For the past three months Checking the Pulse has assessed business in 16 Taranaki towns. Taranaki Daily News business reporter John Anthony wraps up the series.
On a sleepy street in Eltham, hidden behind a ramshackle collection of shop fronts is a company that epitomises all that's good about Taranaki business.
Carac Couplings LaserJet NZ exports to a global market with customer orders coming in so fast it's constantly having to expand.
Taking a factory tour with managing director John Burling is like wandering through the engineering equivalent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.
In every direction overalls-clad employees construct unusual- looking contraptions using loud, hi-tech machinery.
Carac Couplings has the largest collection of presses in New Zealand and, with 3500 products and parts in its production range, exports all over the world.
This year Burling was one of 56 New Zealanders whose stories were documented in Westpac's 150th anniversary book to commemorate the bank's history.
His story featured alongside the likes of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn.
The Taranaki Daily News Checking the Pulse series visited more than 65 businesses across 16 towns in the region.
Some were long-standing businesses, others were new ventures willing to take a risk in the face of testing times.
But all were a testament to a Taranaki attitude of perseverance, resilience and determination.
This was no more evident than with Burling's Carac Couplings. His humble, no fuss, roll up your sleeves attitude was reflected in businesses Taranaki-wide.
Throughout the region business owners are knuckling down and getting the job done.
The vast majority of businesses featured in the series were enthusiastic and optimistic about the future.
Grumblings about a New Zealand recession, a high dollar, rising rents, or the global financial crisis were few and far between.
So often we hear that it's the black gold and white gold that prop up the Taranaki economy.
But the real value lies in the small community businesses who quietly chip away and provide important goods, services and local jobs.
Kaponga Four Square owners Tina and Karl Turner, who took over the business three years ago, are an example of a small business supporting its community.
In a town where business numbers are struggling, the Turners stepped into ownership of a rundown supermarket and turned it around.
Through hard work, investment and perserverance they've made the Four Square a strong and profitable business which is greatly valued by the Kaponga community.
They put a big emphasis on traditional customer service values such as helping people to their cars, offering umbrellas when it rains and greeting people by their names.
With new businesses sprouting in most towns it was heartening to see some Taranaki entrepreneurs backing themselves during a time of economic hardship.
Take sisters-in-law Bronwyn Aish and Deborah Rawson, for example.
They recently opened Craft Haven in a refurbished New Plymouth church.
Craft Haven is both a retail store, craft club and learning centre for people wanting to try their hand at "crafting".
Aish and Rawson identified a new and virtually untapped market and decided to follow their instincts and open a business they were passionate about.
Also following a passion is Manaia's Cake Haven, owned and operated by Taryn Bunker, who makes cakes and cupcakes into elaborate shapes and designs catering to customers' requests.
All up, Bunker spent about $15,000 setting up the business, which included purchasing a portable unit on Trade Me and bringing it down from Auckland.
Bunker said she decided to start the personalised cake-making business after years of encouragement from friends and family and was glad she made the jump.
In most Taranaki towns there is also evidence of businesses expanding and being innovative to stay ahead.
Brian Darth Funeral Services in Stratford is a prime example.
Having been a funeral director for more than a decade, Darth saw an opportunity in the market and opened his own funeral home but with a difference.
Darth employed local contractors Jennian Homes to build a single-story home with a kitchenette, a mortuary, a casket selection room and a garage for his 1986 Chevrolet Caprice hearse.
The homely atmosphere provides an environment where mourning friends and family can feel comfortable while dealing with the loss of a loved one, he said.
Another expanding business was Coastal Vets Kaponga.
The firm underwent major development this year, having recently moved into a new, purpose-built premises on the main street.
Manager Guy Oakley said it was hoped the improvement would help provide a better work environment for staff and service for customers.
So far that had been the case, with business already up on this time last year, he said.
Pearl and jewellery factory Ringcraft Moana on Oakura's Surrey Hill is also growing.
After more than 30 years of making jewellery in Oakura, Ringcraft Moana owner Rob Wright is expanding his business, with the goal of becoming a must- see Taranaki tourist destination.
For the past 12 months Wright and his apprentice, Belinda Lubkoll, have been working on creating a pearl museum.
The first busloads of tourists arrived last weekend.
There are also many new business owners who have taken over existing businesses.
The new owners of Patea Beach Motor Camp, the van Deventer family, are brimming with ideas and enthusiasm.
They want to breathe life back into the camp site and with backgrounds in hospitality and a love of camping, water sports and the ocean, the van Deventers think they are the right people for the job.
Sitting on the banks of the Patea River and within walking distance of the beach and boat ramp, the site is full of potential.
The van Deventers intend to bring more activities and events to the site such as jet boat racing, jet skiing, canoeing and fishing competitions.
The presence of an active business association appeared to have a big impact on the business in towns.
Active associations not only help drive business direction and growth but also create a healthy and social business community.
For example Hawera's business association Bizlink, which is jointly run by the council, introduced the "adopt a building" programme aimed at preserving the heritage and look of Hawera.
The association approaches the owners of tired-looking buildings and helps restore the properties.
Bizlink organises all the quotes and tradespeople and contributes $1000 towards the renovation.
Eltham has another active business association, with bold plans to attract visitors to its new public toilets.
The Eltham Community Development Group hoped to soon give the toilets an $80,000 "Cheesy Art" transformation.
The "Cheesy Art" toilet plans show the High St public toilets sporting a yellow holey cheese canopy, held up by recycled cast iron columns.
It would feature mosaics, glazed pottery, metal cut into flax, stained glass and artwork by Eltham children.
The idea was to try to get people to stop in Eltham to use the novel toilets, which should ultimately attract business to other outlets in the town.
Taranaki businesses should also take heed of having survived the deepest economic recession in decades.
Just this month a Bank of New Zealand survey showed business confidence had hit its highest level in 16 months.
It is essential that businesses now make the most of this brighter outlook by remaining relevant to their customers.
Taranaki Chamber of Commerce chairman and managing partner of PWC Taranaki Grant McQuoid summed the situation up well in the New Plymouth section of Checking the Pulse.
To succeed during a recession, businesses need to know what their customers wanted and to cater to those needs.
"Business comes back to the fundamentals," McQuoid said.
"Who is your customer, what do they want and how can you do it for them in an outstanding way?"
- © Fairfax NZ News
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