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You would think that the record-high dollar, double-digit interest rates, a tough labour market and international competition would crush any exporter's spirit. Let alone, distance to market. You obviously have not met the crew at Phil&Teds, the Wellington designled company selling baby buggies, high chairs, apparel, cots and car seats.

"As long as parents keep doin' it, so can we," is the companies' up-beat philosophy.

Obviously some parents are, because the company defied the export trends, growing 82 percent to over $30 million last year. Its products sell in 1800 stores in over 43 countries, including the high-profile chain Mothercare International.

Phil&Teds is not just a lesson in defying tough economic conditions. It's also an example of how to turn your succession story from striving to supreme. Ten years ago, the company was a struggling engineering firm producing threewheel buggies out of a garage in Newtown.

One of the keys to the turnaround was the decision to move the manufacturing to China. "We're realistic about our strengths - which are in design and marketing - so we outsourced manufacturing to bring in expertise and capability," says Richard Shirtcliffe, head of 'show & tell' (yes, that's his title).

"As a private company, our financial resources are limited so we have to invest where we are going to have the most impact - which is in intellectual capital rather than fixed assets."

Management has also worked hard on product quality control, which has improved from a 30% defect on any one product in 1999 to less than 0.5% in 2007. This has been achieved with a process that included hiring Mandarin speaking Chinese nationals, better production engineering, key relationship building with local Chinese suppliers, and the introduction of ISO-9000 practices.

Another integral factor has been its focus on marketing and developing supply chains. The company has employed some very specific marketing strategies, such as putting a huge amount of effort into key retailer relationships like Mothercare, who chose Phil&Teds as their first full brandrange, global, roll-out candidate. It also deliberately chooses new geographic markets which are already familiar with the threewheel buggy concept to save itself the high costs of advertising and marketing a completely new concept.

"This leaves us to make our mark with uniquely innovative, adaptable and multi-functional products, in six parenting categories - push, sleep, feed, carry, drive and adapt."

The fun-loving and quirky nature of the company is also very much a feature of the way Phil&Teds conducts its business.

"We play on our New Zealandness to the extent that Kiwis have a pretty unique way of doing business - relaxed, friendly yet extremely focussed. We're like the mouse attacking the elephant, I guess," says Richard.

With an eye to the future the company is always looking at new innovations. Last year it launched 10 new products and drew some 75 percent of total sales from them.

"We are very good at listening to customers, distilling their need and creating a design solution and marketing that back into the channel in short speed-to-market timeframes. More than 80% of sales are from products we've created in the past three years, so the range is always new and fresh," says Richard.

"There is a lot of doom and gloom out there for exporters, with high exchange rates and talk of a downturn, but we firmly believe there is a growing market out there for us as long as we keep delivering the quality and usability parents want," says Richard.

 
   
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