Business profile: Brand X

By: Dave Lorimar

Longevity in business often means zagging while others are zigging and Taranaki-based Brand X is a good example of how changing times often calls for changing methods. The Ed found out more.

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When I first met Brand X business owners Gordon and Netta Burnside back in the 1990s, they were one of the few businesses that were selling mobile crushers and screening plants. These pieces of equipment spelt a big change in the way many companies operated and probably few people take time to really appreciate the considerable impact this machinery had on the quarrying industry.

As time moved on and others cottoned-on to that semi-lucrative market, the Burnside’s inquisitive natures moved them onto the hard-to-find and one-off articles that they are now well known for.

That is not to say that the Brand X New Plymouth yard doesn’t have some of the standard fare that graces the parking areas of most Kiwi contractor’s yards though. On the day of my visit, negotiations are underway for the purchase of a Caterpillar D9T dozer for one of their clients.

"Whatever someone needs, we’ll find it," says Netta.

A thing that I find a little unusual is that the Burnsides say they have only ever met about five percent of their buyers and sellers, as almost all of their business is carried out remotely, online and via email.

"Once upon a time people thought we were nuts carrying out business this way, but as it’s turned out we were years ahead of many other people with our methodology.

"Our supplier networks are vast and we always know someone who knows someone, who will vouch for the suppliers of the equipment we find; and it works," says Gordon.

A wander around the current equipment in stock can be something like walking through an emporium as the variety of machinery is quite astounding. Among the different pieces of plant waiting for new owners are a few ride-on mowers, one being remote-controlled; a couple of ready-mix concrete bowls; a 1.35 megawatt power sub-station with all its connections and controllers; and an all-terrain light tower (more about this in a future issue).

"Some items can sit here for a while, but we’re right on the spot when the need for one of these pieces of plant occurs," says Gordon.

"Then we can charge a fine price, which is always far below what it would cost someone to source, ship and land something similar here."

With the business having been around since the early 1970s (August 1970 to be exact), it is interesting to see how Brand X has dynamically changed to optimise its output through the years. As the Burnside’s spend a considerable amount of time online sourcing and selling products, recent initiatives engage the business with new customers through social media platforms, although they say that this type of work is not for the faint-hearted.

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"It suits our audience, but businesses operate in so many different ways that I would say that it is not for everyone.

"To be successful in this type of medium you really have to monitor things 24/7, and many companies are not prepared or can’t afford the wages to go to that degree of effort," says Netta.

Being involved in the equipment supply business for many years means that the
couple are well-known in the quarry and contracting industries and are popular contributing writers for industry publications. Gordon has only recently finished a long-standing stint as a weekly columnist with the Taranaki Daily News. Those of us who have engaged in any robust conversation with him will testify to the depth of his knowledge, tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness. He does however always put forward a well thought-out and difficult to counter-argue case.

However, while the Brand X business and literary pursuits play a big part in the Burnside’s lives, the couple are also strong players in the Taranaki region; being especially active in local body activities.

One of the charities that Netta is the deputy chairperson for is Atawhai Industries. This important community trust provides work in a number of industries (forestry included) for people with disabilities. She points out that the charity pays its workers industry wages and competes fairly in the job tendering process; nor does it receive grants or subsidies that give it an edge over private businesses.

Another initiative Netta has involved herself in is running for a seat on the Taranaki Regional Council, and has recently started her campaign, which will end when voting concludes in October.

Netta says that one of her strengths is her ability to work with the ‘old boys’ network while still being able to instil new methodology and thinking. I would say that another is the ability to find practical solutions to complex problems and is a trait she maintains that is found in the ‘skills toolbox’ of many in the quarry and construction industries.

The Brand X business and its owners are certainly not traditional in any sense of the word. This makes for a dynamic partnership that can be seen in the way the business has moved forward over the years while others have fallen by the wayside. Whatever is next on their radar; who knows?

For more information, visit Brand X’s Facebook page.

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