Where do we start? Doing justice to 100-odd years of NZI history is a daunting task.
If you want a real-deal historical record (1924-2008), then try the brilliantly-written article which appears in 'Temuka Through The Years', published in 2009. To download the (6MB) NZI story up to 2008 click here.
If you're the bite-sized executive-summary type, then please read on ...
NZI HISTORY - SHORT VERSION
We became New Zealand Insulators when National Electric (NEECO) took over the Canterbury Pipe & Tile Company in 1924. Tiles, pipes, bricks and some insulators had been made on our site since Joseph Whitehead established the Temuka brickworks in 1868 - quite a legacy, which we treasure.
Using the clay deposit found in the Kakahu Valley and with NEECO's capital/distribution - insulator production got into full swing.
In 1930, NZI's 3rd Manager Arthur Toplis also diversified into producing pottery. Toplis, a skilled potter, got Temuka Pottery going on a commercial scale with a contract to supply electric jugs, and later the Railways crockery. Arthur Toplis can take credit for New Zealand's much-loved brand Temuka Pottery.
The 1930's Depression hit NZI hard but during WW2 NZI was declared an 'essential industry' by the Government and insulator volumes grew quickly.
The Thomas Street site was partially destroyed by fire in 1950, which meant the business could rebuild and install next-generation electric kilns. The expanding New Zealand economy in the 50's & 60's saw infrastructure spend, and NZI's workforce grew to around 250.
In 1966 Cable Price took over NEECO (and therefore NZI) who phased out making tiles in 1970, but pivotally engaged Jack Laird of Nelson to revive the pottery product range in 1971. It was Jack Laird who designed the iconic brown Riverstone series which made Temuka Pottery a household name in New Zealand. We had specialist shops and sales reps supporting a significant pottery enterprise. But the cultural cringe of the pink-and-grey 80's saw to the decline of the Riverstone (and other) designs.
Variously we were then owned by Brierley Investments (1988), Skellerup Group (1993), and the ill-fated Maine Investments (1996). Across the 80's and 90's NZI had some boom years, and was split into three divisions with the Low Voltage division having it's own site in Ashburton. The business at peak employed more than 400 people, and many many staff stayed with NZI for their entire working lives.
So far however, the 21st Century has been difficult for New Zealand Insulators. Well-organised importers dealt a telling blow to NZI's market share. And rightly or wrongly, following 80-odd years of being the only show in town, we decided to stand our ground on price. It proved to be an expensive call, with sales declining quickly and some 200 jobs being lost - as NZI failed to compete against cheaper imports. Temuka Pottery also lost the contract for Crockpot liners in 2002. The company retrenched several times, shedding staff, closing the Ashburton site in 2007, closing the Temuka Pottery Shop in 2009, shifting Wholesaler clients to sister company ESC in 2010 - shrinking to annual sales of NZ$6.5million with just 35 staff.
From $18mill sales to a third of that, in eight short years. It's a credit to NZI's unique strengths that we were able to survive such a dramatic decline.
Late 2010, under Greg Howell's guidance, we made the fundamental decision to stand our ground, retain our manufacturing capability in South Canterbury, and remain a long-term local NZ producer.
In 2011, we made some fundamental moves. Restoring the NZI brand to represent Temuka-made quality, ceasing parallel imports, new catalogue, product range additions, extended North Island sales representation, competitive market pricing, investing in our factory, building our skill base, be awarded the DTR polymer insulator agency - we worked very hard to get NZI back on the front foot.
We didn't cry about having lost market share, we quietly set off to win some back. And we enjoyed some success, thanks to our clients willing to pay more-for-more, supporting the Temuka-made NZI brand.
In 2012 we kept pushing. Adding AX, Avon & Payer brands to our product offering. Relaunching our LV range direct to wholesalers. Developing the NZI line post insulator range (18 configurations & growing).
Through 2011 & 2012, production staff in Temuka grew from 28 to 48 as we responded to increasing demand. Factory tonnage was up 38% year-on-year, with several more factory positions added in Jan/Feb, and July. By adding an Auckland warehouse in early 2012, NZI has eliminated delivery delays ... if nothing else - we're certainly quick!
March 2013, Greg Howell stepped back into Tiri, making way for Chris van der Werff, a 30-year industry player, to lead the business. NZI has genuine momentum.
In 2013 GIG glass insulators were added to our range, and there were further additions to our product offering, including Polesaver in 2016.
December 2017, we added Narada Energy Storage Systems into the NZI fold with a release to the NZ Market at the EEA Conference at Skycity in June 2018.
August 2018 we added Long Controls ( Long and Crawford Switchgear) as an exclusive distributor NZ, the Pacific Islands and Australia for a full range of OEM factory spares for Long and Crawford, and a full complimentary range of LCL components and accessories.
Which brings us to 2023, our 99th year. We're part of Tom Sturgess's Tiri Group www.tiri.co.nz and enjoy supportive well-funded private ownership. Our updated NZI MV Catalogue was released in January. Our product positioning is now entirely leading brands, backed up by overnight delivery for both North & South Islands.
Yes, there is still much to do, but we made the gutsy call at New Zealand Insulators - and it has paid off.
NZI will be celebrating 100 years in business on the 23rd and 24th of February 2024. If you are interested in being part of the celebrations please see our 100 Years page