How it all began...
The following is a reproduction of an article that appeared in Unlimited magazine, June 2003.
He was cold, miserable and alone in a Frankfurt hotel room. Malcolm Box was attending the biennial International Sanitation and Heating trade show - the major event for the kitchen and bathware industry. It was just two days after he had been made redundant from his job of 13 years as Dorf New Zealand's sales manager. He'd immediately decided to set up in competition to his former employer, importing tapware, bathroom accessories and stainless steel sinks. It is a move the then 40-year-old would not otherwise have made - he'd loved his job and was earning a comfortable salary. "But I thought in five to 10 years from now, [redundancy] could easily happen again. I'll be older and it will be even harder to find another job. The alternative was to work for myself," Box says.
Brave words in Auckland. In Frankfurt, Box was overwhelmed by self-doubt about whether he was doing the right thing. "I was jet-lagged and couldn't sleep and had this gut-wrenching feeling that we could lose our house over this and everything we had built." It was only the constant encouragement of his wife Chrissie that kept him plugging away. He didn't have to wait long to reap the rewards. On his return home, Box was rung by an Italian manufacturer who'd taken his business card at the German show and was keen to supply him. They were in business. Mind you, the company office at that stage was two desks in the lounge of the Box's Lynfield, Auckland home. Four years on, Aquatica New Zealand has a multimillion turnover, equal to what Dorf was making when he was laid off, Box claims. It is number two in the New Zealand tapware market, customers include national chains such a The Building Depot and Placemakers, and the company has just purchased land in Avondale to construct a new warehouse and showroom.
Aside from the early doubts, Box's biggest headache was cashflow. He had a healthy redundancy cheque, a side income from a small mobile disco business and substantial equity in the family home, but it still wasn't enough. An early breakthrough came when Box received assurances from national hardware chain The Building Depot that it would buy from him. The problem was the size of the order: The Building Depot initially took $200,000 worth of product - an order that Aquatica could easily handle and which was thought to be enough for four months' supply. But within 10 days the chain had sold out of stock and wanted more. "You can always sell a product once. When people keep coming back that's when you have a business," Box says. But the leap in turnover caused a major cashflow crisis. So Box put a cheeky proposal to the chain that, in return for payment in advance, he'd give them a hefty discount. Founding general manager Kim Jeffrey says the arrangement saved the chain money and, more importantly, set up for a good, long-term relationship with the supplier.
Box also approached the Italian tap manufacturer, Sole, for extended credit and again got agreement without offering extra security. "I came into the business with a big reputation from Dorf and they knew the Dorf people were jumping ship to work for me. They took a calculated risk".
These days the cashflow problems are long gone, along with the doubts. Box recalls the Australian manager who made him redundant saying, "You may hate me now but you will look back and see I am doing you a favour." He was right. "I hated him for six months but it is the best thing that has ever happened to me."