Timber firm show it pays to move with times
From speaker boxes to caskets via bedroom furniture, a Masterton timber manufacturer is showing how much flexibility counts in tough economic times.
Taylormade Furniture started making solid pine caskets for funeral homes two years ago, and has seen production grow steadily as orders come in from around the lower North Island.
The company is now trying to increase its market share by taking on the dominant MDF casket manufacturers, offering its timber models at a similar price.
But while the funeral market is increasingly seen as the company's future, it is a long way from the entertainment systems and bedroom furniture they focused on for three decades.
"It actually started by another casket maker coming to us for help," said Barry Taylor, who runs the company with his son Dean.
"We spent 12 months working with them and when they closed up we took all that work and put it into production."
Taylormade makes traditional pine caskets, in a market dominated by MDF, which accounts for about 90 per cent of all caskets.
The company employs four staff, two fully trained tradesmen and two trainees.
Dean Taylor said their caskets were made using a computerised router, and could be left with a natural finish or stained various colours.
While there were other timber manufacturers, most were aimed at the higher end of the market, he said.
Prices ranged between $1200 and $2500, similar to the MDF products, although a new product would retail for under $1000.
"We've pitched them into the market to compete with those MDF products, so there's no price penalty for those people wanting the solid pine."
The business was started by Barry in 1976, when he bought their Akura Rd factory from record company EMI.
He continued producing speaker boxes and record players but soon gained a national contract doing shop-fittings for EMI's HMV stores.
That came to an end in 1990, but Taylormade stuck with the musical theme, producing audio/visual products such as entertainment units.
It was in the late 1990s they first tried solid timber, after being fortuitously offered a large amount of the product, originally destined for South Korea but no longer required.
"Up until that point we'd been producing MDF products coated with vinyl, but we tried the timber and it was well received, so we ended up dropping the MDF," Dean said.
There were also environmental benefits with pine, which made a difference when used on their caskets.
"So far the data is telling us that with the pine casket the crematorium is using less energy to cremate them than with MDF, so there's benefits all along the line. We think it has a good eco story," he said.
The caskets are being sold across the lower North Island, as far north as New Plymouth and Napier.
"It's grown about 20 per cent every month for the past 18 months," Dean said.
"We're very encouraged by the response we get from funeral directors, and they're obviously getting a good response from their customers."
With about 30,000 deaths last year, the market was "enormous", he said.