Paula Petrie ran a marathon in Antarctica earlier this year, so how hard could it be to shift Merino Kids’ Australasian warehousing and distribution operations from Auckland to Greytown? With her dynamic local team behind her, she says everything’s possible. She told Anne Taylor all about it over a herbal tea.
Paula is still a little breathless – both from dashing round her base at The Hub in central Greytown, and from tracking late night sales during a recent promotion in Australia, using the ‘Biggest On-line Shopping Night’ platform.
“We were all up late last night watching the stats, my team were so excited, we were texting each other in the wee small hours as we watched the sales climbing up and up,” she says.
Scottish-born Paula may have a business diploma from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh under her belt, but she’s still amazed at the power of social media. It’s one of the factors that led to Merino Kids becoming a global brand.
Plus the company has just scooped three Golds in Australasia’s biannual OHBaby! Awards, which recognize the finest products in the pregnancy and parenting markets as voted for by parents.
In fact, Paula was there at the start of the business in the early 2000s, as founder and designer New Zealander Amie Nilsson is a good friend. “We were talking about sleeping bags for our children over a bottle of wine one night,” says Paula, whose daughters are now aged 10, 11 and 13.
“I’d been putting my Georgia to sleep in a hand-me-down pod that had polyester fill. Amie said ‘that’s wrong, it should be made of a natural product like merino wool’, and so Amie set about designing the Go Go Bag,” says Paula.
This became the company’s flagship first product. It’s now the world’s top selling Merino sleep bag, gaining many other awards and accolades along the way.
Research has shown that babies can’t regulate their own temperature until they are around nine months old, leaving many unsettled at night. The beauty of pure natural merino wool is that it breathes, maintains a comfortable temperature and absorbs moisture. The signature Go Go Bag and Cocooi Wrap are ideal for cosy swaddling but have plenty of ‘give’ so they don’t constrict young bones and joints. Added to this, the merino used is organic and has not been treated with chemicals, so it’s suitable for babies with sensitive skin.
Paula says one of the many advantages of moving aspects of the business to Greytown is the sense of teamwork with her staff: “We’re on the same page. We are all family-orientated and interested in getting that balance between work and lifestyle; even our kiddos get involved in our events and pop up sales, which is a great lesson in hard work for them!”
Paula, herself from a fourth generation farming background in Scotland, dreamt about living the NZ farming life when she met and fell for Tundy, a New Zealander who was working in Scotland. The couple came here after getting married in Scotland in 2000 and Tundy took over the family farm, running sheep, cattle and deer at Bideford, Masterton: “We both get sheep and we love wool so it’s wonderful to be investing in something of the land with Merino Kids,” she says.
The couple formed a trading company and now owns the license to distribute the brand throughout Australasia, fulfilling orders from the Merino Kids online webstore and to retail stockists’ throughout the licensed territory.
Paula discovered the Greytown space during her 10-year involvement with the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust. “We were looking for a venue for a fundraiser for CatWalk centered around the Rugby World Cup and our Antarctica marathon adventure. [Developer] Steve Pilbrow let us use the building. I thought why can’t we have Merino Kids here?”
It’s all about acting when doors open, says Paula. “Opportunity is the zest of life…. I love a challenge that helps other people,” she says.
She says her drive stems from a family tragedy that happened when she was three years old: “My mother and grandmother were killed in a car accident so I’ve grown up with the reality that today could be your last; we just don’t know what’s round the corner so we absolutely must make the most of today.”
Here, she has much in common with her business colleague: “Amie feels that every child deserves the best start.” To this end, Merino Kids Australasia is building strong links with Wellington charity Little Sprouts to help provide a safe and natural sleep solution for new babies born into struggling families here in New Zealand.
When she’s not working, Paula loves sharing the simple country life with her family; time out at Riversdale Beach and walking the hills of their farm. And there are no regrets about the move to Greytown. In fact, she’s planning to run more events, build the team and bring other base operational functions here.
“Look at this location, look at this fabulous region and what it has to offer….why wouldn’t you…..I love it!”