While New Zealand’s pressure-cooker housing market struggles under a myriad of supply and demand restraints, Silverdale-based Coastal Cabins is focused on delivering a clever solution to the wider community. Tucked away in the old indoor go-kart racing centre at Silverdale, by Auckland’s Northern Motorway, a business is quietly addressing New Zealand’s housing shortfall, while riding […]
While New Zealand’s pressure-cooker housing market struggles under a myriad of supply and demand restraints, Silverdale-based Coastal Cabins is focused on delivering a clever solution to the wider community.
Tucked away in the old indoor go-kart racing centre at Silverdale, by Auckland’s Northern Motorway, a business is quietly addressing New Zealand’s housing shortfall, while riding a wave of enthusiasm for the eco-friendly ‘tiny house’ revolution.
Coastal Cabins has grown through the efforts of a team led by veteran business director/entrepreneur John St Clair Brown, who had seen a company building small studios while visiting Waiheke Island one day and liked the concept’s potential.
John launched Coastal Cabins with just two people in 2017 and production of the fully-transportable, highly-functional cabins quickly grew – fuelled by demand from two distinct markets.
One market is the rising number of people who have no shelter over their heads, are desperate for accommodation and have access to family land and services.
The other is an ever-expanding group of buyers wanting a quick, inexpensive alternative to the traditional bach or minor dwelling.
“We produce a quality product at an affordable price, but the biggest challenge is keeping up with demand,” says John.
While the opportunity is there to address the current housing crisis, the government is exacerbating the situation by not providing land, funding or resources, he adds.
“So we’re having to drive this initiative on our own, under the radar.”
For people who can’t afford to buy one of their tiny homes, Coastal Cabins are offering a rental plan, with an option to purchase at the end of the lease term.
“A prerequisite is a contract signed with the landowner, which can often be local iwi, to allow us to occupy the land for the duration of the lease,” explains John, adding that occupiers are instantly emotionally attached to their homes and therefore take great pride in them.
The opportunity for people to eventually own their homes, and perhaps add extensions to them, is an exciting outcome, he says.
The driving force
John has driven numerous high profile and successful business ventures during a remarkable career spanning many decades – the likes of Victoria Park Market, the Waiwera Thermal Resort and Manuka Health. Now in the twilight years of his career, he admits to taking on this start-up as a personal distraction from losing his daughter to cancer.
He says having persevered with Coastal Cabins through the first few years of the business, the brand now represents one of the best quality products on the market. Changing lives and making a difference are the business’s foundation stones and the key drivers for his staff.
These warm, dry and comfortable homes inspire people to upgrade their aspirations and lifestyle, he says. It lets them grasp an opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have. In many cases it also brings separated families together again as a community.
Minimal environmental impact is another focus for John and his team, who have witnessed the massive footprint being left by New Zealand’s building industry.
One thing’s for certain – this venture is personal. Even if tenants are having difficulty meeting payments, Coastal Cabins will endeavour to support them and find a solution. It’s a relationship built on care and kindness.
Despite having 30 staff on board in 2021, John says the business is far from where he wants it to be in terms of production. Much of that is to do with supply chain restrictions, inflation and a shortage of labour. “Such is the demand, we need to double or treble production. We’re sending our cabins all over the country, and we’re looking to set up a production line in the South Island, as well as an additional one in Auckland.”
Funding for the venture comes through a mixture of cash sales, profit and investors, and John says the pressure is always on to balance sales of the cabins with the amount of rental stock made available.
John has another bold vision for his small-but-perfectly-formed cabins too, and that is to create lifestyle holiday parks all around the country, offering not only easy rental options but also including an affordable and attractive retirement solution.
The plan is to build ten villages over the next three to five years and the first is already underway at a holiday park in Northland’s Bay of Islands. The mix of buildings will include Coastal Cabins, as well as up-spec Evoke-brand dwellings that come in a number of sizes and flexible configurations.
He can envisage this mix of retirement homes and rental accommodation creating a wonderful environment for families to connect.
John and his team are excited about their innovative approach to retirement in New Zealand. It’s about living a meaningful, productive retirement. One that involves a real community connection, he says.
With the ongoing shortage of housing and building supplies, and lockdowns constantly adding new frustrations, pent-up demand for John’s cabins and minor dwellings is creating huge challenges for the company.
But it’s the challenges currently facing New Zealand’s wider community that give him more cause for concern.
“Those black thunderclouds have been gathering on the horizon,” he says. “I’m talking about the question marks over inflation and interest rates.”
He’s worried about the number of people, encouraged by the low interest rates, who can quickly become financially overcommitted on their investment properties. “It can only end in tears.”
Drawing on his many years of business experience, John’s advice for today’s new generation of young entrepreneurs is to avoid industry sectors that require large capital injections, to leverage new technologies and to focus their energy and intelligence on solutions that will benefit many people.
In the case of Coastal Cabins, while the venture has required considerable investment, it has also harnessed technology and the energies of a dedicated group of people – all to benefit New Zealand’s wider community.
So will this project be John’s business swansong?
Perhaps so, but he is only just getting started.