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Turning disadvantages into international success

Turning disadvantages into international success

New Zealanders should not be apologetic about the limitations that come with being a small country removed from the hub of world activity, says David Trubridge.

In fact the Havelock North-based internationally acclaimed furniture designer says it’s this point of difference that gives New Zealand an edge on the world stage.

David Trubridge is speaking at this week’s Regional Development Conference in Napier. The three-day conference is focused on moving regional development in New Zealand up a level to meet the demands of a changing international environment.

In the past five years, the furniture designer’s business has grown phenomenally, with international customers from Japan, Europe, America and Australia. He has exhibited at trade fairs in Milan, Italy since 2001, and this year is taking his furniture to a trade fair in New York.

“What I’ve learnt through going overseas, is that we tend to be a bit diffident about ourselves. It’s like we’re this little country that has its own funny ways of doing things, that perhaps is not as exciting as the big countries. And we seem to be ashamed of that in a way.

“But that’s crazy because those things that make us different are our strengths, they’re what people like about us. And exploiting that, promoting it in a work sense, gives us an edge other people don’t have.”

The international sales growth has held a two-fold advantage for David Trubridge. The more he sells internationally, the more his Australasian market has grown. “You can say what you like about your furniture here, but it’s when the overseas markets like it, that people start buying it here.”

His growing international reputation has also allowed him to help up and coming designers. David Trubridge has been part of establishing a charitable trust which provides an incubator for young designers straight out of design school. [more] [david trubridge/2]

Based in an old freezing works premises in Whakatu in Hawke’s Bay, the trust provides young designers with a workshop with machinery and computer software as well as mentoring and links with local industries.

David Trubridge says the designers in the incubator and local businesses work together to help each other. “If we’ve got a big job on and we need some extra help, the guys in the incubator will do some work for me and that provides them with extra income and experience.”

For the designers in the incubator, the relationship with David Trubridge has also proved fruitful in other ways.

An exhibition space at this year’s DesignEx trade fair in Melbourne costs $15,000, far beyond the budget of the incubator designers. But the trade fair organisers were happy to waive the exhibition space fee in return for David Trubridge taking part in their lecture series.

However, the benefits of the incubator flow both ways, David Trubridge says. “It’s good for us to have the young people around, with their energy and ideas.” This year’s Regional Development Conference is the third to be held and runs from March 21-23. It is jointly hosted by the Minister for Industry and Regional Development, Jim Anderton, the Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, EDANZ and the Hawke’s Bay region.

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