ASB and ExportNZ Stories: Supplying Fortune 500 Companies all the way from Gisborne
ExportNZ & ASB Stories: Supplying Fortune 500 Companies all the way from Gisborne
With all the disruption that 2020 has brought, the discourse around the benefits of being an innovative and agile business has grown immensely. For Gisborne-based Pultron Composites, who export to more than 100 customers across multiple industries, this year has proven to them just how key these two attributes are.
“The world was always changing, and Covid-19 has fast-tracked that change, so it hasn’t been a huge adjustment, more one that has reminded us that our agility gives us an edge”.
Pete Renshaw, Business Development Director at Pultron Composites, took some time to speak with us about winning customers in one of the world’s most competitive economies, innovation, and lessons learned in 2020.
Who is Pultron Composites?
Started in 1983 at a farm on the outskirts of Gisborne, Pultron Composites is now a reputable leader in pultrusion innovation, having invented many ‘world-first’ products, collaborated with Fortune 500 companies in the USA, and with iconic Kiwi brands too.
‘What is pultrusion innovation?’, you ask.
Pultron Composites develop and manufacture structural components using fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites through a pultrusion process. This is combined with highly customised finishing technologies or add-ons, resulting in unique high-end products for their end-user. Examples include everything from trampoline parts, to snowmobile components, to floating marina docks.
In short, Pultron’s products keep their customers at the leading edge of innovation.
Who are Pultron Composite’s customers?
We have long-term partnerships with Fortune 500 companies in the US, one of which we supply snowmobile tread structural support parts for. We also work with smaller entrepreneurial companies that are carving out a niche in their markets, from infrastructure, to recreation, to marinas. Locally, we work with some leading companies such as Gallagher, who have been with us since the beginning.
Mostly, our customers are companies with an innovative mindset that are looking for differentiation in their market. They are at the top of their industry and always looking for ways to improve. Often when they find us they have searched far and wide for a partner that can deliver a high-end pultrusion solution.
In short, the list is diverse. Often, the technology we develop for one industry can be modified and transferred to other industries, which is great for us and our customers.
What are some innovation examples you have delivered to the world stage?
Pultrusion is becoming more popular as the benefits can provide some incredible advantages. Traditional materials such as timber, steel, and aluminium are no longer seen as the best material to deliver on performance and value.
We have revolutionised the marina floating docks with a fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) thru-rod and nut system that is now patented technology. This system offers marina owners a lightweight, low maintenance solution that is better for the environment as it does not rust or leach into the marina ecosystem. This system has been described as “the biggest leap forward in marina design innovation in the last 25 years”. Timber and steel are no longer deemed the best materials for this application with the new FRP system providing multiple advantages.
A recent success story for us has been the development of a composite FRP rebar product called Mateenbar™. This is the world’s leading corrosion-free rebar, displacing steel rebar in corrosive and challenging environments. Because it is non-metallic, it doesn’t rust, meaning Mateenbar has a long design life-cycle.
Last year, Mateenbar Limited was spun out into a separate company with manufacturing units now set up in Saudi Arabia and North Carolina. Importantly, it has gained international approval from Saudi Aramco, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in Canada. The approval process for the MTO alone, involved 3 years of independent testing and verification by Pultron. We still work closely with Mateenbar providing R&D and technical expertise from New Zealand.
There are several pultrusion companies in North America. Why do your customers choose to work with Pultron?
New customers tell us all the time that they have been unable to find a pultrusion company that can deliver a customised component to meet their unique challenges. When they come to Pultron, they quickly learn that we have the technical expertise and facilities to provide a full solution and manufacture for a mass market. Being able to achieve this through one company makes it an easy decision for them.
Our customers become long-term partners and we embark on a journey of refining and developing their products through quality improvements, automation, or developing new finishing technologies. The fact that they are in America and we are in New Zealand is not an issue when they see we can deliver to expectation and provide top-notch service. Our reputation as a trusted industry pioneer is something we really value and a big part of why our partnerships are lasting. Plus, when our partners do come to Gisborne and visit, they absolutely love it here.
Have you had to implement any changes in the way you do business domestically and internationally since our Covid-19 lockdown?
The world has definitely changed fast and like many businesses, we’ve adapted. From the start of Covid-19, we made a real effort to keep our customers informed of what we were doing to manage the lockdown. This gave them peace of mind knowing there would be little impact to their supply chain.
We were fortunate that many of our customers are deemed essential so we were only closed for 10 days before we could get up and running. All credit to the wider team who stepped up to get the product moving out the door and to our suppliers who have been supportive throughout.
One of the big changes is we can no longer visit our customers. We’re all in the same boat on this one so we have been making the most of Zoom and Teams to chat ‘in-person’. It’s a great way to keep in touch but we do look forward to the day when we can hop on a plane and visit in person, and have them visit us.
Have you had to innovate within the business to cope with the global challenges?
We have been exporting for more than 30 years, so have a good insight into global challenges. Whilst Covid-19 may have ‘ramped things up’, we have been able to rely on our existing knowledge of how to overcome such challenges.
For us, innovation isn’t just about the next big thing, it covers every part of the business and we encourage every one of our team to think of better ways of working and not be afraid to put their hand up if they have an idea. It is a matter of moving with the times. The world was always changing, and Covid-19 has fast-tracked that change, so it hasn’t been a huge adjustment, more one that has reminded us that our agility gives us an edge.
The world is full of uncertainty right now. On a positive note, what is the best thing to come out of 2020 for Pultron?
There is no doubt that 2020 has thrown a lot of challenges our way with closures happening quickly and needing to organise things in a matter of days. From this, we have seen the team at Pultron, and our customers really pull together in support. Our team has worked hard to make sure there was as little disruption as possible. The forced pause was a good point of reflection, and a chance to work on a few new ideas without so many of the normal daily distractions.
One really interesting thing we did learn was just how many of our products we make were considered essential because people rely on them in their daily lives. For example, we didn’t realise that such a large percentage of the snowmobile tracks are essential. People use them in arctic countries like New Zealand farmers use their 4-wheelers and utes.
It is great to see New Zealand’s response to the handling of Covid-19. Not just the government response, but the people of NZ who have been committed to making short-term sacrifices for long-term gain. The NZ Inc brand feels like it is stronger than ever, and as an exporter that is definitely something to be celebrated. Kia kaha.
This story has been provided in partnership with our major sponsor, ASB. Like us, ASB are passionate about the export community and helping them succeed on the world stage.
ASB provides expert advice alongside the right financial tools and online solutions to make exporting easier. Find out how, by clicking here.
Contact: Fergus Grenfell