SUNBIZ

Growth Of Warwick And Cate Pleass And Their Pleass Global Plans

Pleass Global Ltd’s VaiWai bottled water brand is winning rave reviews for its taste, appearance and sustainable production. Managing Director Warwick Pleass explains that a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility due
07 Mar 2016 16:08
Growth Of Warwick And Cate Pleass And Their Pleass Global Plans
Warwick Pleass, Managing Director of Pleass Global Ltd

Pleass Global Ltd’s VaiWai bottled water brand is winning rave reviews for its taste, appearance and sustainable production. Managing Director Warwick Pleass explains that a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility due to open this year will provide the company with the springboard to ramp up its exports to the next level.

Excerpts from an extensive interview with Mr Pleass by World folio, a global provider of market intelligence for decision makers.

 

Pleass Global Ltd is investing in a sustainably designed warehouse and water bottling facility in Namosi. How do you assess the investment climate in Fiji at present for both local and international investors?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer on a macro scale but we’re certainly pleased that we invested in Fiji. We came 20 years ago and we have enjoyed our time here both personally and professionally.

 

We have seen capital expenditure, particularly on roads, increase significantly recently, whilst there has been a partial privatization of the ports and the airports are expected to follow. How has your business been impacted by the government’s focus on critical infrastructure?

There is no doubt that the roads have improved. They still have a long way to go but we certainly welcome the ongoing investment in the roads. However, it’s ultimately our own investments that really make the difference for us, not the government’s investments. We’re pleased with the investments we are making and we believe we are giving ourselves a good springboard for growth.

 

Australia is obviously the closest big export market to Fiji, but the US has emerged as the biggest export market for Fijian goods in recent years, mainly on the back of Fiji Water. How do you assess the potential for your company and for other manufacturers to penetrate the US market?

It’s a great feeling to sell one’s product in a big tier 1 country like the US, but there are bigger water markets than that both in volume and per capita. Our research has focused us on those markets, and so while the US is on our radar, we have lots of countries on our to-do list and the US is not near the top. We do have a small distributor in California that is doing his own brand of water that we contract pack for him. We’re talking to a number of other parties in the US about distribution. A lot of people want to get their hands on our VaiWai Natural Artesian Water brand, because it’s the best looking bottle of water you can get and it has great environmental credentials. We’re hiding our cards at this stage and talking to a number of parties in a lot of different countries. When we open our new production facility this year we will have the capacity to offer pricing that is attractive enough to enable us to penetrate some of these markets, including the US. We are just waiting for the new factory to come online before we can really ramp up our marketing.

 

Sustainability is clearly a very important component of your business model. How is this reflected in your new production facility that will open soon?

The measure of a sustainable building in the US is LEED certification and to my knowledge there’s only one building in Fiji certified by LEED and that’s the US Embassy. We hope to become the second. We have put a lot of work into the design and engineering of the building to make it sustainable. We are using local materials and we will use the prevailing winds in local climatic conditions to minimize electricity. We will also be reclaiming energy from the production machinery.There are other international certifications we could measure our building against, but it’s LEED we really want because most of our target countries would like to see a US certification rather than an Australian one or a European one.

 

I read that you forego automation as much as possible to ensure that you sustain the livelihoods of the people you have working here. Why did you decide to go down this route and do you think you can sustain this model as you increase production and exports?

There are certain things for which we need to automate from a quality perspective. However, our management team is very focused on finding the right balance and doing as much as possible by hand to keep our people employed. Fiji’s labor rates are relatively low so that’s not a difficult decision to make. Ultimately our decisions have to be based on quality but we do like to say that our product is made by hand, which is a really nice thing say in this day and age of robots doing everything.

 

Your LinkedIn profile summary is very short: “Build wealth and strategically use it to help the less fortunate.” Can I finish by asking you expand on this motto and your personal motivations for success?

Even at an early age it struck me that life was short and if you’re blessed enough to make some money and have a successful business, then it’s better to use that for good. We have a strong ethos running through the business about helping the needy. My wife Cate and I have been active in Rotary International programs for years because that’s a good vehicle to help the less fortunate. I have also been very active in leading water and sanitation (WASH) projects in Fiji through a local foundation.

 

As I said, life is too short so there’s no harm in using your money for positive purposes whilst you can.

 

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