IN TOUCH : When “the Cup” fits…

Owen Rutter was probably cheering louder than most in the wee small hours as he watched Team NZ head off Luna Rossa by bare 20 seconds to pick up the Louis Vuitton Cup last month. As he told business audience at the next morning’s New Thinking Export Breakfast, the America’s Cup contest is “great profile” for his company.
Events Clothing, including the Line 7 and Musto brands of marine wear, was founded in 1989 and gained serious kickstart with the 1995 America’s Cup campaign. During the 2002/2003 campaign it became exclusive supplier to Team NZ and the Cup’s migration offshore signalled turning point for the company’s own focus, as Rutter explained.
“Up till that point, our main focus was the New Zealand market and only about 20 percent of our product went to export.”
But it had already hooked into the superyacht market and by the 2003 Cup campaign close, when those yachts headed back to their international bases, the Kiwi marine wear brands went with them – and Rutter, whose own background involves top level yacht racing, saw promising niche in what is an expanding market.
At the moment, he says, there are some 10,000 superyachts around the world with 750 more (about 250 of which are built in Italy) being added to the tally every year. They’re also getting bigger – the average size is now 35 metres – and the pockets of those building them seem to be getting deeper. As Rutter noted during his address, this is market where rising Kiwi dollar doesn’t impact on sales.
Getting the company’s 15 staff on board with the change of direction initially took some persuasion but it wasn’t case of the company walking away from its commitments to the Kiwi corporate market, says Rutter.
“It was just recognising that this was real opportunity for us.”
It has certainly lifted Event Clothing’s export profile – the proportion of sales going offshore is now up to 70 percent.
The company is able to play on New Zealand’s reputation and presence in offshore yachting circles. sizable Kiwi contingent in superyacht crews means word-of-mouth advertising is huge – to the extent that the company doesn’t advertise in magazines but relies on networking and sponsorships, says Rutter. An example is its involvement with the Millennium Cup. This year it was being held for the first time in Europe (about 90 miles from Valencia at the Bay of Palma) attracting record 60 superyachting contestants.
Rutter’s own contacts and credibility in the yachting world – he still does the superyacht racing circuit at senior level – provide added clout with the target market. “The ability to talk to people at that level about their requirements and do the networking is paramount.”
The company uses ‘story board’ design layouts – which outline designs for basic gear (shirts, shorts, fleeces, caps etc) and can include accessories (shoes, bags etc) – and these have proved helpful in terms of “selling in” the concept. Its customers may be loyal but tend to be unforgiving of mistakes and it’s important to stay ahead of the game in terms of fabric technology, innovation and design, says Rutter.
“We don’t compete on price – if you talk to people then you usually sell to them. Not too many companies are in that position.”
While the company can be more competitive because it deals direct with end users, it’s not really about money, Rutter explains, it’s more about being able to provide an exclusive look and the best of fabric technology.
“Do it right and do it properly and price is not barrier.”
The company sources fabric from different parts of the world and outsources lot of its manufacturing to ‘small-run’ specialists in Asia (China, India, Vietnam) but product usually gets repackaged at its New Zealand factory which allows quality checking.
Future developments will include new lines, new products and new office in superyacht central – the Caribbean. Meanwhile the ongoing focus on America’s Cup and Team New Zealand is all good news.
The New Zealand New Thinking Export Breakfast was one of series being held throughout the country during Export Year.
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