How a South Auckland shopping site spread to Australia amid the lockdown
Despite border closures, Covid lockdowns and a global pandemic wreaking havoc in shipping, a South Auckland retail site has decided it is now time to expand into Australia.
Two childhood friends separated by the Tasman Sea for 20 years reconnected as business partners to give New Zealanders in Australia a taste of home. Manawawharepu Udy and Sandra Gavet plans to sell Maori and Pacific-made products from a Gold Coast base, expanding the Konei e-commerce site to the Australian market.
The site sells crafts gifts, clothing, jewelry, skin care and home products produced primarily by Maori and Pacific women-owned enterprises. Launched by Udy and his Ngahere Communities team two years ago, Konei operates successfully from its base in South Auckland, but is now looking for new opportunities across Tasman. Udy says the challenges of juggling local restrictions from Covid, a burgeoning global shipping industry, and finding an Australian warehouse – all via Zoom – mean the Gold Coast expansion will either “collapse into a shine of glory ”or will be the first step in establishing Konei as a global brand.
To help kickstart the move, Udy enlisted former classmate Gavet to lead the Australian operation, starting with a two-week pop-up store in the Gold Coast suburb of Nerang, which will open this Saturday. .
Udy says Konei’s expansion in Australia was driven in part by necessity, given the plethora of options already available to New Zealanders wishing to purchase native or distinctive Pacific products.
“We just felt like we needed half a million [dollar] marketing campaign where we thought about switching to Aussie and looking at what that might look like, and we found out pretty quickly that our offering, especially for Kiwis in Australia, was super attractive – and we would have almost no competition. Udy says the Maori and Pacific goods available in Australia tend to be the type of sticky items you might find in an airport departure lounge.
But what seems like a good idea on paper is a different proposition when a global pandemic is unfolding.
“We couldn’t have found a worse time to learn the ropes of exporting, so it’s been a crazy trip to be honest,” Udy said with a sigh, on a Zoom call from work at home last. Auckland lockdown.
Getting its suppliers to manufacture additional products for Konei Australia, organizing a warehouse for storage and hiring Australian staff to handle sales proved to be a challenge. But the biggest hurdle has been navigating the international logistics industry. Udy says Covid-related restrictions mean shipping companies have quadrupled their prices, while changing the routes and ports they deliver to.
“As we represent less than 2% of the global industry, it is quite easy for companies to remove stops in Australia and New Zealand from their routes. Even getting containers on a ship can be difficult, as a company may decide that Chinese products should be given priority. What is happening with the shipping industry is something that has never happened before, so we had to learn a lot about it. “
Despite the crash course in shipping logistics, Konei managed to get a 20ft container full of produce into Queensland and Udy is now planning a second shipment for early January. She says the past few months have included many long days and a few sleepless nights, but her friendship with Gavet has made it all possible.
The couple did their middle and high school education together in Rotorua, before Gavet joined the thousands of other New Zealanders looking for a new life across the divide. The duo have kept in regular contact over the years and Gavet says it was while Udy was on a Gold Coast jaunt earlier this year that they first discussed the idea.
“I have followed closely what she does with the Ngahere communities and have always admired what she has done,” says Gavet. “We talked about how cool it would be to do something similar here. We talked about it with a few other people and it didn’t take long for Manawa to say, “Let’s do it.”
Gavet says it’s special to see how little Udy has changed despite having become something of a business mogul.
“It’s really cool to see her in her element,” says Gavet. “She’s always been my smart mate, but it’s cool how much she always enjoys making a joke and laughing at who the person I know is.”
Ngahere Communities also operates a South Auckland co-working space called GridMNK with support from the Auckland Council’s economic development agency, Auckland Unlimited, and the agency has also supported this initiative. However, Udy admits there were still moments “when we were ready to cancel it ”, but she ultimately decided that the potential for success outweighed the risks of failure.
“It has enormous potential and this is our first step towards globalization. This will only be the start of helping our Maori brothers and sisters to be successful there, like what Ngahere [Communities] did here.
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