Trading globally, doing business locally.

Business and life lessons from Steve Poulter, Poulter Group


While you may not have heard of Steve Poulter or of Poulter Group, the business he's the owner and director of, you've likely seen and even bought some of his company's products. In 30 years, Poulter Group has grown to become a leading importer and exporter of fruit in New Zealand. In addition, they are the biggest shipper of ripened bananas in New Zealand, and they supply wine to supermarkets in New Zealand, the UK, US and Europe. 

In fact, they're New Zealand's biggest family-owned winemakers, with a large stable of brands including Sacred Hill, Gunn Estate, White Cliff, Tora Bay and Te Haupara among others.

Poulter Group prides itself on: 

  • Building solid business relationships by ensuring growers receive fair prices for their products.
  • Offering highly competitive prices to their customers, which keeps them affordable for Kiwis.
  • Adopting a 'yes' attitude to their customers' needs, finding ways to work around roadblocks and make quick decisions that benefit their customers.
  • Retaining employees by paying them properly and looking after them.
  • Being a member of Sustainable Winegrowers New Zealand.

These commitments are important for Steve, who is committed on sustainability and environmentally conscious while remaining a 100% New Zealand owned and family-operated business.

Changes in the industry

Having been in business for 30 years, Steve has seen many significant changes in the market, specifically regarding regulations.

'It's not as easy as it used to be to get ahead, due to regulations,' Steve says. 'I've been talking to councils, who are nice people, and I can see they've got the best intentions, but it is harder for my family now because we must be a little bit more conscious. I'll find a way to do it. That's part of the fun of doing business because you just work things out. You can't look backwards, you just got to keep moving forwards.'

Among the highlights of running Poulter Group have been having his family come into the business and having his employees stick with him and ultimately get to a place where they could buy their own homes. 'You work like hell to build a business and when you're young, you're just thinking about the money. As you get older, you think more about the family. I like having a business where everyone's winning,' Steve says.

Sustainable success

Poulter Group is highly committed to sustainability. It's a responsibility the company takes seriously because they're selling New Zealand products in the marketplace. Their philosophy is to make decisions based on the idea that they will be around in 100 years, and Steve says being New Zealand owned and operated is important to him. 

The company continues to work hard to prove they're sustainable and continues to find ways to be even more sustainable in their practices. 

Steve says that focus on sustainability is important to him and his customers, as well as his employees. 'They know that they're working for an organization that's thinking about how to do things better. There are things we can do more sustainably without sacrificing or suffering, so we should do them.'

Steve's advice for business owners

If you're looking to import or export, or just looking to start a business, Steve has some important advice:

  • Meet the people you'll be working with. ‘The only way to export or import is to go directly to the country and start to learn how they do business. See what problems they have. You learn so much so quickly by going to the country. We always visit our markets and spend time in the market to understand it. We visit the supermarkets to see what they're doing with our wine. We do a lot to make sure the customer gets what they expect.'
  • Control your supply chain. Once daughter Alexis Poulter earned her qualification as a customs broker, Poulter Group had less reliance on freight forwarders. They do their own customs clearances, which Steve says is quicker, less expensive, and enables Poulter Group to keep control over the supply chain. 'If you've got a flow of product and you need to look after it, you can't afford to be one day without product.' Finally, Kerina Poulter, Steve's wife, manages the relationship with Maersk, crucial for fresh produce where speed is crucial.
  • Be ready to change your mind. Poulter Group pursued China for a while, and one of Steve's sons lived in China for two years after graduating from high school, learning how to speak Mandarin, and studying the market. They realised that now wasn't the right time for them to pursue that market. ‘We’re dealing around the world now and China’s just one market. There are only so many hours in a day, so we want to spend our valuable hours on markets that work. When the time is right, we'll go back to China, but not now.'
  • Build relationships based on trust - this can lead to growth. Poulter Group works to nurture their customer relationships and has enjoyed the halo of growth when a European customer expanded to the US, Poulter Group was able to then supply in this region too.
  • Steve also believes it's important to be honest with yourself and with the people you're dealing with. At some point you'll be dealing with the same people over and over, so it’s far better to be upfront and transparent with what you need as a business to make a profit, while ensuring the customer is happy.

ASB support

Steve appreciates the amazing support and expertise from his ASB manager, Mike Padgett, who took the time to understand their business and connect them with specialists when needed. 'We have a shared purpose when it comes to sustainability,' says Steve, 'which goes beyond lending to enable us to have deeper conversations with our suppliers and ultimately customers too'. 

The Poulter Group took advantage of ASB's sustainability transition loan, aligned to the Group's wine business growth strategy. Mike and Steve also worked together identifying a range of experts, including the ASB consultancy and trade team who add value to the business too.

Final advice

Steve has two final pieces of advice. First, push as hard as you can to make something happen, don't always accept the norm, there is often a way around a particular problem. 'Give it your best shot, as fast as you can, it won't always work, but it's better than accepting the status quo. We built a business on just making it happen,’ says Steve. The second piece of advice is surround yourself with family. 'I wouldn't be where I am today without the support of my family, which also includes the family of our employees. They all work hard, and we look after them as much as we can. We have a number of Tongan employees who are outstanding, and when the Tongan quake hit last year, we rallied around to make sure they and their families in Tonga where ok.'

We congratulate Steve and his family on representing the Kiwi way of doing business internationally, building a legacy for the next generation and creating an environment for their employees to flourish.

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