The ROCKLABS® story of innovation
Part 2: The ROCKLABS Business Grows Up
Ian Devereux's 1973 Anzac Fellowship visit to Australia gave him the knowledge platform to build and further develop the tide of technological innovation which marked ROCKLABS progress into the 1980s. Throughout this time he maintained a separate manufacturing base with Gilco Products and in essence operated as a one-man business after he went his separate way from Jim Sprott in 1974, until 1980 when the next stage of his story of innovation began.
The period between 1981 and 1994 saw a focus on further development of the product range offered by ROCKLABS specialising in mechanised and automated sample preparation machines designed to reduce human intervention in processes therefore reducing related costs and improving sample quality.
All efforts were driven by Ian Devereux's view that,"you have to look 10 years ahead, in everything that you do." This farsighted approach and understanding of the need to invest constantly in product innovation and development, as well as engage your whole team in the process, drove his ability to bring new cutting-edge products to market, anticipate and meet his customers’ needs and enabled ROCKLABS to become a globally-recognised business moving from annual sales of $20K per annum in the late 1970s to a figure of $20M in sales some 30 years later.
"I knew there was always going to be a limited market in New Zealand for our product, so I maintained a consistent focus on driving for a presence in the global marketplace" he says, "In spite of the geographic remoteness of our customers we became known for excellent highly responsive service and availability of parts." In 1994 he took over Gilco Products bringing his development, production and sales functions under one ROCKLABS banner moving to new premises in Onehunga, Auckland.
This consolidation to one site, also enabled him to bring new creative design and production talent into his business, all of whom became as passionate as he was about driving for creativity and excellence in all areas of the business. He encouraged his expanding team to even greater efforts through a highly innovative approach to profit-sharing for the whole team, giving them all a strong stake in driving the success of the business. This people recognition and reward approach, when coupled with his focus on continuous research and development of products, created a business revenue growth of 30% year on year throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
Breaking into the neighbouring Australian market was relatively simple thanks to the knowledge Deveraux had gained through his Anzac Fellowship and the lack of local competition for his innovative product line. The Pacific rim countries followed: Asia, Canada, USA, South America and finally Africa and Europe, including Russia. The company now had its products employed by mines, commercial laboratories involved in mineral exploration, Universities, research labs, steel mills, etc., in more than 95 countries around the world - a far cry from the early days when Ian Devereux was a one-man-band with a single sample pulveriser in a customer-made wooden box to carry round to his customers to demonstrate what he could produce for them.
With the input of his newly expanded creative team, the range of product expanded on the original manual machines, adding rotating sample dividers and more recently, mechanised and automated 'smart' machines with a PLC on the front end. The business has also expanded beyond its Onehunga site, where the team now develops ideas and prototypes that are sent out to a working laboratory for 24 hour testing. Other companies around Auckland are contracted to make the parts while the assembly, testing and shipping is done from the Neilson Street site. Apart from electrical motors and tungsten carbide parts, most other parts are sourced from within New Zealand.
In 2008, ROCKLABS became part of the SCOTT® Group of companies, which further expanded its access to skilled development and production engineers, and widened the opportunities in the global marketplace for all parts of the Group to benefit from.
Ian Devereux's view nearly 45 years on from when he and Jim Sprott started ROCKLABS, of what works in building successful global businesses remains simple and consistent, "My experience tells me that for companies to grow, even in times of economic downturn, you have to keep investing in your products and your people; take them along for the ride with you and constantly look to the global marketplace. When you have a niche market in specialised manufacturing and supply, you have to realise that the New Zealand marketplace is just too small to sustain repeated selling of really innovative niche technology for the long-term, so when you start out you must go for the 'world-market' and always think ten years ahead in everything that you do, even if you are a 'global sole trader' like I was in 1974."