Hutchwilco | Marine firm making it big in New Zealand

Hutchwilco is something of a rarity. The Auckland-based marine equipment firm was founded in 1894, and has bucked the trend to send manufacturing offshore – making its hugely popular life jackets in New Zealand for all its 122 years.

Financial controller Paul Leary says the firm makes all its foam-based products in its Glen Innes factory, and also imports and distributes a wide range of other marine safety and recreational equipment including personal locator beacons, inflatable boats, kayaks and paddle boards.

Hutchwilco products are available at more than 500 retailers around the country, including Rebel Sport and MacPac stores.

The company describes itself as New Zealand’s “leading marine distributor”. “We’re very proud of our name,” Paul says. “A lot of people think Hutchwilco is a large company because we’re everywhere – they see our products on the news. There aren’t many boats in New Zealand that don’t have a Hutchwilco life jacket on board.”

Marine safety is its biggest division, but Hutchwilco also makes stab-proof vests for the Police and, in a more recent contract, for Corrections officers all around the country. The contract saw Hutchwilco significantly increase factory staff numbers over the past two years, Paul says.

The Army and Navy are also customers, buying marine products and sending repair work to its service centre, Wilco Marine, in Westhaven.

Sales of marine products tend to follow economic cycles, Paul says, with a definite dip during the 2007-2009 recession. But happily, boat – and boat equipment – sales have picked up in the last few years. “People have more money in their pockets because interest rates have dropped and they’re not paying so much interest on their mortgages.”

The weather also plays a big part in sales, he says. “Last year we had lots of south-westerlies and the water was quite choppy. We noticed paddle board and kayak sales weren’t very high but as soon as the weather settled down people started buying.”

This summer is looking promising, he says, with a largely fine October kicking sales along.

One big seller this summer is likely to be a new life jacket, designed for the more image-conscious boatie. “It’s a new inflatable life jacket. It’s more fashionable-looking and less bulky. It’s our own design and we’re appealing to people who want to look good on the water.”

Hutchwilco watches – and responds to – trends in water sports and products, and in the past few years has added kayaks and paddle boards to its line-up of imported products, Paul says.

“Paddle boarding and kayaking are more accessible kinds of water sports. They’re also seen as a form of exercise. People aren’t just having fun on their paddle boards; they’re out there working on their abs.”

The firm plans to keep tweaking its product range to meet customers’ needs and wants, and could in future purchase a competitor and bring that business into the Hutchwilco fold.

Hutchwilco values Moore Stephens Markhams Auckland as a trusted tax advisor, Paul says. “We have a long-standing relationship with them. They do a lot of our tax work in the background and are the middle-man between us and the IRD. They make a lot of helpful suggestions.”

Moore Stephens Markhams Auckland director Sam Bassett is knowledgeable and approachable – and no stranger to the marine scene, Paul says.  “If I have any problems or questions I can easily talk to him. He also has a boat, so quite often when he’s here he’s having a nosey in the warehouse window.”

Paul believes Hutchwilco’s commitment to New Zealand and to quality is behind its success.  “We’re very careful about where we source all our products from.  And we’re one of the only companies in the world that is manufacturing our own life jackets and selling them in our own country. We love that and our customers do too.”