The order of the day: keep it kiwi

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 08:07 28/06/2012
tdn burling stand
ANDY JACKSON
Owner of Carac Couplings in Eltham John Burling with his invention, Trackgrip.

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International buyers of gadgets and engineering componentry produced by Eltham's Carac Couplings pay for them in New Zealand dollars.

In almost 25 years in the export business, John Burling has always avoided the vagaries of a fluctuating exchange rate by selling his products in New Zealand dollars.

"We make things in Eltham that go all over the world and I'm not at the mercy of the exchange rate. Trade and Enterprise says (selling in New Zealand dollars) is impossible - but it's not.

"If I was selling in Australian dollars, for example, I wouldn't know if I was making money or not. Selling in New Zealand can work to the customers' advantage. They can play the rate - and they're the ones playing Russian roulette, not me.

"No other New Zealand manufacturer does it. They all sell in US dollars, so they allow the exchange rate to affect their business.

"As far as I'm concerned, selling in New Zealand dollars is a no-brainer. I just stand my ground and it's non-negotiable. I've never been turned down and I've never lost a sale."

Dressed in his old clothes and still getting his hands dirty in the workshop, Burling brings no pretensions to his role as owner of a prosperous business. He says he's still the same JB he was when he established Carac Couplings in 1988.

The word Carac is derived from "car accessories" and stems from advice given to him as a child by Ararata neighbour Dave Larcom who used to say: "If you want to be rich, make something for the car."

Burling grew up on the family farm in South Taranaki. "I was the odd one out in a family of six - all the rest have become farmers. I used to be the one fixing the chainsaws and the lawnmower."

The one-time New Zealand motocross champion is a self-taught engineer with no formal qualifications. He takes great pride in his 1988 invention of the trailer coupling for cars and farm bikes that made his name.

Back then, there were 17 different types of trailer coupling on the New Zealand market. Within three years, there were only two and after five years his was the only one.

It's still the only trailer coupling made in New Zealand. Carac Couplings makes thousands every year and exports them all over the world.

As well, the company exports Burling's award- winning 2010 invention, TrackGrip, a device that prevents loss of traction on tracked vehicles.

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Carac Couplings also makes componentry for utility companies and for the motor, marine, energy, dairy and poultry industries.

"If you can't carry it, we don't make it," he said. "But if you want a gadget, we can make it."

Caught in the recession for just six months in 2008, Carac Couplings is now in expansion mode and is hiring staff so the company can meet increasing demand for its products.

"We're taking on more workers so we can fill orders."

The company has hired 10 new staff in the last two months and is in the process of hiring another five or six to bring the total to more than 40. Two employees are undertaking general engineering apprenticeships.

Carac Couplings operates two shifts between 6am and 10pm five days a week at its six Eltham workshops scattered around the central business area, often in empty shops Burling has bought and converted.

"The business just grew and grew and grew. It just happened. I bought shops as they became available and when the tenants moved out, I moved in."

Earlier this year the company installed the world's faster laser-cutter. The state-of-the-art, precision fiber laser has increased the company's competitiveness and production and has created jobs.

The company also has one of the largest metal press factories in New Zealand, with more than 60 metal presses, and more robotic welders than other New Zealand engineering workshops.

"There's no-one in Australia or New Zealand who does what we do," he says proudly.

"That's why we get a lot of work out of Australia."

Everything is made in-house to ensure quality control - from the raw material to the finished product.

"We do everything. And that's what overseas customers like. It's very important that we don't lose sight of that point of difference that we have."

Dotted around the workshops to remind staff of the company's quality on focus are signs saying, "We won't be beaten on quality."

He's particularly proud of being able to stamp "New Zealand made" on everything Carac Couplings manufactures.

Carac Couplings is a family business, with wife Yvonne running the office with the assistance of their daughter Heather. Their other daughter, Sonia, is responsible for marketing and son Mark is a fabricator.

In 2004 it won the supreme business award, the small business award, and the inaugural Taranaki engineering award in the Westpac Taranaki Business Awards.

As the business grows, Burling says he wants to spend more time on research and development work for customers.

And that'll give him plenty of time for tinkering - what he does best.

zSee Page 15 for more on Carac Couplings.

- Taranaki Daily News

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