Export Report – Winning with smiles around the world
Magic Memories took out three award categories and the Supreme Award at the NZ International Business Awards. Catherine Beard has their story. John Wikstrom has spent the last 20 years building up an award-winning international business selling a unique yet universal currency – smiles. Magic Memories captures people enjoying their unique experience of visitor attractions […]
Magic Memories took out three award categories and the Supreme Award at the NZ International Business Awards. Catherine Beard has their story.
John Wikstrom has spent the last 20 years building up an award-winning international business selling a unique yet universal currency – smiles. Magic Memories captures people enjoying their unique experience of visitor attractions around the world, from Queenstown to London and various places in between. The concept is clever yet simple: “A smile is infectious, it is universal and it is at the very heart of what we do” – and the product has evolved to take advantage of cutting edge technology.
I caught up with John just before the 2015 NZ International Business Awards, where Magic Memories took out the Supreme Award, and three other award categories – Best Business Operating Internationally ($10-$50M); Excellence in Marketing; and Excellence in Operations.
What is now an international business started out as a two-man band in 1995 when John, fresh out of Otago University, was staying with family in Queenstown, working at local paper The Mountain Scene to save money for travelling. He met Stu, from the UK, who was already travelling the world, working in sales. They saw an opportunity to provide people with a product that captured their experience of riding the Skyline Gondola.
“It was a really simple proposition,” says John. “Our market research showed there was a huge desire for images that you couldn’t take yourself. People were having their photos taken going rafting, jet boating and skiing; but didn’t want the hassle of going to a shop, ordering photos and having to come back an hour later. There was no customer service, and the product was a photo delivered in a brown paper bag. That was the ‘a-ha’ moment for us.
“It’s a customer service business, not a photography business. Right from the start we designed a product that told a story of people going up Skyline Gondola, with full colour images and information in a high quality booklet, as it was back then. We got photos printed while people were up the Skyline and sold them the product on their return.
“If people wanted reprints, we would make sure we delivered to their hotel, or wherever they were. We eliminated all the points of pain.”
As the business has grown and moved into overseas markets, it has never lost its core of looking at the guest and asking ‘what else do they need?’ and ‘how can we improve their experience?’
“There are really simple fundamentals,” says John, “We’ve always delivered on what we said we are going to do, and we’ve had this really ingrained focus on how we can make the experience and the product better for the guest.”
International growth started with a move into the Sydney Tower, where Magic Memories provided an end-to-end solution which provided an extra revenue stream for the attraction.
“Australia was a very successful move for us,” says John. “We were able to establish a base in Sydney and grow out from there. As long as we did what we said we were going to do, we were able to build trust and relationships with partners.”
Over time, as technology changed and digital photography was introduced, the product has evolved to provide people with products and experiences they can’t easily recreate at home, both in printed and digital formats.
Growth saw the pair take on a business mentor in 2002, who has now evolved into a handpicked international board of directors. “We had to move away from owner-operator status to have things like proper business plans, automation, and a global executive management team.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is to surround yourself with people who are experts in their field – people who are better than you. This can be quite hard to do for many Kiwis!”
Here are John’s top three tips:
- Have a well-defined purpose. Something believable and real that people want to get up to work for and run towards.
- Have a clear, robust plan.
- Surround yourself with amazing people at all levels – from board to customer-facing staff.
Hear more about the Magic Memories journey to success when John speaks at our Go Global conference at Eden Park on 14 May. To book go to www.nzgoglobal.co.nz.