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Steeling up to succeed

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Monday, 05 September 2011 14:17



A band of engineers, not known for pushing their barrows, have come up trumps in a business competition.

Howick Ltd won the New Zealand Steel excellence in exporting award at this month’s Westpac Auckland South Business Awards.

It was the first time the company had entered and “we thought we had a good shot at it,” says general manager Wayne Rowe.

“As engineers, we haven’t looked for publicity.

“We build good stuff but have stood back and not pushed our own barrow. But we learned a lot [from entering the awards].”

The company started life as Howick Engineering. It was bought by Bruce and Alan Coubray 33 years ago and six years ago changed the name to Howick Ltd.

It remains located in the village’s industrial valley, Vincent Street.

However, the multi-million dollar company’s reputation for making automated roll form machines for the construction industry is known around the world.

The company started exporting about 20 years ago.

It boasts an impressive list of overseas distributors in Australia, Bulgaria, India, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa and the US. It has an office in the UK and two salesmen work out of the Howick office.

“Initially we did general engineering, a bit of everything,” says Mr Rowe, who joined the company 25 years ago from Howick College as an apprentice.

“We did a lot of innovation and product development with companies such as Fisher & Paykel. We never made the same machine twice until about 15 years ago.”

At that point its business building automated roll forming machines for light gauge steel components took off. The machines are used by the construction industry for “a garden shed or an 11-storey building – it depends country to country how they are used”.

In New Zealand they are mainly used for residential housing construction, but 80 per cent of business is export trade.

“We started to export about 20 years ago as we had overseas customers coming to us. New Zealand still has the best technology in the world for this.

“We remain a market leader in lightweight steel construction.”

Howick Ltd buys thin, light gauge steel in coils from New Zealand Steel at Glenbrook – “it can be extraordinarily accurate, it’s lightweight and strong”.

The machines can make a variety of products, such as steel floor joists, roof and wall framings.

“The market has been up and down, and it’s tough at the moment in construction worldwide,” Mr Rowe says. 

“But demand is there. A lot of countries have no natural resources, such as timber, sand for cement, so steel is the way to go.

“It’s easy to ship and to store, and accurate to use.”

Since Howick Engineering was established on the Vincent Street site, it has expanded and employs 20 staff, all tradesmen with engineering backgrounds.

“We intend to stay in Howick,” says Mr Rowe.

“We employ local people and most live pretty close. A lot have been here for more than 10 years.

“We have a good company culture, and there are more advantages in being here with the traffic and cost of fuel.

“Every year we are growing our customer base and distribution network. It’s hard to go out into new markets ourselves.

“Government funding, such as market development grants, have long gone, so we do a lot of the marketing ourselves and have people coming to us.”

Courtesy Howick and Pakuranga Times

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