Sonic NZ turns up the volume

SUPER SONIC: A shift from the “rabbit warren” of surf craft manufacturing plant in Stanley Road to a factory and showroom twice the size in Commerce Place has streamlined efficiency for Sonic Surf Craft NZ business owners (left) Kylee and Matt Sutton, and staff Andy Robertson, Jinx Johnson and Rob Miller. Picture by Paul Rickard

FOUR years have passed since The Business Quarterly profiled Matt and Kylee Sutton’s manufacturing business Sonic Surf Craft NZ.

Back then, Mr Sutton said Sonic NZ could be perceived as the manufacturer of a glossy product that was taken to surf carnivals.

“What people don’t see is the stress and battle we go through. It’s not glamorous. I’ll make mistakes and continue doing that, but we’ve learned a lot in the past three years.”

Since then, Mr Sutton’s business approach has undergone two significant developments — one practical, the other personal.

He recently shifted operations from a Stanley Road site to a spacious building in Commerce Place, the industrial park on Awapuni Road, where his factory is twice the size.

The new facility has a large, naturally-lit reception area and comfortable showroom. Upstairs are three large rooms, one of which Mrs Sutton uses to print the logos, a job she previously did on the kitchen table at home. The upper floor is also home to “the best smoko room in Gisborne” — a large room opens on to a deck overlooking the bay.

“It’s a lot easier here,” says Matt. “The other place was like a rabbit warren. The new site is a hundred times better. It’s a much more open work space. It’s all about improved efficiency.

“Here it’s all lined up. In the old place you’d be walking up and down the factory to various rooms. It worked for us but as we introduced new products, it became apparent we had grown out of it.”

The airy, well-lit showroom displays sleek new longboards and rescue boards with decorative patterns.

“It’s such a colourful business we’re in, it seems silly not to have a nice space to display our products in,” says Mr Sutton.

Mr Sutton sees potential in the industrial park Sonic is now based for a cafe to sit alongside distributors, manufacturers and services.

“I hope being here seeds more interest in Commerce Place.”

The surf craft manufacturing plant was started up by top surf lifesaving athlete and coach Cory Hutchings in 2000. Mr and Mrs Sutton bought the business in 2009 and rebranded it. The business occupies a unique niche for a country in which surf lifesaving as a sport, and public service, plays such a significant role.

Organic evolution

The business has grown by “organic evolution” Mr Sutton told the Business Quarterly in 2013.

Its earliest roots are in a Stanley Road house across the road from where Sonic NZ was based, where surf legends Benny Hutchings, Gary Lidgard and Billy Carson made surfboards. When Mr Hutchings became involved in surf life saving he was dissatisfied with the equipment and developed a range of rescue boards called Surfline.

Larry Foster later took over the business and sold it to Mr Hutchings’ son Cory in 2000, who rebranded it as CHD (Cory Hutchings Designs). He developed CHD products, including custom-made surf skis, for elite athletes, and imported a generic line of paddle boards called Sonic.

When the Suttons bought the business in 2009 they aimed to create a brand which would resonate with young Kiwi clubbies. Now eight years old, Sonic Surf craft is still New Zealand’s sole maker of surf skis.

To remain viable in the face of competition from imported surf craft, Sonic NZ’s operations are streamlined. The move to the new site is part of that, says Mr Sutton.

“Most surf craft are made in China. Labour and materials has to be drilled down. We have to be as lean as possible. We go so far as to drill down the labour content in the product to the minute. It’s about streamlining the business.”

Sonic’s three other staff and a summer contractor are on board with that because the nature of the product, industry, market and lifestyle is “something cool”, says Mr Sutton.

Employees include veteran surfboard-maker Stephen “Jinx” Johnson, who shapes rescue boards from blocks of expanded polystyrene.

Rob Miller spray-finishes the final rescue board design.

Kiwi boat builder Andrew Robertson is in charge of the ski manufacturing arm.

No extra staff are planned yet but that is a consideration for the future. An increase in staff numbers has to be sustainable. On the table are ideas for diversification.

“The business has some strong aspirations to branch into the watersports market that Gisborne is particularly strong in,” says Mr Sutton.

Mr Johnson began shaping surfboards with Benny Hutchings then embarked on a long career of shaping for New Wave through the 1980s. He also shaped rescue boards for Mr Hutchings and went on to work as a shaper with Cory Hutchings.

“Since we have had Sonic, Jinx hasn’t had much time to follow his passion — but coming out here we can slowly introduce some of his longboard shapes,” says Mr Sutton.

In the past eight years he has learned much about being in business, he says.

“My skin is thicker now. You have some intense moments where you miss out on work but I’ve developed the ability not to take anything too personally.”

Now a father of a daughter, 9, and son, 3, Mr Sutton has grown to appreciate the little things.

“From 2pm on Sunday it’s family time for the four of us. No work, no computers. I don’t want to be that guy who wakes up at 50 and realises I’ve missed out on watching my kids grow up.

“At the same time I’m really competitive. I come from a sport in which I competed at a national level. I want to finish first but it has to be balanced out with the right things. I’ve never been so driven to do what I do. But I’ve never been so driven to spend time with my kids.

