Boutique Lyttelton firm Kingswood Skis, a 10 year gig
In choosing Kingswood Skis as a business moniker, boutique ski maker Alex Herbert wanted a name that people would depend on.
Herbert has specialised in skis that will stand up to the rigours and rough rocky patches that can be encountered on New Zealand fields.
He and his wife Kris live in a rebuilt open plan home above their ski factory on Norwich Quay, which faces out to Lyttelton harbour and the Port Hills from Lyttelton township. The snow is visible on a winter's day.
Herbert has been hand making skis for 10 years. When he founded the company in 2005 there were the major manufacturers out of Europe and China plus just a handful of small players.
His early interest in the manufacture of skis was piqued by the emergence in the late 1990s of wider or "fat" skis to replace the traditional narrow blades.
At the time he was competing as a skier but found them hard to source from New Zealand wholesalers of the time. Later he noticed that mainstream European ski brands did not stand up to South Island conditions.
The work Herbert pours into a pair of bespoke skis can be considerable. He can make two or three sets a week but so far has chosen not to take on employees to help him out in his workspace. Partly that is because of the multiple and complex skills required to make the skis.
From a strong start, the interruption of the global financial crisis in 2008 saw export orders for the Kingswood fat skis plummet. Hardly any marketing had been required in the early days but the Kingswood website and word of mouth are now important tools for what is now largely a domestic market.
Kris does some of the marketing and administrative work to keep Kingswood Skis and its website going.
Export orders have regrown to about 15 per cent of total production. A weakening kiwi dollar should help Kingswood win extra overseas sales, Alex Herbert says.
The Kingswood brand, remembers the well known Holden Kingswood car brand, but also reflects there is wood in the product. "I had to come up with a name, I just wrote a whole bunch down and (Kingswood) was the one that kept coming back."
His workspace leads up a stairwell to a modern well fitted fashioned home, but the factory floor is just as interesting as the view above.
There are Austrian Wintersteiger machines to help shape and refine the skis. He also has a press to jam the components into the correct shape located around the space. The first press was made from a couple of pieces of rolled steel, sandwiched together by car jacks.
The use of specialised materials including strong pre-laminated bamboo from China for the interior of the ski, add to a ski's strength, Herbert says.
Other components include fibreglass, rubber, plastic and metal edges held together by epoxy resins. Graphics are added to the top of the skis as a design feature, with the retail price around $1250-$1300. The business also retails soft gear including t-shirts.
"We just need a little more export (business) in the summer time and then we'll be giggling. At the moment the business is quite profitable, paying for our lifestyle which is all very ski orientated as well."