BayBuzz asked writer and consultant for sustainable businesses Stefan Olsen to begin writing a series of articles about businesses in Hawke’s Bay that are Thinking Smart … using their heads and technology to add value to products and services provided from the Bay.
Says Stefan, “When BayBuzz asked me to write this column I was initially surprised to find out that 60% of Hawke’s Bay’s economy actually came from businesses not directly involved in our primary industries (40%). However, after visiting two local businesses it became clear there’s a lot more going on in the Bay than apples and lamb chops! So without further ado I introduce to you …
With 150 outlets stocking Firenzo Woodfires throughout New Zealand, it’s surprising this progressive company in Onekawa can keep up. But they do, and they grew a whopping 20% in 2009. So to find out more, I spent an hour or so with UK imports Peter Hewitson (Owner and Woodfire Pioneer) and Gary Edwards (Manager of day-to-day operations). By the time I left I was in no doubt as to why Firenzo have been on the up and up for almost 30 years to now be market leaders in quality, not just quantity, of woodfires in New Zealand.
In 1959, thanks to the then Government Immigration Scheme, Peter came across from the UK and made Hawke’s Bay his home. Peter was initially in the sheet metal industry, but in 1986 acquired plans for what would become the ‘world-famous-in-New-Zealand’ Lady Kitchener woodfire.
Through the 80s Peter’s company (then aptly named Hewitson’s) produced the Lady Kitchener in multiples of 100s, before the 90s when orders began heating up. Now, some 27 years later, Frienzo is a 4.3 million dollar SME, employing upwards of 20 full-time staff, and contracting out many facets of its operation to other local businesses for services such as punching, folding, forging, powder-coating and lazer-cutting.
Interestingly, part of the success of Firenzo has actually come from local and national government policy. With New Zealand clamping down on air pollution, especially PM10 emissions associated with old-style woodburners, Firenzo has used rules and regulations to their advantage by developing and manufacturing products that meet new requirements. Put simply, Firenzo’s commitment to producing fires that emit as responsibly as possible has resulted in the advent of some of the cleanest woodfires in not just New Zealand, but the whole world!
When it comes to efficiency there’s not many other woodfires close to the efficiency rates found in a Firenzo. With the efficiency of their fires around the 70-80% mark, the truth is you can have an efficient heat source that in a lot of cases, is cheaper to setup and run than a high-end heat-pump. Furthermore, take into account Firenzo’s wet-back technology and you’ll also save on your electricity bill to heat your water.
Having dabbled in exporting their fires in the past, Firenzo is now looking to export to Australia (which is destined to bring their allowable wood-fire emission levels to that of New Zealand’s) and beyond, to such lucrative markets as Europe and the US. Peter and Gary are both unsure whether that’ll involve the exporting of Firenzo’s knowledge overseas or the physical product – maybe both?
What they are sure of though is they’re staying put in the Bay for the usual reasons (minus the astronomical air-travel costs), and they’re proving this by putting down even deeper roots next year with bigger and better premises just down the road in Onekawa. They believe there’s no problem for a lot of national and even international businesses to operate out of Hawke’s Bay – in fact, they claim they can get their woodfires delivered around the country faster than their competitors can ex-Auckland.
Seems the secret to Firenzo’s success is about staying sustainable on all fronts by keeping up with their market and producing a clean, efficient and cost-effective product, standing behind their service, and just being plain proud of what they do.
PS: Did you know that a tree decomposing in the forest emits more CO2 than if it was burned in an efficient woodfire? It’s true so there goes that myth that burning fires is environmentally damaging. Food for thought huh?
Reaman Industries Limited
When it comes to managing one of our most precious resources, water, there isn’t much the brains behind Reaman Industries, Phil Read, hasn’t done or doesn’t know.
Originally an electrical contractor, Phil ventured into the water business in 1969 after making a sale to Napier City Council (NCC) of submersible sewerage pumps. By 1982 Phil had diversified into the water management business by opening Reaman Industries. I met with Phil and his colleague David Sorenson to find out more.
In the late 80s Reaman moved into clean water pump sales and service. Then in 1992 accompanied NCC on a trade mission to the Cook Islands. This resulted in contracts to manufacture, install and manage fresh water treatment plants at tourist resorts on Mana and Beachcomber Islands, recycling ‘black’ water into clean ‘white’ water (for multi-purpose use by the islands’ resorts).
Prior to Reaman getting involved the Islands’ resorts had been ‘barging’ water from the mainland into storage tanks, then after a single use, flushing the waste out to sea, polluting coral reefs and beaches. Reaman solved this problem at the same time as reducing the resorts’ water purchase costs. Consequently, Reaman has since been servicing the wider Pacific, most recently building the Apia municipal water treatment plant, which delivers around 4,000m3 of clean water per day.
During my conversation with Phil and David I was curious to see what really got them excited about the water business. Turns out, in 2007 when Phil was at a water management conference in Brisbane he learnt about the University of Queensland’s experiment to develop an Aerobic Granular Sludge Process (AGSP) to treat waste water. In short this technology treats raw sewerage in a revolutionary new way by creating bacterial granules from the waste. The process works much faster than current technology, thus substantially reducing operating costs, and is physically smaller. These two benefits mean lower capital setup cost and lower ongoing costs. What’s more, old plants can easily be converted to this new process down-the-line at minimal cost.
Phil was so impressed with what he saw that in 2009 he built his own AGSP trial plant in Rotorua to treat municipal waste water from the Rotorua City system. Scientists from Queensland University are working with Reaman on the project to bring the technology to commercial viability. The Australian government has committed $A400k to the project over the next two years to match Reaman’s investment, and the project is essentially the prototype for what Phil and David believe is the future of waste water treatment and recycling in New Zealand … and beyond.
Phil believes Hawke’s Bay has some of, if not the best, water in the country. We don’t know exactly how much exists in our aquifiers or exactly to what quantifiable degree they’re resupplied.
So instead of mindlessly flushing or dumping our waste water and sludge (treated sewerage that can be used for such things as irrigation) out to sea (potentially affecting our own reefs and beaches), shouldn’t we be thinking smarter about how we manage what is arguably, our most precious resource? The company thinks so.
Reaman has worked with a number of councils in New Zealand: CHB; Carterton; Tauranga; Kapiti. But what about Napier and Hastings?
Reaman Industries is best defined as a ‘knowledge-based’ company. It produces systems using the best technology from around the world with input where possible from other local businesses and contractors. Crossman Richards (IT); Foot Engineering (general steel engineering); and Metalform (stainless steel) are regular suppliers. By staying loyal locally they minimise transport costs and at the same time help keep the Bay’s economy humming.
Finally, Reaman’s focus has always been on delivering a full-service ‘turnkey’ solution to their clients’ water requirements. When their closest competitors have more than often been offering a segmented approach, this has been what’s set them apart and put them at the forefront of Australasian-Pacific, if not international, water management systems.
Reaman is based in Hawke’s Bay for one simple reason. Phil is Bay born and bred – this is his home. His only gripe about doing business fromHawke’s Bay is the astronomical charges imposed for flying in and out of the airport. Hmmm … must do something about that.