“I think that’s quite a Kiwi thing. We’re in business in New Zealand for different reasons than in other parts of the world.”

FOUR years have passed since The Business Quarterly profiled Matt and Kylee Sutton’s manufacturing business Sonic Surf Craft NZ.

Back then, Mr Sutton said Sonic NZ could be perceived as the manufacturer of a glossy product that was taken to surf carnivals.

“What people don’t see is the stress and battle we go through. It’s not glamorous. I’ll make mistakes and continue doing that, but we’ve learned a lot in the past three years.”

Since then, Mr Sutton’s business approach has undergone two significant developments — one practical, the other personal.

He recently shifted operations from a Stanley Road site to a spacious building in Commerce Place, the industrial park on Awapuni Road, where his factory is twice the size.

The new facility has a large, naturally-lit reception area and comfortable showroom. Upstairs are three large rooms, one of which Mrs Sutton uses to print the logos, a job she previously did on the kitchen table at home. The upper floor is also home to “the best smoko room in Gisborne” — a large room opens on to a deck overlooking the bay.

“It’s a lot easier here,” says Matt. “The other place was like a rabbit warren. The new site is a hundred times better. It’s a much more open work space. It’s all about improved efficiency.

“Here it’s all lined up. In the old place you’d be walking up and down the factory to various rooms. It worked for us but as we introduced new products, it became apparent we had grown out of it.”

The airy, well-lit showroom displays sleek new longboards and rescue boards with decorative patterns.

“It’s such a colourful business we’re in, it seems silly not to have a nice space to display our products in,” says Mr Sutton.

Mr Sutton sees potential in the industrial park Sonic is now based for a cafe to sit alongside distributors, manufacturers and services.

“I hope being here seeds more interest in Commerce Place.”

The surf craft manufacturing plant was started up by top surf lifesaving athlete and coach Cory Hutchings in 2000. Mr and Mrs Sutton bought the business in 2009 and rebranded it. The business occupies a unique niche for a country in which surf lifesaving as a sport, and public service, plays such a significant role.

Organic evolution

The business has grown by “organic evolution” Mr Sutton told the Business Quarterly in 2013.

Its earliest roots are in a Stanley Road house across the road from where Sonic NZ was based, where surf legends Benny Hutchings, Gary Lidgard and Billy Carson made surfboards. When Mr Hutchings became involved in surf life saving he was dissatisfied with the equipment and developed a range of rescue boards called Surfline.

Larry Foster later took over the business and sold it to Mr Hutchings’ son Cory in 2000, who rebranded it as CHD (Cory Hutchings Designs). He developed CHD products, including custom-made surf skis, for elite athletes, and imported a generic line of paddle boards called Sonic.

When the Suttons bought the business in 2009 they aimed to create a brand which would resonate with young Kiwi clubbies. Now eight years old, Sonic Surf craft is still New Zealand’s sole maker of surf skis.

To remain viable in the face of competition from imported surf craft, Sonic NZ’s operations are streamlined. The move to the new site is part of that, says Mr Sutton.

“Most surf craft are made in China. Labour and materials has to be drilled down. We have to be as lean as possible. We go so far as to drill down the labour content in the product to the minute. It’s about streamlining the business.”

Sonic’s three other staff and a summer contractor are on board with that because the nature of the product, industry, market and lifestyle is “something cool”, says Mr Sutton.

Employees include veteran surfboard-maker Stephen “Jinx” Johnson, who shapes rescue boards from blocks of expanded polystyrene.

Rob Miller spray-finishes the final rescue board design.

Kiwi boat builder Andrew Robertson is in charge of the ski manufacturing arm.

No extra staff are planned yet but that is a consideration for the future. An increase in staff numbers has to be sustainable. On the table are ideas for diversification.

“The business has some strong aspirations to branch into the watersports market that Gisborne is particularly strong in,” says Mr Sutton.

Mr Johnson began shaping surfboards with Benny Hutchings then embarked on a long career of shaping for New Wave through the 1980s. He also shaped rescue boards for Mr Hutchings and went on to work as a shaper with Cory Hutchings.

“Since we have had Sonic, Jinx hasn’t had much time to follow his passion — but coming out here we can slowly introduce some of his longboard shapes,” says Mr Sutton.

In the past eight years he has learned much about being in business, he says.

“My skin is thicker now. You have some intense moments where you miss out on work but I’ve developed the ability not to take anything too personally.”

Now a father of a daughter, 9, and son, 3, Mr Sutton has grown to appreciate the little things.

“From 2pm on Sunday it’s family time for the four of us. No work, no computers. I don’t want to be that guy who wakes up at 50 and realises I’ve missed out on watching my kids grow up.

“At the same time I’m really competitive. I come from a sport in which I competed at a national level. I want to finish first but it has to be balanced out with the right things. I’ve never been so driven to do what I do. But I’ve never been so driven to spend time with my kids.

“I think that’s quite a Kiwi thing. We’re in business in New Zealand for different reasons than in other parts of the world.”

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