The family taking on the world
The Family of Twelve is a great example of how small-scale exporters can combine forces to make a big noise on the world stage. By Catherine Beard.
When it comes to making an impact on a global scale, how do small familyowned Kiwi firms compete with the big guys? One answer is to join forces with other similar firms, which is what 12 New Zealand wineries did 12 years ago when they formed Family of Twelve.
I talked to William Hoare, partowner and GM of Fromm Winery in Blenheim and chairman of Family of Twelve, about what makes the collaboration work.
“Fundamentally it's about acknowledging that we're too small to make it on a global scale ourselves, but together we can create interest. For example, I may know ten people in Hong Kong, but when you go as Family of Twelve and we all know ten people, that's 120 wine writers and other people filling a room, and that creates interest. You more easily attract media just by being there.
“It's like shouting in a crowded room. You can easily get drowned out, but together you have a louder voice,” explains William.
“When we first set up, a couple of things were done really well. Number one – each winery is in charge of its own sales, so Family of Twelve is a marketing group not a sales group. Number two – we all pay an annual fee that can only be used in market. It's each winery's responsibility to get to the market, and pay for their accommodation and expenses while there.
“It means we can go and put on professional events in Hong Kong and London, for example, that we could not do by ourselves.
“We employ a PR and brand manager to organise events in market for us and make sure the right messages are getting out there.”
When Family of Twelve was set up, it was all about marketing. However, it has since evolved to provide other benefits.
“It's about sharing experience and knowledge,” says William. “Everyone helps each other, to the point where you can just pick up the phone and ask one of the other wineries what a particular distributor is like to deal with. It also means you are surrounded by people doing incredible things in markets, and it raises the bar and helps inspire you.”
Another benefit of the collaboration is the R&D aspect. The viticulturists get together each year to share knowledge and experience about viticulture, stocks, climate and what works. The winemakers also get together and do trials, which can be highly valuable.
“For example, there is a new type of chardonnay that has been in New Zealand for about six years and we were considering whether we should grow it,” says William. “On viticulture day, two of the wineries had actually grown it and made wine out of it, so we could look at it, taste it and decide whether it would work for us. That is essentially five years' worth of time we saved. It's that sort of sharing that I think will make the 12 wineries stronger and stronger into the future.
“We're also helping the younger generation coming through, and looking at setting up some kind of scholarship so they can go and get some business training before they take over the family business.
“When we set up there were a lot of wineries who wanted to join, but they were corporates and that doesn't work with us. We are all family-owned businesses; a family of families. We can sit around a table and make decisions together without having to go back to a big corporate head office somewhere. Being family-owned also helps create a lot of interest, especially in Asia.”
William says he can see other collaboration opportunities within New Zealand – for example in the honey and beer sectors. “Honey is wide open for it because in a way it's like the wine industry. You've got lots of little guys running around struggling to make an impact on a global scale; whereas if you got ten or 12 of them together, it could be very different.”
For those considering collaboration, William's advice is to be very careful who you partner with. “It took us two years to choose the right people. All around the world people have copied the concept, but they sometimes fall apart because people want different things.
“You need to be clear on what you are trying to achieve through the collaboration. Then set the funding up right so everybody understands what it's for. For us, it's another lever to pull and a really good way of opening doors on a global scale; doors that may not even be there when you go into these markets on your own.”