Makana Confections - A Kerikeri duo with a recipe for success
You could say that Brian Devlin and Carole Flowers took the ‘scenic’ route in their career journeys to becoming owners of the Makana Confections, a business comprising two boutique chocolate factories based in Kerikeri and Marlborough, as well as a shop in Newmarket in Auckland.
Brian’s working life started with a very short stint as a London bus conductor. As he laughingly recalls,
“It was my first day and the bus driver’s first day…….neither of us knew where we were going so the passengers had to direct us. I’m sure some of them made us drop them directly outside their houses.”
After that, Brian was mostly self-employed, running supermarkets initially, then a small factory making space invader machines and juke boxes. A role as a business adviser for Scottish Enterprise saw him spend nine years working with start-ups and businesses in trouble, which he found really interesting and gave him the impetus to go back to school and do an MBA.
Meanwhile, Carole had gained a solid background in banking and finance, working for several major banks in the UK in sales, operations and training roles.
The couple came to New Zealand in 2005 on a long-term business visa. They had always set their sights on living in Kerikeri, and had also loved the Marlborough region, so when they heard about Makana coming up for sale, Robyn Terlesk of BDO put them in touch with the previous owners.
Brian Devlin, Carole Flowers and Robyn Terlesk.
Whilst Carole’s strong experience in training and HR combined with Brian’s background in retail were a good mix, it wasn’t all plain sailing as she readily admits.
“It was a big learning curve after 29 years working for big corporates where you had dedicated departments for everything, such as HR, Sales, Legal, to suddenly being self-employed, becoming all the departments, and working with your husband!”
Brian recalls an initial directors’ meeting when they divvied up their responsibilities,
“I took what I wanted and Carole got the ‘nice’ things like GST and accounts.”
“Trying to jump on to a train that was already moving pretty quickly” is how they describe taking on the business.
“We understood the business and HR/legal side of things, but we didn’t know much about chocolate or how supply chains worked in New Zealand.”
The couple had to get to grips with the business pretty quickly but they did make a point of purchasing the business not necessarily at the busiest time of the year.
In that first winter, they did a lot of analysis on the products and sales figures for each line. Like most businesses, whilst it wasn’t quite the 80/20 rule, they discovered there were maybe 12 out of the 50 products that were streets ahead in terms of sales. So the first thing they did was look seriously at the costings of those and see where they could improve them and put some of their more profitable products to the frontline. For example, a simple tweak to the packaging of their best-selling macadamia butter toffee crunch, using pre-printed boxes rather than labels, saved nearly $100,000 a year.
In 2016 the shop had become very busy and was beginning to run out of production space, storage and parking. The couple bought the section next door, developed the property to expand the production space, and also opened a Chocolate Café next to the Kerikeri Chocolate Factory. A Chocolate Café seemed like a good fit and the next logical step. It has enjoyed great support from the Kerikeri community.
“It was very humbling,” Brian acknowledges. “There was no advertising for the opening, and yet we got a huge turnout. Local people we didn’t know very well came along with bunches of flowers, thanking us for putting something like this in Kerikeri.”
Brian and Carole’s latest project has been opening a shop in the heart of Newmarket. This was very much a strategic move as they wanted to demonstrate that a shop would work in a city centre with the product being supplied from Kerikeri.
The couple have their sights set on opening a second shop to make sure the first isn’t a flash in pan. That will allow them to roll out their product via outlets, whether they run them themselves or franchise them.
For a couple who admit to “pretty much working every day”, how do they relax?
“Going into the kitchen is my relaxation,” Brian admits. “You can have too much of spreadsheets and it’s nice to go in and just make a toffee or a caramel. It’s therapeutic”
Makana’s Advice for NZ Artisanal Food Producers
- Employ people who understand what it is you’re trying to do, what your goals are, your standards are, and have them buy into your vision.
- Get the right professional people – We chose BDO because it had a great reputation locally, they were a nice size (not too big and not too small) so they had a big enough team to look after us in a hurry but were small enough to give us that personal attention and I like working with a company that has a good reputation because it does ease a lot of the work that you have to do with Inland Revenue.
- Recognise that working in the business comes easier than working on the business. Sometimes when you’re working on the business, what you’re doing is creating a lot more work for yourself. It normally means you’re going to implement some change and that means you’ll have to spend a lot of time organising that change and getting everybody else on board.
- If you don’t discipline yourself to work on the business, then you don’t move forward, in fact, you risk slipping back.
- In a small ‘artisanal’ business like this, you really need to understand it from the ground up. Every single aspect of it.
- Don’t procrastinate – make a decision and go for it.