The New Zealand community of craft brewers were already sold on the home brewing equipment for beer, wine and spirits developed by North Shore-based imake. From the company’s small beginnings – it was basically CEO Peter Eastwood’s hobby - it quickly became the top speciality and online retailer of home brew materials in the country, and knew it had popular products on its hands.
“We were going well, there’s no doubt, but we were still looking at the process the wrong way around,” says Peter. We’d have a product we thought was great and get it out there – but sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. We worked on trial and error. We didn’t really know fully what the customer wanted.”
Peter had “an epiphany” about his business during a NZTE Design Study Tour to San Francisco. He realised that imake needed to think of the whole world as its market and design products, logistics, scalability and support around what would be needed. This realisation came by observing mad-keen American brewers using imake products in their own homes.
It’s really allowed us to get much closer to fulfilling our ambition to be a global player – with lots more potential to be realised yet.Peter Eastwood
“That trip absolutely changed my thinking, opening up my horizons from running a domestic business to the possibility of running a global business,” remembers Peter. “It was radical also in the way that it encouraged us to start looking at the products from the customer’s point of view – the way they interacted with them, what annoyed them – what they wanted more of.”
Saskia Thornton, imake Marketing Manager, says subsequent coaching by the Better by Design team gave it invaluable tools for gaining customer insight. “We knew the customer’s point of view was important, but the Better by Design coaching allowed us to develop a process whereby we bring customer insights into our new product development, which has made the process so much more efficient,” she says.
“We use these processes to this day, and it allows us to leap frog over a lot of the phases of products we would have previously had to develop first, before learning and getting it right.”
Putting design tools to work by getting close to the customer
The company applied its new design thinking tools when developing its brand-new product, the Grainfather. Every feature and customer interaction with the product was deliberated extensively to ensure the customer was delighted. During the visits to American home-brewers, imake, guided by their Better by Design coach Nick Bowmast, uncovered a vital customer insight - the customers’ desire to continually add features and personalise a system for their hobby.
Using this knowledge, Imake pushed the original Grainfather concept further, developing upgrades and additional products to compliment the Grainfather - allowing their customers to build their perfect system over time.
The Grainfather has been so popular that North American fans took part in a Kickstarter campaign to get it sold in that part of the world two years earlier than imake could afford to get it there. And Peter’s original projections for sales of the Grainfather have been blown out of the water.
“We thought we’d sell 2,000 in the first year, 3,000 the next and perhaps 5,000 a year thereafter,” he says. “We’ve sold 8,500 already, and we’ve only had it on the market for just over a year!”
Turning over $30 million and growing fast, the company is now looking to aggressively move into the European and UK markets, with China and South America also firmly on the radar.
“The other great thing Better by Design did for us was give us a great understanding of scaling our business up, so we’ve been able to move into offshore markets at the right time, with the right amount of product, and having done our homework,” says Peter. “It’s really allowed us to get much closer to fulfilling our ambition to be a global player – with lots more potential to be realised yet.”
More about imake:
imake markets DIY homebrewing and speciality food kits that enable everyday people to make their own cost effective, fresh and delicious food and beverages in their own home.