Having the technical skills to create a product or service that fills a gap in the market is just part of the puzzle when it comes to starting your own business.
Making the move from being an employee to running his own business was a steep learning curve for Leigh Marston, who started Christchurch-based Rubber Developments in 1989.
Like many Kiwi business owners, Leigh took the leap out on his own after realising there was a gap in the market that he could fill. He’d been working for a German chemical company for about eight years, when he was approached by someone who wanted advice on how to compound and mix rubber. “I started to explain how to do it and he decided that was far too complicated, and said ‘why don’t you do it for me?’".
After conducting some market research, Leigh realised there was a market for compounded rubber. “So I bought some machinery, rented a factory, put on my overalls and started mixing rubber.”
Armed with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Chemistry, Leigh was well equipped to take on the technical challenge of making and developing rubber products, but the business side of things was more daunting.
Coming from a science background to running my own business was a huge step."
As a student he’d started a Bachelor of Commerce, but couldn’t get his head around the accounting papers. Having now been in business for more than 30 years, he knows his way around a spreadsheet, but back when he was starting out he knew he’d need to get external help, starting with an accountant. “Our accountant is still with us and has become a close personal friend – we work closely together and go over the accounts and profit and loss statements together.”
Rubber Developments now employs 35 people and has factories in both Christchurch and Auckland, making rubber products for the construction and civil engineering industries.
Over the years, Rubber Developments has become a family affair, with Leigh’s son Josh now general manager.
Josh, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, enjoys the family aspect of the business. “Being a family business, you’re all on the same page and there are plenty of opportunities to discuss things outside of work hours. I think that’s a great benefit and we often throw around ideas at night or on the weekend.”
He also thinks family tend to go the extra mile for each other and for the business. “If there’s a job that needs to be done, or there’s a timeline that looks difficult to achieve, there’s never a question, you just make it happen.”
Although family is the backbone of Rubber Developments, Leigh says he still relies on a team of professionals to help the business grow and develop. That team includes Kiwibank business manager, Steve Gourlay. “When we purchased a company in Auckland last year, Steve was heavily involved had a great commercial input into that. Our relationship is very strong and our business manager is integral to our company.”
Disenchanted with his previous business bank, Leigh took Rubber Developments to Kiwibank more than a decade ago.