got to have a better product that has better thought put into it, better depth to what you’re doing but there’s just some areas of product lines that we shouldn’t be doing in NZ, it shouldn’t be us at all.

How can New Zealand leverage its greatest strengths to transform our economy?

  • GB: We’re exporting so much raw stuff that’s got so much gold in it like milk powder and the fibres and the timber. Imagine if we were a sustainable IKEA with all this timber here like they did in Sweden back in the day. It’s just one thing like that that could change our country. We’ve got to think deeper, and I think it’s a great time to do it.
  • GB: People have forgotten how to actually add more value through manufacturing or developing things that have real value – that’s got to be the driver in most people’s lives.
  • There are areas of the world that have turned themselves around in a generation – Taiwan with the silicon chip. They all got focused with the government and the industry working together and in 10 years they just changed that whole economy. They had the right three people at the table. So who’s going to be at our table?
  • It’s about purposeful creation of wealth so everyone benefits. Wealth coming in needs to be seen as an energy force and NZ needs a mentality of celebrating the wealth coming into the country for the benefit of everyone.
  • NZ needs to decide, what is our 2035 ‘go to the moon’ statement.
  • Proximity is everything and post-covid NZ is a place you can create proximity. If we get the right people in the room we’ll elevate ourselves overnight. We don’t have to build everything ourselves, we can be the connector.

What next for Blunt?

  • It’s got to start with design, it’s got to start with a product that’s quite mature, that we can actually design something that’s quite timeless. We can apply that same thinking, refine it a bit, get the 80% familiar to people but 20% innovation and then apply that modular ecosystem thinking in the way we build it. There’s no end to that.

If you missed any of our previous webinars, all the Export Recovery Series Webinars 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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