Taking a black-listed company and turning it around to win international contracts is no small feat, but it’s something rowing skiff manufacturer Laszlo Boats NZ has achieved and has its sights set even higher with the help of an Olympian golden boy.
In October 2015, Laszlo ‘Lez’ Kertesz and Vera Bucsu purchased the Kiwi International Rowing Skiffs (KIRS) company off a liquidator. Today, with shipments already into Australia and the US, they have won the contract for the 2017 World Masters Games.
Lez, passionate about rowing since childhood, had been KIRS’s main boat builder since 2006. It was always a dream for the couple to have their own business, so when the opportunity arose due to the liquidation of KIRS, it suddenly became a reality.
“We were always convinced that the export potential of the business was never truly realized,” says Vera, “So after making sure that New Zealand schools and clubs are taken care of, this is our main focus now.
“We started rebuilding channels into Australia where our product quality was already recognized – when Mahé Drysdale broke the single skulls world record (which still stands) in the 2009 World Rowing Championships, he was using our shape.
“We’ve also been really lucky to start a collaboration with two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Eric Murray. We believe in synergy and aligning ourselves with others, so in our first year it was really important to find the right strategic partner.
“Having Eric on board is perfect for export because he is like a rock star – a living legend for rowers! He is one of our strongest weapons to complement having a great quality product.
“Eric embodies everything that we believe being a Kiwi company means. We align ourselves with the sport in many ways – we want to be the best and we want to win. We are learning so much from Eric and his incredible work ethic. Despite his huge success he remains very down to earth and approachable. That’s what we want to achieve as a business.”
Eric obviously has a huge passion for rowing, and says New Zealand has a great history to build on. I spoke to him about how his prestige in rowing is helping to build customer relationships and bring market share to the Laszlo Boats NZ brand.
“New Zealand builds some of the best rowing boats in the world, but it’s challenging getting the brand out there to the overseas market. The New Zealand team, for logistical and cost reasons, uses boats from an overseas manufacturer. But of course we want New Zealand crews in New Zealand boats that are going to go just as fast. There’s a lot of export issues that we’re working on to try and establish relationships, and open up more possibilities to sell products overseas.
“Australia is a good starting point as its shipping and export duties are small – only 5% import duty for rowing boats. Other places around the world are very expensive, plus rowing boats are very delicate so you can’t load share in a container. It’s a really fine balance – we want to get the boats our there to the world and we have an amazing product, but there are so many barriers that come into play when you’re actually doing it.
“Because the company was taken over 15 months ago, those barriers are some of the things we’re working on – to see if there are investment opportunities for getting the boats overseas, and getting the New Zealand team back in the boats.
“People aren’t going to be involved in a business or product if they don’t believe in it. I do believe in this and I know it’s a great product. I’ve used it ever since I started rowing, so I know how good it is and the results it can produce. Having my name on board should help endorse the product and promote its credibility around the world.”
Vera says they love being creative and thinking outside the box with their marketing. They are the only rowing boat company in the world truly embracing custom-painted boats for example.
“We want to be the Apple of boat building! We recognize the importance of original ideas, great quality, aesthetics and being community focused.
“Winning the contract for supplying boats to the World Masters Games, and catering for the needs of so many people from overseas, is a great opportunity. Argentina just placed an order with us and were blown away that we could paint the Argentinian flag on their boats.”
Mahé caused a big stir with his black boat with the silver fern painted on it. We look forward to seeing what other inspiring designs will appear on boats in the future. Laszlo Boats NZ’s next focus is on Japan and the Olympics, so watch this space.
Catherine Beard is Executive Director of ExportNZ, which serves its members via regional offices throughout the country. To find your nearest office go to www.exportnz.org.nz