An eager fly fisher shut in New Zealand has founded a survival kit firm amid what he calls the great exploring your own backyard boom.
Matt Butler, who prior to Covid-19 would typically spend half the year overseas, jumped on the opportunity to start an outdoors equipment business when the borders shut following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
His business, Kea Outdoors, launched in June with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, raising over $300,000 from 1400 backers, after six months under development. The 31-year-old leaned into the turmoil of Covid to start the business.
His survival kit, designed for novice hunters, fishers, campers and boaties, contains a first aid kit, shelter, tool kit, compass, water filter straw and fire lighting gear, and sells for $280. So far he has sold around 2000 units.
Prior to starting the Wanaka-based firm, Butler spent the past six years working as a fly fishing guide in Queenstown for luxury lodges. He previously owned businesses in his early twenties, including supermarket DVD hire company Flixbox, which he sold out of in 2015.
Butler did fly fishing guiding mostly for the lifestyle, working about 100 days of the year, and travelling to various countries to do his own fishing adventures during the offseason. Typically he would leave New Zealand in May and return around September.
When the borders shut in 2020 and his fishing trip to Mexico and Cuba was canned, and with savings still in the bank, the then almost 30-year-old Butler, with no back-up plan, decided to start a new venture.
“I’d been considering transitioning [to starting a business] for a while but it was quite hard to do because the lifestyle was a bit of a draw, but Covid forced me to rethink and I looked at the problems around me and the preparedness and survival kit-thing was something that always annoyed me when I was guiding. There was never anything in the market that was comprehensive, so I used my experience with guiding to put it all together,” he said.
“It was the guiding that brought [the idea] to me, and Covid forced me into it.”
His survival kit ended up becoming the second most-funded design project in New Zealand Kickstarter history. Since then he has completed his first production run, shipped to all the backers and has started selling to retailers, including about 200 kits so far to Warehouse Group-owned Torpedo7.
The direct-to-consumer firm has global aspirations and hopes to soon supply retailers in Australia, Canada and America too. America is its target market, given its size and the growth potential, alongside New Zealand and Australia, Butler said.
The outdoors market is expected to experience strong growth over the next decade, and expand between 6 and 9 per cent in the next five years alone, with Covid cited as having encouraged more people to explore their own backyards and take up new hobbies amid closed borders.
“Covid really gave [the outdoors market] a boost. People couldn’t travel overseas anymore so it made them look inwards – there’s been massive growth. You see the Milford track, for example, it’s been the busiest it’s ever been; even without tourists in the country.”
Butler is looking into investment options as Kea Outdoors looks to expand in the next six months. He is hoping to bring on a private investor or some debt to raise a fresh $300,000-$500,000 to be able to triple its next production run in order to service retail orders. The firm is gearing up to launch an undisclosed new product in the next three to four months, ready for the start of the American summer in June.
Kea Outdoors missed out on being able to sell during the busy Christmas period by a few weeks due to shipping delays. As Butler puts it: “You couldn’t start a products company in a worse time in history. It couldn’t be harder with the shipping delays and the cost of shipping; it’s probably 10 times what it should be – but it can only get easier from here.”
Butler founded DVD rental machine firm Flixbox in 2011, he had seen the concept in America when he was 19 and brought the concept to New Zealand through New World and Countdown stores at the time when DVD rental stores first began to struggle. In the end, he sold himself out of the firm and the business has since faded away following the rise of Netflix. The business launched back when Netflix was a small mail-order service, in the days of mail-out DVD and video game rental service Fatso.
Butler learnt some hard lessons with Flixbox, such as the consequences of selling too much equity too soon, something he is keen to avoid with Kea Outdoors. He said the venture “had the potential to be a 10-year business” and a market leader within its category, globally. It faces competition from the likes of retail giants Patagonia and The North Face, but Butler said he was trying to make a mark in the space with unique initial products and build out its range from there, avoiding the overcrowded apparel segment.
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