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Succession as a discipline
You could say that Mark Robinson and Brett Avery are too young to know any better. The family friends have been in business almost nine years now – and are still learning new things each day. Avery Robinson Ltd was formed in 1997 to bid for the license to import and distribute the unique UK-based Dyson Vacuum cleaners in New Zealand. The young duo (at the time 25 and 26) beat their more established rivals, some of whom import hundreds of electronics brands, by being singular in their focus: they promised to work, breathe and sleep no brand other than Dyson. The determination has paid off. Dyson is now a market leader in the $49 million floor-care market, with approximately 30% share; Avery Robinson employs 18 staff; and it has single-handedly reversed the declining value in the premium vacuum cleaner market. “Retailers loved having Dyson enter the market because it injected some life and value into a declining category,” says Mark. As with TDC, the first few years of life for Avery Robinson were a grinding effort by the pair who did everything, from sales and shipping to customer support and logistics. But as the sales grew, so has the sophistication of the business. Two crucial decisions have meant that growth has been “exponential” without being wobbly or out of control.

“First we decided to automate as many of the tasks as possible, so we very soon established reporting, inventory, customer care and accounting systems,” says Brett.

“Second, we’ve focused on getting the right staff almost before we’ve really needed to. That’s meant that we can delegate tasks to qualified and trained people.”

This “invest as you grow” approach has won the admiration of one of their professional advisors, John Kirkwood, a lawyer with Hesketh Henry. “I see Avery Robinson as a great example of how getting the system and procedures correct at the beginning can lead to a very significant business within a short number of years. It’s a great example of succession planning in its broadest sense.” To Brett and Mark the idea of calling what they do “succession planning” is a bit like saying Daniel Carter practices “projectile aeronautics”.

“You can call it what you like, we call it good business practice,” says Brett. “We think we need to ensure the business is well managed because that’s a good way to run a business.”

This high standard of management was the first thing Hayes Knight noticed when they took over as accountants for the company a couple of years ago. The Business Advisory Team observed that it was great to go to a client monthly board meeting where they have formal agendas, minutes and a monthly reporting pack. The team also commented that it was pretty obvious why they had been successful.

The future for Avery Robinson is bright. The systems put in place now, mean the company can continue to grow to an estimated 40-50% of the market (as it is in Australia and the UK). Last year Dyson invested over $144 million and has over 350 engineers working full time on research and development ensuring lots of very exciting times ahead.

As with TDC and SnowPlanet, the Avery Robinson story is linked by one over-arching theme. By employing systems, staff and careful investment, the three companies have managed their spectacular growth without getting the speed wobbles. At Succeed, we’d call it good succession planning. Others might just call it cool.

ASB creating futures.