A constant drive for innovation backed by a strong team culture and solid business principles have seen Fairfield (Dunedin)- headquartered Tuapeka grow into the largest supplier of branded promotional products in Australasia.
Jim Robertson founded the company in 1987 as Tuapeka Gold Print. From initially printing gold foil business cards from his kitchen bench in Lawrence, the business made a notable change in shareholding two decades later.
Greg Jolly, current Tuapeka chief executive, explains, “Brad Houghton was brought into the company as an equal shareholder in 2007. His experience in international business and engineering skill set, combined with Jim’s industry knowledge and ambition, has since seen the company grow exponentially.
“We now have over 500 staff members, and we are constantly looking for new talent.”
Operating a vast number of machines that offer its customers a wide range of branding processes in Australasia, Tuapeka’s offering covers pad print, engraving, sublimation print, screen print, embroidery, Colourflex transfers and several digital print processes, all completed in-house.
Tuapeka takes pride in having developed industry-leading recognition. Greg says, “The size and scale of our operation gives us the ability to offer over 6000 SKUs (stock keeping units) to our customers, supported by 15 branding techniques.
“We introduced our silicone digital print branding process back in 2020, a world first, offering flexible, washable full-colour prints on silicone.
“Our distributors work with a number of large companies and clientele, so it is quite common for us to see our jobs used as part of larger campaigns or out in the media. While we do several large scale print runs, a lot of our jobs are smaller components of a much larger project.
“The volume and variety of products we offer are what set us apart.”
However, he emphasises that Tuapeka continually explores creative innovation to ensure it “stays ahead of the curve”.
He says, “While we use many traditional print methods, we constantly look to improve and innovate. Our research and development team work hard to push the boundaries of our printing capabilities, and our product development team stays abreast of worldwide trends to ensure we offer our customers a diverse range of quality products.
“We focus on opportunities that allow us to disrupt the market when executed correctly. By continuously improving and innovating our systems, we are able to provide seamless functionality for our distributors to deliver our services to their customers in an efficient manner.
“We are customer-centric and strive to create efficiencies in branding processes that allow us to provide and achieve high- end branding at competitive prices.”
Tuapeka launched over 400 new products last year alone. Greg says, “Earlier this year we went live with our in-house sublimated poly-cotton towels. Before this, customers would need to order these via indent, which could take up to eight weeks. Being able to offer this in-house is a massive improvement in service offering.
“We have some great new developments coming soon, including custom packaging and new branding processes.”
Tuapeka’s mission of ‘We create customised product solutions through an outstanding customer experience’ guides the company. In addition, Greg points out that the business has founded its success on an underlying strength of culture.
He says, “Our culture is key to our performance, and we uphold an ‘above the line’ attitude and work ethic, encouraging staff to take ownership and responsibility in their roles.
“Training is just one component of our overall approach to fostering a ‘make it happen’ mindset towards project completion, and we celebrate successes as a team.
“As a family company, we prioritise mutual respect and promote family values as we grow. We are a very supportive and inclusive company.”
While also growing in other export markets, such as the Pacific Islands, Tuapeka continues to primarily supply within Australia and New Zealand. He adds, “The New Zealand market has proven to be consistent over the last decade, with the exception of some disruptions due to Covid-19. We have experienced significant growth in Australia since entering the market in 2014.
“Being in two markets has proved extremely beneficial, as the scale of the Australian economy has supported us in upscaling to improve our offerings to customers in New Zealand and Australia through investment in people, stock and systems, including the development of our industry-leading website, trends.nz.”
As well as recently celebrating the major milestone of 35 years in business, Tuapeka also achieved the significant strategic objective of moving from an eight-digit to nine-digit turnover. Greg says, “This accomplishment is particularly significant given the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in recent years.
“It was essential for us to celebrate these milestones with our staff, and we were fortunate enough to do so during March and April with gatherings in Dunedin and the Philippines, recognising that none of this would be possible without their contribution.
“Over the past decade, our business has prioritised growth and scaling up, achieving a tenfold increase in turnover in just nine years is a source of great pride for us. We attribute this success to being focused with a robust strategy, clear goals and having dedicated, hard-working people behind us.
“We are a great team that has evolved to grow and adapt to conquer any challenges we face.”
While emphasising that his primary recent focus has been on the Tuapeka business rather than considering wider print industry issues, he nonetheless observes those challenges will have largely remain unchanged. He says, “The low unemployment rate and associated increases in wages either via the government minimum wage or for retention reasons, along with the cost of compliance, freight, and the government lockdown on immigration, have all been key issues our industry is struggling with.
“On the upside, it’s great to have containers back down to competitive rates and sailing frequency back to pre-Covid levels.
“I have concerns about the economy being pushed into a recession due to the Reserve Bank’s actions, but it is difficult to predict how severe and long-lasting the effects will be. Our capital plan is significant this year, so it is a worry, although sometimes you have to commit and have the courage to keep growing.
“We are very fortunate to have two entrepreneurial owners that are not risk- averse, striving for continued innovation and growth without losing sight of the end goal.”
In regard to advice to other operators in the industry, he unequivocally urges “identify your strengths and focus on them”.
He advises, “Develop a thorough plan and surround yourself with competent and dedicated individuals who will stick to the plan and see it through. Be careful not to become a ‘busy fool’, trying to do everything with low margins, and focus on doing what you need to do at appropriate margins.
“Whatever you do, business is about being smart.”
Looking ahead, he sees Tuapeka facing the future positively, including through significant expansion of its facilities. He says, “We are bursting at the seams in our current location, so I am thrilled that our new warehouse build is nearly complete. It is 8000 square metres and has the capacity to house 11,500 pallets.
“This new warehouse is being built on our Fairfield site, which will be Tuapeka Business Park, where we will also host our new production facility in coming years.
“Despite the past decade being challenging, we have learned the value of staying focused and maintaining a positive and supportive attitude, which has led to significant accomplishments.
“We are very excited about our future prospects and have no intention of slowing down.”