The New Zealand Pump Company Limited is a thriving Hamilton-based export business that manufactures and distributes plastic drum pumps and add-on pump accessories to over 111 countries globally. Unconventionally coming from commercial banking backgrounds, the company was acquired by Jeff Hitchcock, Greg Flower, and Martin Koer in 2019. Under their leadership, the business has rapidly expanded throughout COVID-19, with 25 staff working across their full production site in Alhambra, United States, and sales office in the United Kingdom. For ExportNZ’s 50th Anniversary, Jeff Hitchcock joined us for an interview to delve into the company’s unique and fascinating exporter journey. We discussed the success, barriers, and international crises that the New Zealand Pump Company has experienced, and the business’s future in overseas markets. Hitchcock also provides some sage advice for future potential exporters and those currently in the exporting industry.
To check out The New Zealand Pump Company’s website, click here.
The New Zealand Pump Company’s Exporter Story:
While acquired in 2019, The New Zealand Pump Company (NZ Pump) has existed in the exporting space for over 31 years. When their core Ezi-action® Drum Pump product was first launched in 1991, the product won the New Zealand Innovation Award which gave the business important exposure domestically. Hitchcock explains that this innovative product has been central to the company’s success as a simplistic and long-lasting solution across core industries. For example, distributors can sell their product without needing to worry about faulty products, warranties, and returns. However, while New Zealand appreciates a quality product and is prepared to pay for it, the purchasing volumes in the market are comparatively much smaller to overseas alternatives. Outside of core industries in New Zealand, the market for drum pump products in New Zealand was too niche and small of a market to make the product viable. Hitchcock explains that this rationale inspired the decision to export abroad where NZ Pump could grow their market share and manufacturing volumes to a greater extent.
The opportunity for international expansion would present itself when a major NZ customer recognised their product’s potential and partnered with NZ Pump to distribute their product to international sites in China, Australia, and the US. From this international exposure, NZ Pump were able to continuously push their product to new customers and expand their market presence by utilizing distributors. As a result, NZ Pump’s international growth eventually demanded that the business setup overseas offices in the UK and manufacturing in the US. Today, 85 per cent of all NZ Pump’s sales are achieved internationally with 70 per cent of sales coming from the US, which remains their biggest growth opportunity. Manufacturing in the US has significantly benefitted this growth, with Americans typically preferring to buy local, American-made products above all else.
When asked what the biggest difference was between selling in NZ and internationally, Hitchcock believes there are three key differences that all exporters should know. Firstly, building meaningful relationships and reputations with customers is central to selling in NZ. In contrast, international markets and their highly commodified and competitive industries are centred around transactional efficiency between buyers and sellers. Secondly, bulk buying is a particularly common difference found from overseas buyers where NZ typically buys in smaller fit-for-purpose quantities. Lastly, Hitchcock believes that distribution in NZ is highly innovative and streamlined compared to overseas markets where posting checks and old-fashioned cataloguing are still commonplace. Each market’s culture and method of distribution is different from the next, so it is essential to understand how they operate from a legislative, cultural, distribution, and accountancy point of view. In Hitchcock’s words, “Go in with your eyes wide open with the ability to be flexible and dynamic in ever-changing markets.”
Emerging stronger and more resilient from BREXIT and COVID-19:
The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union in 2020 sent shockwaves across the European freight network and significantly hindered the efficiency of global supply chains. Hitchcock reveals that shipping that once took one week to deliver to Italy now can take up to three months. This has become the reality throughout European supply chains with Hitchcock believing that freight companies had not adequately prepared the appropriate policies and procedures to deal with BREXIT. During this time, NZ Pump’s UK office worked extensively to help their European customers who’ve struggled with adapting to the new ordering processes and extensive waiting periods. Extra shipping charges since BREXIT have also increased the bottom-line expenses for NZ Pump to distribute to the continent. Despite the ongoing issue, Hitchcock explains that NZ Pump’s flat organisational hierarchy structure and collaborative culture has been essential to their business’s continuity in Europe. By listening to overseas staff and supporting them with training and development, work flexibility, and assistance where possible, their staff have been empowered to continue finding solutions through the difficulties of the European market. This organisational commitment to customer support in the market has directly led to stronger customer relationships. In this regard, Hitchcock believes that finding ways to get the best outcomes for staff often create the best outcomes for everyone involved in the business.
When COVID-19 spread rapidly only three months after BREXIT, the disruptions to NZ Pump’s supply chains were further aggravated on a global scale after a key New Zealand supplier shut down. This issue unexpectedly coincided with a huge increase in global demand for their drum pump products as a practical solution for hand sanitizer dispensers against COVID-19. Over two to three months, their US manufacturing office increased from 15 to 60 staff and operated seven days a week to keep up with demand. Despite the potentially extremely costly result of losing a key supplier, Hitchcock and partners used the unfortunate situation to identify and improve the weak points in their supply chain. Once a new supplier was found, NZ Pump’s new knowledge of their vulnerabilities helped them negotiate beneficial terms that exceeded the capabilities of their previous supplier. Air freight also became a method of urgently distributing products when essential. As a result, NZ Pump emerged from COVID-19 with stronger supply chains, international clienteles, and revenue.
In both crises, NZ Pump utilized the economic shocks as an opportunity to critically review and improve their business’s position in the international market. This, Hitchcock states, is “essential to building resilience as a Kiwi exporter.”
The New Zealand Pump Company – Future World Leaders in Drum Pump Innovation and Manufacturing.
The New Zealand Pump Company ventures to become the number one player in their industry. By 2032, Hitchcock expects to have the business doubled in size with more offices spread globally while remaining an increasingly engaging place to work. Europe particularly presents itself as a future exciting market for unbridled growth once post-BREXIT supply chain and distribution issues conclude. Ensuring NZ Pump remains connected to the world’s customers and supply chains are essential to achieving these goals.
In another 50 years’ time, ExportNZ will have their 100th anniversary which for us will mark a century of helping New Zealand exporters. We asked Hitchcock what mantra he may have for future generations of kiwi globe trotters. In his own words, “Good product and good service are the fundamentals to any business”
Special acknowledgement: James O’Riley (a bright young 2nd year Otago University student studying Management, History, Politics) interviewed exporters over the last few months. James has written some excellent pieces for us. This is the first in a series celebrating 50 years of ExportNZ.