In the final article from NZ Retail magazine's nine-part series on regional retail, we're sharing the amazing story of how SME retailer Solvej Swings got its product into the home of one of the world's most influential consumers.
New Zealand SME retailer and wholesaler Solvej Swings may be based in the King Country and serve just 35 stockists, but its handcrafted children’s swings have caught the eye of one of the world’s most famous mothers: Kourtney Kardashian.
Kardashian included the product in her 2018 holiday gift guide, encouraging her social media following of 109 million to shop with Solvej.
Jenny Etherington owns and runs the business with husband Thomas Mortimer. She says she “can’t begin to comprehend” how her products ended up on the global celebrity’s radar, but the opportunity is very exciting.
“It’s kind of crazy to think when we are here in small rural Matiere sewing our swings that they may end up in amazing homes in LA, like Kourtney Kardashian’s,” Etherington says.
“The feedback to her post so far has been wonderful! It’s heart-warming to see how excited our customers and friends are for us. Reactions from locals in our town have been particularly cool – it turns out many never knew about us and they find it really exciting to know that something made in our small unassuming village is even known overseas or by a celebrity!”
Etherington shared some thoughts about operating rurally with NZ Retail.
Do you have a favourite regional retailer?
Gorgis in Taumarunui as their stock, customer knowledge and service is beyond excellent.
Can you share some thoughts on the state of regional retailers in New Zealand right now?
I do feel retail in the in the King Country, as it is in all small
towns, is difficult if you are not a necessities store. Stores selling other quality products must be big on personality and service
to maintain a loyal customer base as internet shopping and larger
centres are easy to access.
Taumarunui is working hard to make the streets look great and infuse character into any empty buildings. Some
small businesses are moving into Taumarunui where they can enjoy lower overheads, manufacture products and sell locally or ship them out. Tourism is growing here and optimism along with it.
Do you think being located outside a major city gives you any advantages as a retailer and wholesaler?
Being based outside a major city has given us the opportunity to have a business without the pressures of high overheads. The lifestyle is a definite plus, where we may be very busy but the environment is peaceful and non-stressful. We would not have survived starting our business in a major city.
Do you ever feel isolated at Matiere in comparison with businesses based in, say, Auckland? Or is it all much the same when you’re selling into a market like Los Angeles?
The isolation I feel is not being able to sit down with like-minded
businesses or people more successful than us and networking, sharing ideas and helping each other move forward and solve problems. It's not quite the same on the phone.
We are particularly isolated in that respect, with a half hour drive to the nearest small town and a four-hour drive to our closest major city, Auckland. However, shipping of materials in and out works wonderfully from this remote little spot.
Check out other articles in this series:
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 760 February/March 2019