Just past a derelict wharf, inside a former squash court building in Wellington's Shelly Bay that looks abandoned from the outside, highly expensive machinery prints vibrant images of people's precious memories.
Inside, faded floor markings tell of its former life as a sports venue. Newly repainted cartoon-bright blue and purple walls match the energy of the young Wellington staff manning the $10,000 printing machines at Pixel Paint. They ink New Zealanders' favourite photographs onto canvases that are stretched then fixed by hand to frames for people to treasure and hang in their homes – with a 10-year guarantee.
The brainchild of brothers behind commercial printing company Twins Digital, Aaron and Simon Waddington, and their billboard installer buddy Shaun Petersen, Pixel Paint has turned over $1.15 million and printed more than 30,500 images on canvas in just over a year.
The business came about in April 2011 through an opportunity to sell discount vouchers on daily deal website Treat Me. Together with Petersen, the Waddington brothers hired UK import Rich Fraser to create a new company centred on producing consumer canvas prints that could be ordered entirely online.
They already owned printing machines and made the frames by hand while sourcing canvases from China and using Carter Holt Harvey postal packaging. As Pixel Paint began to grow to 500 orders a week, frame making was outsourced to a Tauranga supplier.
Funding from economic development agency Grow Wellington helped it to hire Redhot consultant Karl Baker, who gently pushed the pals running the company to structure themselves into weekly directors' meetings and adopt lean manufacturing techniques.
"He keeps us on task and is really good to throw ideas around with. It's not just all about business, sometimes it's psychological blocks he might help us to get over. Sometimes you know what you want to do, but don't quite know how to get there, and he gives us the tools get there," Fraser said.
Pixel Paint is about to launch a direct mail campaign and letterbox drop with Best Buys that will reach 860,000 households. Its next move is what Fraser has labelled "white-boxing" – allowing other companies, including bricks and mortar retailers, to offer their canvas printing service. Pixel Paint would do the work, while the third party puts its own logo on the box the product is shipped in.
It is hiring another person to work on the production floor, titling the position in job advertisements "Canvas Stretcher/ Production Ninja/All Rounder".
They may be doing manual labour, albeit in a creative environment, but the Gen Y employees making the product are all university educated, having graduated into a recession.
Do you feel better off than at this time last year?