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Export Award For Hamilton’s Proform Plastics

Proform Plastics, a Hamilton company that has created a $10 million global market for its pickup truck bedliners - and is now seeking to repeat that success with liners for car boots - has won a Trade New Zealand Export Award.

The privately owned company was formed by Directors Ferris Townshend and Tony Smith in 1994 to manufacture bedliners – protective plastic liners – for the cargo area of Japanese pickup trucks.

Mr Townshend says they saw there was a largely unexploited worldwide market for a company offering a comprehensive range of bedliners, tailored specifically for Japanese manufactured pickup trucks.

Today Proform exports its bedliners to 54 countries from Saudi Arabia to Chile, Australia to France, achieving annual exports of $10 million in the past year.

To ensure the ongoing growth of the business, the company is now diversifying into cargo liners – flexible plastic rubber liners that protect the boot area of station wagons, four wheel drives, sport utility vehicles and everyday sedans.

A largely untapped market, Mr Townshend says cargoliners offer enormous potential for Proform, with every car owner worldwide a potential customer.

“Within two years we will be producing at least the same value of cargo liners as bed liners – I’d be very disappointed if we weren’t achieving $20 million a year in exports.”

Trade New Zealand Account Manager Lionel Crawley congratulated Proform on its Export Award saying the company was very specialised in its niche.

“Proform’s strengths include the quality of their product and their flexibility and willingness to meet the specifications of their customers. A most important success factor is the outstanding customer service they provide. Some of their competitors provide high volume products, but Proform will often take business from them because they are prepared to provide customers with solutions that meet their exact needs.”

Ferris Townshend says that despite the rapid export success of Proform, the company faced a number of barriers to its initial marketing efforts.

“We had to convince prospective customers of a totally unknown New Zealand company’s ability to manufacture bedliners that until then had only been available from the USA. There was total unawareness that New Zealand was producing anything like this – the country was seen as an agricultural producer. It was quite a battle for distributors to accept that a New Zealand company was producing a top quality product.

“To overcome this barrier we adopted a policy of offering to airfreight at no charge, whatever samples were required by prospective distributors, wherever they were located worldwide. It cost us an enormous amount of money but we did it to get the product in front of the client so they could touch it and evaluate it and be convinced we were serious operators.

“Another challenge was New Zealand’s distance from many of our potential major markets. We’ve had to constantly refine our manufacturing techniques so as to reduce delivery lead time to the absolute minimum. The Proform factory now operator 24 hours a day, five days a week in order to ensure customer shipping dates are met.”

Mr Townshend says Proform has used Trade New Zealand’s overseas offices extensively to help it research and enter new export markets.

“We’ve used Trade New Zealand since 1994 to systemically identify countries with significant pickup vehicle numbers. Once a potential market has been identified, market investigation is undertaken by Trade New Zealand to short list potential distributors for our product. We then follow up with a visit to the market to meet with and evaluate interested parties.

“Trade New Zealand has saved us a huge amount of time. They’ve got the expertise on the ground in all these places to come up with the information we require. It’s not something we could possibly do ourselves.”

Mr Townshend says one of the reasons for Proform’s export success is the strong relationship it builds with its distributors, who are essentially its customers.

Mr Townshend says Proform has invested a lot of time and money in new technology and equipment. It now has its own plastic sheet manufacturing division rather than importing the plastic from America. This has given the company the manufacturing capability to diversify into cargoliners.

Currently employing 45 people, he says Proform will be looking to take on more staff as its cargo liner business takes off.


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