Couple puts own imprint on clothing business

JENNY KEOWN
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012

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Brigit van der Kaag says it was a "mad moment" when she and her husband bought a Queenstown screenprinting business in 1990.

"We knew nothing about running a business," she laughs.

She and Paul had an adventure tourism background when they bought the firm, then known as Impact Screenprints.

Despite their lack of experience, they soon realised that in order for the struggling business to succeed it would need to cater to more industries and expand its expertise.

They bought an embroidery business, which enabled them to produce a wider range of branded uniforms and clothing to schools and the hospitality, tourism, trade, recreation, and film industries.

The first few years were tough, van der Kaag said. The two parts of the company, screenprinting and embroidery, were run from separate workshops, with two sets of accounts and invoicing.

And Queenstown was a tricky town to do business in, initially, because "if you muck up, then word goes around like wildfire".

However, Impact evolved, consolidated operations, and focused on making sure its customers were happy.

Today it is the go-to company for printing, embroidery of uniforms, merchandise and promotional products for some of Queenstown's biggest names, including NZSki, Queenstown Resort College, Shotover Jets and Skyline Enterprises.

In October, it was the winner of the Small Business Award at the Westpac Queenstown Chamber of Commerce awards.

The company has five staff and sources most of its clothing from New Zealand-based businesses that manufacture in China, India, Indonesia and Fiji.

Van der Kaag said they had deliberately kept Impact focused in Queenstown because that was the market they knew the best and had built trust with clients over years.

However, after 23 years, the business is on the market, because the owners want a change of pace, and van der Kaag said it has the potential to expand under a new owner.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I didn't enjoy working in jobs without change. I wanted to work hard for myself and be able to implement changes.

What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?

Leaping from being an employee into the decision- maker's seat, being accountable for everything, overcoming self-doubt, doing business in a small town, and seasonal and economic ups and downs putting stress on cashflow.

Name one thing you've learnt from in business and from who?

Work with integrity and trust your own judgment. I learnt a great deal from the late Caroline Moore, a well-known designer of leather clothing. She was a great friend and mentor and taught me to stick to my guns and be on time.

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My father gave me the courage to do what I wanted. His financial philosophy: "Money is like loo paper - when you need it, you go out and buy it". I have never been afraid to over-extend as I know that I will find a way of making it work.

What are your business and personal goals?

To continue to grow the business and expand in innovative ways.

I would like to spend more time being creative in my personal life and find a way of not thinking about my business 24/7.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

Believe in yourself, remember your vision and look after yourself. Always smile.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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