Why good partnerships end up with greater success
My name is Nigel Bamford, I am the CEO and co-founder of the ESCEA fireplace company, based in Dunedin New Zealand. We have grown this company over the past 20 years from a small start-up to one of the largest companies in the fireplace business from our corner of the world.
We design, manufacture and distribute a range of gas, wood and electric fireplaces under several brands. Our core markets are New Zealand and Australia, and we sell directly to about 150 dealers across those two countries. We also have an office in North America and supply USA specific models there. A typical ESCEA dealer is an independently owned specialist fireplace store who has an attractive showroom and is able to give a full installed fireplace solution to their customers.
What makes a good partnership for you?
Longevity and reliability. And those two things are connected because without reliability there is unlikely to be longevity in the relationship.
Almost all of the fireplace dealers we signed up in 2005 when we started this business are still our dealers today. They have stuck with us and we have stuck with them because both parties provide a reliable service to the other. It is quite common now for us to be dealing with the second generation of a family who now run a retail store where we had started trading with their parents.
We have similar longevity in a lot of our supplier partnerships. The first models we made when we started this business had SCHOTT glass in them and SCHOTT remains a very important supplier to our company today.
What is important for ESCEA? What differentiates ESCEA from other fireplace manufacturers?
Our company’s success has been built on the fact we have always made products that are both beautiful and efficient. A lot of our competitors make fireplaces that are either attractive but quite wasteful of energy or are highly energy efficient, but their appearance is cluttered and would look wrong in a well finished home. Customers choose ESCEA to get the best of both worlds, not only do our products look great they also work as extremely good heaters whilst using the minimum amount of fuel. That is a key requirement of our customers, because full house central heating is present in far fewer New Zealand and Australian homes as you would see in North America or Europe.
What challenges is ESCEA facing?
Our business has grown significantly over the past 10 years so we have suffered from all the normal challenges you would see with growth. We have found ourselves running short of factory space, machine time and everything else a business needs to grow. Trying to have the right capacity available each year becomes even more complicated now that we are balancing the forever changing consumer trends between wood, gas and electric fireplace annual sales volumes.
Can you tell us about ESCEA's overall business strategy and how it relates to our partnership?
Our company makes dozens of different fireplaces models and sizes, and our models tend to sit at the higher end of market in terms of price versus our competitors. We also use screen printing on a lot of our glass pieces so we can not and do not use local glass cutting from full sheets. We also constantly adjust our build schedule based on actual sales. That has meant we need to have stocks of a large range of precut and finished glass panels to meet our constantly changing production plan and so we need our component suppliers like SCHOTT to be very flexible to deliver us what we need when we need it.
What initially attracted you to our company as a supplier, and what have been the main factors that have kept you working with us?
SCHOTT have always had a very high market share in the NZ ceramic glass industry and they have always had sales offices within Australasia. That made them the logical choice when we started the business. We have kept working with SCHOTT over the years because their service and quality levels has kept them highly competitive in this market.
How does / could SCHOTT ROBAX® help with solving these challenges?
We have found that when technical problems or constraints arise within the components we purchase from suppliers, there are always solutions to overcome those, but first our engineers need to deeply understand the way things are made for us. We also need to be able to see things through our suppliers’ eyes. There have been numerous examples over the last decade where we have engaged with the SCHOTT technical team, and they have explained every step of the glass making process to us. We have also visited their factory to see ROBAX® being made. It is only with that understanding that collectively our team and SCHOTT people have been able to find solutions to any new glass requirement we have that is over and above business as usual.
In your opinion, what sets SCHOTT apart from other suppliers you have worked with in the past?
Recently the price of Lithium went up significantly, we appreciated SCHOTT sending a senior person to visit us and that person took the time to explain exactly how the cost of lithium affects the production costs of making ceramic glass. That knowledge made it a lot easier for us to understand what was happening with glass pricing over the past few years. Not all suppliers take the time to educate their customers in that way.
How has SCHOTT adapted to changes in your business, and how have we provided value to ESCEA?
Our needs as a customer are always changing. We need new panel sizes, new printing options, new order quantities. SCHOTT does a pretty good job reacting to those changes considering it would be pretty hard to find another customer on this planet that is as far away from the main glass factory as ESCEA are.
All photos: ESCEA Ltd.
Product Manager SCHOTT ROBAX®