Manta Marine makes rails and ladders for the marine industry in New Zealand and Australia, in Louise’s words “all the stuff that’s blingy” on powerboats. Originally his parents’ business, Steve has pretty much grown up in Manta, having worked there since he was 18.
10 years ago, he and wife Louise bought the business and started taking it into the future, their way. Their first big mission was to computerise the business’s vast paper-based systems, a job she describes as “a bit of a challenge”.
It was a blessing in disguise when cheap and competitive imported products hit the market, as it forced Louise and Steve need to decide where they wanted to be. They knew they couldn’t compete against the cheap stuff on price and were completely committed to quality.
“We realised our market wasn't entry level.” Louise said. So they continued to make superior products and much of the market came with them.
“People are shopping smarter – they’re realizing they could choose to pay less but they won't have it in a year's time.” - Louise Pribicevich, Director
They’ve got pretty clear ideas on where they want to take Manta; including bringing as much as they can in-house so they can control quality and their financials. Case in point: a few years ago, they stopped outsourcing the electropolishing and splashed out on an expensive new machine. It was a bit of a hurdle for Louise. “It was quite scary ‘because I’m analytical. Steve was telling me why it would work and we had to do a lot of due diligence to make me feel comfortable. But it paid itself off pretty quickly.”
Putting back into the industry is something they’re hot on. Manta continually trains young people to do things their way. “We're very labour-focused and proactive in getting apprentices and putting back into the industry. There are lots of sheet metal workers out there but to specialise in stainless steel and do it to the level we want is harder,” says Louise.
The only woman in the business, Louise admits to finding it a bit lonely. “I enjoy it, but when you're a boss and a woman it's bit lonely, except for when our daughter Alana comes in and looks after reception.”
As far as working together as a couple, she says, “We don’t have an issue working together. My background was financial and Steven’s was in manufacturing. And we have Blair, our production manager. The three of us work well together because we've got completely different roles in the business. It’s a bit of a team effort.”
The 18-strong Manta Marine team supplies 90% of the NZ powerboat industry and distributes in Australia as well. Steve is the face of the company and has a strong working relationship with boat designers, as Louise points out “they’ll get him to help them design new rails and stuff.”
On the move to Kiwibank
About 18 months ago they wanted to finance new machinery and their accountant talked to them about moving to Kiwibank. Louise was quite hesitant but says it turned out to be a good move. “I actually can't believe how good they are. About six months later we wanted to buy a water cutting machine from China. They helped us finance it and made me feel safe doing this big transaction.”
“I actually think they've put the humans back into banking – they listen to what we want to do." - Louise Pribicevich, Director
"When I go into my Orewa branch, the person talks to me by name and I don't even go in very often. The fact that they're a New Zealand bank is even more amazing.”
As Louise and Steve continue to build Manta Marine, they never forget that at its heart it’s a family business that they would love to hand over to their kids one day. “Then all the hard work will have paid off,” she says.