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.
Now, says Catherine Beard, thanks to an Olympian golden boy, its sights are set even higher.
In October 2015, Laszlo ‘Lez’ Kertesz and Vera Bucsu purchased Kiwi International Rowing Skiffs (KIRS) 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.
That dream 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 now our main focus.
“We started rebuilding channels into Australia, where our product quality was already recognized. Then Mahé Drysdale broke the single skulls world record in the 2009 World Rowing Championships using our shape.
“We’ve also been really lucky to start a collaboration with two-time Olympic gold medalist Eric Murray.
“Having Eric on board is perfect for export because he is like a rock star – a living legend for rowers! He 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 build customer relationships and bring market share to the Laszlo brand.
“New Zealand builds some of the best rowing boats in the world, but it’s challenging getting the brand into the overseas market. The Kiwi 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’re a lot of export issues that we’re working on to try and establish relationships, and open up more export possibilities.
“Australia is a good starting point as its shipping and export duties are small. 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 and we have an amazing product, but there’re so many barriers.
“Because the company was taken over 15 months ago, we’re now working on those barriers; to see if there are investment opportunities for getting the boats overseas, and the New Zealand team back in the boats.”
Vera says they love thinking outside the box on 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 the World Masters Games, and catering for the needs of so many people from overseas, is a great opportunity.”
Mahé caused a big stir with his black boat and silver fern. 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. Visit www.exportnz.org.nz
Photography by Mark Hamilton.