Redcurrent web move bears fruit

Rebecca Kain and Audrey McHardy are probably strolling along a beach right now, planning their next big move.

That's how the mother and daughter team who founded the Redcurrent boutique gift store business strategise for the year ahead - long walks on the beach during their annual family summer holiday.

It's when they have time out from what is always a busy year and can think long term, Kain says.

This time last year the pair decided it was time to take their boutique gift store business online. It's a big shift for a business model that is built on appealing to all five senses, but one that is paying off.

Redcurrent has come a long way from its origins about 15 years ago when McHardy, then in her early 60s, was holidaying in Bali with husband Hamish.

While he, a former farmer, went off to inspect the rice fields, she started buying local crafts.

Back home in Havelock North, friends admired her purchases and started buying them from her. She set up in an old shed at their home that became so popular she opened an actual store in Havelock North in 1999.

Kain opened the next store in Ponsonby in Auckland that same year before she moved to Christchurch in 2000 to be with then-partner, now husband, restaurateur Harry Kain, owner of Leinster Rd Bistro in Merivale.

By 2008 Redcurrent had nine stores countrywide, including four in Auckland, one in Wellington and one in Christchurch.

Redcurrent opened a second Christchurch store in May, at The Colombo, after a three-year recession-induced consolidation period.

That store has been a huge success and is now trading better than its first Christchurch store, in Victoria St, Kain says.

And in October, Recurrent launched its online store.

Initially Kain and McHardy had hesitated to offer online shopping. Having spent years creating beautiful bricks-and-mortar stores designed to appeal to the five senses, especially touch and smell, going online was a challenge.

"In January we have a couple of weeks at the beach with my extended family - there's 24 of us all there together - and we walk along the beach watching the children swim and we talked about online," Kain said.

"We'd always decided with online we'd never do it unless it could be as beautiful as our stores . . . because if we opened it in a less-than-beautiful way it would do damage to our brand.

"We've spent a lot of time and energy on making it a beautiful place to be.

"That's the essence of Redcurrent.

"I think we're doing a very good job of that," Kain said.

But after completing a two-year rebranding process and having the time and money to devote to doing it right, mother and daughter decided during last year's beach holiday that the time was right.

Redcurrent is now a $10 million business and employs about 100 staff.

About 80 per cent of its stock is exclusive to Redcurrent as Kain and McHardy travel overseas and source their stock directly from manufacturers and suppliers.

Preparing the online sales site has been an enormous project, but good things take time, Kain says.

The site launched in early October, and is run from the upstairs section of their Havelock North packhouse.

Online sales have picked up swiftly as people living overseas shopped for friends and family back home in New Zealand.

"So we feel like we've gone global."

Male online shoppers represent a potentially strong market for the boutique chain because they prefer shopping online, Kain says.

Not many men shopped at Redcurrent's bricks-and-mortar stores until Christmas time, when they come in "really stressed out" searching for a gift, asking things like "What's this Ecoya stuff?", she says.

Rural sales have also been strong.

"We've only got 10 stores in New Zealand, four in Auckland, so huge amounts of New Zealand aren't covered."

Now Redcurrent is receiving orders from Kaitaia through to Invercargill, many of them for delivery to rural areas.

Kain reckons the first year of online sales is likely to generate the same turnover as one of the smaller turnover Redcurrent stores, like Havelock North. The goal is for it to generate the same turnover as one of its larger stores within two years.

So what is it really like working with one's mother?

It's great, Kain says, without hesitating. McHardy lives in Hawke's Bay and does half the buying for the stores and also runs the packhouse.

"It's our engine room of our operation. It's a massive job."

"I ring her every day and we chat over the larger problems or challenges.

"She loves what she's doing and I love what I'm doing."

Kain has always loved shopping, and has a good head for business.

"I think one of the strengths of what we do is we love what we do, we love the product, I love working with my team.

"We run the business on very good principles. Things like we treat our staff well, we pay our bills on time, we're lovely to our suppliers as well."

Opening The Colombo store has been a highlight in the history of the business because it was able to hire people during what was a terrible time in Christchurch.

It also signalled the end of a three-year, recession-induced consolidation period.

The recession had been "really tough".

"We made some very big decisions then about how we were going to start buying a lot more overseas.

"We dropped our prices. We were able to do that because there was no middle man. We reworked our formula very quickly."

Redcurrent won a lot of business in that period because while it dropped its prices, it increased its margins, which it desperately needed.

Kain and McHardy buy their stock directly from Hong Kong, China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Spain, and buy for a wide range of customers.

They say they buy what they love, and the ranges change.

Kain, 47, has two daughters and a son under 12, and family comes first.

"I've had help, of course. I think if you're embarking on a business you need to seriously consider getting the best help you can.

"I'm a very hands-on mother, your children are only young once. But because I run the business I can work around my hours.

"My managers all know 9am till 3pm I'm all theirs. After 3pm, I'm with the children. If there's an emergency, of course I'm there."

Kain believes in the old saying "the more you put in, the more you get out".

"I think you get what you put in and some of the hardest things in life are the best.

"A lot of businesses are just a good idea and a huge amount of perseverance." Fairfax NZ