World class boat builders back from the brink

01 September 2017

A Matangi boat building company which stepped in when the previous company foundered has turned the business around in dramatic fashion.

In August, Laszlo Boats NZ sent a container of 10 rowing skiffs to Australia, the biggest known one-off shipment of boats overseas. The shipment out of Laszlo Boats NZ's headquarters at the historical Matangi Factory site was worth well over $100,000 and is an incredible turnaround for a company that under the name of KIRS was purchased from liquidators two years ago.

KIRS was New Zealand's premier – and longest running – rowing company building top class boats from 1983 through to 2015. When the company collapsed, its former chief boat builder Laszlo (Lez) Kertesz and his partner Vera Bucsu purchased the assets, rehired the staff and established Laszlo Boats NZ.

“It has been a privilege to pick up these national and international winning moulds and take them forward,” says Lez.

“We consider these multiple gold medal winning hulls and shapes to be the foundation of our business, a starting point upon which we intend to improve the quality of our boats constantly.”

No wonder the pair describe Laszlo Boats NZ as New Zealand's newest and oldest boat building company.

Laszlo Boats NZ has a powerful team including 1972 Olympic Champion eights rower, top coach and expert rigger Gary Robertson and former double Olympic champion Eric Murray who has taken on the role of sales director. The company is also part of the High Performance Sport New Zealand initiative, the Athlete Friendly Network. It currently has two to three high performance athletes working on a casual basis.

Lez was building flatwater kayaks in Hungary and Vera was an artist when they made the decision to move to New Zealand in 2006.

“My passion was fine wines and I went to a wine tasting in Budapest,” says Vera.

“I tried a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and I went home from that wine tasting and told Lez we were moving to New Zealand. The next day we bought tickets and we moved here. The big dream was to come to New Zealand to find our passion. We wanted to rediscover ourselves and find our hearts.”

Lez was a rower and landing a job at KIRS was a dream job.

Vera says when she and Lez took over and created the new company after KIRS' collapse, they had to work hard to regain customers' trust.

“Unfortunately quite a few schools and clubs lost their deposits in the liquidation. We were determined to honour those deposits and build the boats. It was a big commitment but it was the right thing to do,” she says.

The company's big break came when it landed the role as official boat supplier for the World Masters Games rowing event held at Lake Karapiro earlier this year. At Masters Games it is the host nation's responsibility to provide boats.

Laszlo Boats NZ struck a deal with schools and clubs all over the country to get a discount on new boats provided they could be used for a week at the Games. In all, Laszlo Boats NZ built 53 boats for the event.
“It was a win-win because all the boats were insured and the athletes didn't need the boats after the competition. So customers could get a really high product for a good price.”

“And all up it was a very successful event,” says Vera.

“The way New Zealand hosted it was a big tick for New Zealand. It was great to be a part of that alongside Rowing New Zealand,” she says.

Vera says the new company's first year in operation was all about reassuring existing and past customers.

The Australian deal came about through Vera contacting a past customer, St Joseph College in Sydney, Australia. Gary Robertson used to coach in Sydney so with Lez played a part in clinching the deal. “They placed an order last year and they were blown away so much that they placed an order for three more boats.”

Another Sydney school, St Ignatius' College Riverview followed suit and took two boats and other orders from Brisbane and Tasmania took the order up to 10 boats.

Sending boats in a container can be risky because of their fragility so Vera asked the shipping company to drop a container off. The team packed the container from their yard.

“I am told that not even KIRS ever sent such a big shipment to Australia. I didn't even realise that it was such a big deal until afterwards,” says Vera.

A massive boost for Laszlo Boats NZ has been landing the services of retired Olympian Eric Murray as sales director to build relationships throughout New Zealand and overseas. Eric who also worked for KIRS for a time first met Lez in 2006. While Eric's rowing career took off the relationship continued and Eric joined Laszlo Boats NZ in February.

“He has a great understanding of boat building. He's very talented in many areas; he ticks all the boxes. I can't even imagine anyone else who gets close to what he does,” says Vera.

“Every time I think of the Laszlo Boats NZ brand I picture Eric. We want the brand to be like him. He is extremely successful, he has great charisma, but he is also down to earth and has a great sense of humour and is approachable.”

Vera uses her artistic flair on the company's website which is filled with quirky humour including a photo of Eric in a James Bond pose.

“We're thrilled to welcome our new Double-Olympic Gold special agent to our team,” says the website bio on Eric.

“Laszlo HQ is sending him on a mission to lead our sales department and mercilessly eliminate any obstacles our customers may have with their fleets. As part of the unbeaten The Kiwi Pair (with Hamish Bond) he aligns perfectly with our work ethic; like us he doesn't stop when he's tired. He stops when he's done. His name is Eric. Eric Murray. He likes his coffee stirred. Not shaken.”

Laszlo Boats NZ last year won the Excellence in New and Emerging Business category at the Waipa Networks Business Awards and business is flowing in. A whiteboard in the office has a long list of orders from schools and clubs. Historically during the winter the business has spent more time on repairs and refurbishments but this off season there have been many new boat orders. Vera is determined to continue to get Laszlo Boats NZ's message out nationally and internationally.

“We want the brand to scream New Zealand, we want the brand to be the iconic brand and we want to stand for everything New Zealand represents including ingenuity and quality.”

- Waikato Business News

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