E-FILES: Expats log-on to Kia Kaha

Web-driven e-commerce doesn't have to be flashy, expensive and technically obtuse. Malcolm Hutchinson talks to a clothing manufacturer who has taken a distinctly low-tech approach to web-retail.

www.kiakaha.co.nz

Kia Kaha clothing produces sports and fashion clothing with unique Maori designs. A family business run by Dan Love, his brother Matene and partner Charmaine Morrison, Kia Kaha clothing started trading as a mail-order company based in Tauranga in 1994.

"We realised we'll get swallowed up if we try to compete with lesser quality products made overseas, so our focus had to be on quality," says Dan Love. New Zealand-made means we can guarantee that quality."

The company moved into a combined warehouse and retail outlet in Petone, north of Wellington, in June 1997. A store was operated in central Wellington for a short time, but with the move into wholesale distribution to clothing stores around New Zealand, the Wellington outlet was soon seen to be unnecessary. It closed, leaving the operation in Petone as the only physical retail outlet.

The Web site has been operating since the beginning of 1998. Mike Pearson, an independent Wellington-based web developer approached Kia Kaha and suggested a site. "I just thought this is the way things are going," says Love. "I know [shopping online] is big in the States. Not so big here, but I thought it was a snowball thing."

The Web site is hosted on a machine at WebFarm in New Plymouth. Dan Love does most of the maintenance himself, which usually runs to changing the catalogue every six months for summer and winter collections.

Orders are passed through to the Petone office, where they are processed in the same way as mail orders. Love checks them every day, and orders are filled immediately, with credit cards being processed through an Eftpos terminal. This is in distinct contrast to high-end automated ordering systems.

The site currently generates between 7% and 8% of business, and Love says a significant proportion of those using the site are expatriates living in Australia, the United Kingdom and the US.

The Web site has become a part of the firm's normal marketing mix. All printed and electronic advertising carries the URL, and the site has been registered with all major international search engines. A key precept is that visual style and content is standardised - the site looks the same as the paper catalogue, and what is available in-store in Petone is also represented online.

"Keep your product line simple, so you can keep up with demand," is Love's advice to retailers seeking to expand into the Web.

"We're pretty positive about the future in terms of the business we've built up," says Love. "New Zealanders have taken to the product, and for us it's quite encouraging to see people appreciating the quality aspect of it. The brand carries Maori designs, but it's a product New Zealanders in general can identify with, especially New Zealanders living overseas."

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