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Small company sails along on

By Christine Nikiel

Friday 4th July 2003

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The design brief was tough: a recreational toy able to be used by five- to 80-year-olds, something fast, lightweight, portable ­ and with export potential.

Paul Beckett's wind-driven Blokart does and has all that, and two years on from its June launch at the Auckland Boat Show, Blokarts are selling around the world.

From his warehouse factory in Mt Maunganui Mr Beckett exports the Blokart to Europe, the US and Australia.

The land yacht is entering the Japanese market through sales to holiday resorts on the island of Okinawa, where in September it will set up its first office in Asia.

And the name is getting around. The producers of US reality-TV show Survivor are interested in featuring Blokarts on their new show, Extreme Expeditions.

Snaring a spot on the show would be a great marketing coup, Blokart's international marketing manager Jason Goodhue says.

Survivor scored particularly high ratings and reality TV shows no signs of fading from popularity with viewers.

"It would be a great way of getting our name and product out there," Mr Goodhue says.

Getting the name out there is all important for a recreational activity which is still considered "fringe."

But the little company that employs just nine staff has sold 3500 units overseas and 1200 in New Zealand since 2000.

Sales have netted the company $3-4 million a year and the product has won several exporting awards in New Zealand and overseas.

Mr Beckett exports 60-70% of his product to Europe, the US and Asia, and is just starting in Australia.

The UK was the first market Mr Beckett entered because it was a close stepping stone into the rest of Europe.

But how to tackle such a varied market with such a boutique product?

"It helps that we're not a mass marketed product. But one of our philosophies is to be underground and then pop up and create critical mass in one area, rather than try to create an explosion in a whole country.

Mr Goodhue says the recreational sports market is all about branding.

You've got to create a brand image that sticks in people's minds. Blokarting is more family fun than, say, snowboarding or surfing and we aim for the "anyone can do it" line and really push the fact it's portable and easy to use.

Mr Beckett says, We're competing with people's discretionary spending and they need a good reason for parting with their money.

At just under $3000 in New Zealand and $2500 in the US, Blokarts are not exactly cheap toys but Mr Beckett counters that guys spend $5000 on a set of golf clubs that only they will use or $10,000 on a jetski or a mountain bike. A Blokart can be used by the whole family and it's fun to watch. The aim is to make Blokarting a mainstream activity rather than a fringe one.

Last year's land-yachting champs attracted a mere 100 people and almost no spectators, Mr Beckett says.

There was no wow factor. It's like we've brought ocean racing to a swimming pool and made it a spectator sport.

Blokarts have been clocked at 90kph, "quite quick for something that can fold down to the size of a set of golf clubs."

While the idea of land-based sailing or land yachting is not new, only Blokart uses its patented foot-steering system. Copies have been attempted but no other product uses the same system or is as easy to use, Mr Beckett claims.

Mr Beckett is no stranger to designing specialised recreational crafts. He designed and flew hangliders and microlites back when it was a crazy thing to do.

He is working with the NZQA to develop an alternative education programme around building the Blokarts. The many different industries involved in building and selling the product could get kids interested in learning and earning at a different level, he says.

He also has great plans to develop more 'crazy' crafts, such as an amphibious aircraft, and perhaps a Blokart for disabled people.

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