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Auckland Manufacturer Makes Tracks In China


Media Release 26 January 2001


Auckland Manufacturer Makes Tracks In China


Over the past year, Astrograss Allweather Surfaces installed almost 55,000 square metres of artificial grass in China—enough to surface the JADE Stadium in Christchurch nine times over.

In the space of two years, the Auckland manufacturer of all-weather sporting surfaces has established a million dollar a year business in China, selling and installing multi-purpose all-weather surfaces in schools, colleges and other educational institutions that need to make best use of the limited open spaces at their disposal. Most Astrograss installations in China are running tracks with inner fields marked out for popular sporting and leisure activities.

Astrograss marketing manager Grant Fickling says the company invoiced $1m of work in China in the Year 2000, but it has only just begun to tap into the opportunities there.

Mr Fickling returned recently from a trip to China convinced of the market’s potential.

"We do have rivals there, but with the New Zealand dollar at its present level and with good productivity etc, we're very competitive.

"We've signed agreements with local agent companies who are marketing the products there. They have the right contacts, and contacts are everything when it comes to doing business in China."

Mr Fickling says that reports about the importance of building strong relationships with Chinese customers are accurate and regular market visits are essential to establish and maintain close links. A high quality product is also important, as the majority of Chinese schools have excellent facilities. After two years in China, Astrograss has yet to receive a complaint.

Another reason for the company's success in China is its fast-response to queries, Mr Fickling believes.

"Chinese people tend to be very impulsive and when schools say they want a track installed, they want it tomorrow. We can quick-ship to their requirements and that's a service some of our big European competitors can't match.

"We also make a point of communicating in their language by fax and e-mail, which is important. When they send us questions they get a reply, in Chinese, the same day.’’

Astrograss entered the Chinese market after establishing a solid business in Taiwan, where the company earned $5m over the past eight years. Initially targeting Beijing, which is the base for central government and often the first region to gain exposure to technological advances in the education sector, the company has since shifted its focus to Shanghai, which is viewed as China's most progressive city.

The support of Trade New Zealand staff in both cities has been invaluable, says Mr Fickling. After a number of false starts with less than satisfactory agents, the company approached Trade New Zealand for assistance. With
Trade New Zealand help the company was able to select the present, highly successful, distributors on the basis of their business skills rather than their command of English. During their regular market visits, Astrograss staff are accompanied by Trade New Zealand China personnel who provide translation and other support services.

"Having support on the ground there is vital. The Trade New Zealand people have an awareness of local customs and business practices and there have been times when they have been able to perceive what a customer is thinking during meetings, when we haven't been sure. That experience is invaluable."

The company, founded by former New Zealand cricket representative Graeme Vivian in 1981, exports more than half its total production to 16 countries, including South America and Israel.

The company caters for more than a dozen sports and leisure activities; applications for tennis, hockey, soccer, cricket, lawn bowls and athletics are the most common.

In Taiwan, for example, where athletics are a high profile sport, Astrograss has installed 80 running tracks. In markets such as Malaysia, the company completes a lot of lawn bowls installations. Tennis courts are popular in most markets. Worldwide, Astrograss has completed more than 2000 tennis court installations.

For more information:
Grant Fickling
Marketing Manager
Astrograss Allweather Surfaces
09 634 4134

Distributed by Tracey Palmer, Trade New Zealand, Communications, tel (09) 915 4223 or 021 498 155

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