Christchurch family business rides wave of global success
Passion, innovation, adaptability and an absolute commitment to life outside of work – all are key components of the success of 115-year-old Christchurch company McPhail Sports. Ask any group of businesspeople in New Zealand to produce a list of top performing, family-owned New Zealand companies in business after more than a century, and top-of-mind for most will likely to […]
Passion, innovation, adaptability and an absolute commitment to life outside of work – all are key components of the success of 115-year-old Christchurch company McPhail Sports.
Ask any group of businesspeople in New Zealand to produce a list of top performing, family-owned New Zealand companies in business after more than a century, and top-of-mind for most will likely to be certain companies that have folded, such as Lane Walker Rudkin, Dowsons, Warnocks and Hugh Wrights.
Most people would struggle to list the survivors, and be even more unlikely to list one of the longevity stars of New Zealand family businesses – McPhail Sports, formerly McPhail & Fisher. The 115-year-old business is now in its fourth generation of family ownership. It prides itself on a modest seven-figure turnover and sustained annual sales growth of 15 to 20 percent.
From its beginnings in 1907, the business has operated out of Christchurch. Expanding, adapting, open to opportunities and flexible by nature, McPhail Sports has survived to a position where its team of seven talented people, all experts in their own fields of product knowledge, is a driving force behind the global phenomenon of the water sports brand Body Glove – itself currently thriving in the ‘season of the pandemic’, enjoying remarkable growth and record sales.
McPhail Sports designs, manufactures and exports Body Glove products to Australasia and beyond, including Thailand, the United Kingdom, Europe, Chile, Japan and South Africa.
McPhail Sports’ 2022 product catalogue has more than 300 pages featuring some 1000 different products that include wetsuits, inflatable and hard stand-up paddle boards, bodyboards and surfboards, snorkelling and diving products, footwear, apparel and swimwear, water skis, wakeboards, towable tubes, along with ropes, beach shelters, chairs and pool toys, bags and a wide range of accessories.
In April 2021, Body Glove and owner Marquee Brands announced they had extended their multi-year agreement with 30-year partner McPhail Sports. The latter will continue to develop and produce innovative Body Glove product lines for today’s new generation of Body Glove consumers in Australia, New Zealand and beyond, capitalising on the rising interest in water sports throughout the region and into Asia.
Peter Maule, SVP, Sports and Active Brands at Body Glove US said, “McPhail’s has been instrumental in driving our brand growth in Australia and New Zealand through exceptional product design, technology, sourcing, and distribution. They have been a key contributor to the brand’s record-setting year in 2021 and are poised for an even stronger year in 2022.”
“Upholding and fuelling the ‘behind-the-scenes’ success of this exciting company’s role in a major global brand and marketplace, is a proud family history of innovation and adaptation, an absolute commitment to sport and recreation, and forging a genuine work-life balance.”
Charismatic leader of the fourth generation of the family firm, Andrew McPhail, says he believes that the McPhail point of difference, and key to their success, can be defined in the Body Glove catch phrase “Do what you Love.”
His ancestors 115 years ago might not have used those exact words when they set up in Manchester Street, Christchurch – employing over 150 machinists and manufacturing leather and textile garments under such brands as Palazzi, Brache, Stalk Jeans and Made for Life – but the family history is peppered with people who have put family time, sports and personal passions right up there alongside business acumen as their formula for success. In particular, the McPhail name is woven through New Zealand’s proud rugby history with national administrators, coaches and All Blacks in the family line.
“We love what we do, and we enjoy the thrill of the chase to get an order, that’s critical to survive these days.”
“We are passionate about our sport,” Andrew says. “Our business thrives on the energy we take to the table when we talk to retailers about water sports, be it how the waves were in the weekend, or how we enjoyed boating on the lake, catching that big cray and the one that got away. We love what we do, and we enjoy the thrill of the chase to get an order, that’s critical to survive these days.
“Quite often we ask ourselves, ‘how the hell did we make it in business for 114 years?’ We sailed close to the wind on many occasions but released tension by escaping outside the office (usually early on Fridays) and clearing our heads. Then we adjusted our strategy, adapted to change and chased a different product category and retail distribution channel.
“Change, for us, is a wonderful thing,” Andrew continues. “Our retailers no longer buy from a salesman’s suitcase, but directly from a factory in China. This is a change Stephen Tindall from The Warehouse instilled in us back in 1997 when we placed the Body Glove brand throughout The Warehouse stores in New Zealand – a positive step on the way to understanding China, sourcing products, and our success in price negotiations off volumes.”
McPhail Sports has been a Body Glove licensee for more than 25 years. During this time a special relationship with the Meistrell family (Body Glove founders in 1953) has been formed.
“As a licensee we study the market, then team up with a retail distribution partner to build specific Body Glove products to reach a new captive audience that fits the pricing strategy the retailer wants to achieve,” says Andrew. “Our retail trade partners are usually big box retailers capable of placing large numbers, which means we can negotiate pricing down so that everyone, including the customer, wins. We deal with companies such as Walmart, Costco ,The Warehouse New Zealand, Number 1 Shoes , Spotlight / Anaconda, and Carrefour, to name a few.”
The level of success McPhail Sports has achieved with the Body Glove brand has been largely invisible. The public and the business community see Body Glove, not McPhail, says Andrew.
But this is about to change, with Andrew wanting to drive awareness of McPhail Sports as a New Zealand success story and the lessons and experience he is willing to share as this country emerges from the global Covid-19 impact.
“We have many campfire stories to tell that, along our journey, have proven to be successful for our business growth, strategy and, most importantly, survival for hopefully another 100 years.”
Top photo: Andrew McPhail with Billy Meistrell, whose family owns the Body Glove brand. Billy’s father Bill and identical twin Bob Meistrell built the first wetsuit out of rubber in 1953 and adopted the phrase ‘Fits like a Glove … Body Glove’.
Bottom photo: Auckland sales rep Jim Livingston (left) and Ian McPhail inspecting a new line of sheepskin rugs in the 1970s.