Passionate believer in Kiwi 'can do'

BANKING ON PLANKING: Scott Yates, the 80-year-old founder-owner of Plankwall, with one of his purpose-built machines.
BANKING ON PLANKING: Scott Yates, the 80-year-old founder-owner of Plankwall, with one of his purpose-built machines.

With the help of friends and family Scott Yates' manufacturing and exporting business rose after the crash of its lender, the formerly government-owned DFC, in 1989.

Plankwall was founded by Yates in 1992 and its Auckland factory makes display and merchandising systems for retailers around Asia Pacific, including in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, and boasts it's a leader in its field.

It manufactures the retail merchandising "walls" from which it derives its Plankwall name and the shelves, brackets, brochure holders and accessories that go with them, along with floor displays, garment displays and rotating displays.

After years in the industry Yates has lost none of his passion for Kiwi-made.

Despite feeling politicians may not understand his business, the Manufacturers and Exporters Association executive is incorrigibly enthusiastic that Kiwi "can do" can be converted into solutions for customers around the globe.

He reckons with a bit of official support, the industry and Plankwall, of course, could be doing much better.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

To class a person as an entrepreneur can be a warning to a banker that the person is a risk-taker and will be thinking outside the accepted givens.

When we developed a machine for our Plankwall panels, I was told by the experts it would never work. That machine has machined tens of thousands of panels for export and local markets. Now it is fully automated, processing three panels per minute and a conventional CNC [computer numerical control] machine is 30 to 40 times slower.

What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?

Funding is dependent on a good relationship with one's bank. Kiwibank serve us well. We have big capacity and could be doing much better in growing our exports and expanding products if the Government understood manufacturing and exporting.

I was disappointed when the 15 per cent tax rebate for development was cancelled. Then further disappointed when the 20 per cent special depreciation on plant and equipment was removed.

Better depreciation helps conserve working capital by delaying, not reducing tax. Then I despaired when market development support was stopped. Most countries support their tradeable sector. It is so hard to understand how an export-led recovery is being helped.

What are your business and personal goals?

It helps if one can make an effort to learn foreign languages. Customers know you are committed. I embarked on a Mandarin course at the suggestion of my wife. I missed the first exam as I needed a small operation. The final exam I was away on an export trip, so with no marks against my name I was given an ‘E'. Our Asian sales representative said, "Don't worry I will tell our customers you got ‘E' for effort, ‘E' for excellent."

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

People with ideas should not let their dreams die. Have trust in one's own ability.

What have you sacrificed to be an entrepreneur?

As a manufacturer and exporter in New Zealand it is likely there will be personal guarantees, with one's home being a collateral. Plus time away on trips. I am very fortunate to have a very supportive family.

If one qualifies as an accountant, a lawyer, a banker, or with an economics degree as I have, in simple terms business can be set up with just a qualification, an office and a letterhead.

If one is a retailer they buy finished goods.

If one is a manufacturer, the added cost and risks include funding for plant, tools and dies, specialist staff for design and machining, costs of both raw materials and finished stock.

However, if one is a manufacturer and also an exporter there is the foreign exchange risk, distance to markets, a small and open New Zealand market, high marketing costs, and a huge commitment required by senior staff.

If the differences in costs and difficulties were recognised New Zealand's small to medium manufacturers and exporters would contribute more in foreign exchange and employment.

What do you do in your downtime?

We have a wonderful family with six grandchildren. Them, gardening, golf, biking and other sporting activities.

Where is your favourite place to relax?

The Coromandel where we have a beach property.

What would readers be surprised to learn about you?

Age. I am 57 again this year for the eighteenth time and yet still love the business involvement.


The Dominion Post