Wednesday, 30 June 2021 15:30

Icehouse: The business of growing

Written by  Ben Whittacker-Cook
Eva Pemper of Eva Pemper Wines. Photo Jim Tannock Eva Pemper of Eva Pemper Wines. Photo Jim Tannock

With the effects of Covid-19 still impacting many New Zealand industries, it's imperative the wine sector taps into home-grown business knowledge and support.

So says Gavin Lennox, Group Chief Executive at The Icehouse, which was founded 20 years ago to lift the skills and aspirations of owners, entrepreneurs and people who run startup and small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), through capability development, learning and coaching.

“As New Zealand wine exports experience 25 consecutive years of export growth, it would be natural to assume everything in the vineyard is rosy,” says Gavin. “However, the events of 2020 have forced many wine-related businesses to take a new look at how they run their organisations.”

That’s certainly the case for Volcanic Hills Winery in Rotorua, which lost 60 to 70 percent of its visitors through Covid, due to the loss of international guests. “People don’t expect a winery in Rotorua, so that’s allowed us to morph into a well-respected tourism attraction that offers something completely different to a traditional winery experience,” explains Larissa Park, who owns the venture with husband Brent.

Covid forced the pair to pivot the business towards a more regional focus and diversify their existing range of products, she says. “We launched a second label aimed at functions and the ‘value’ end of the market and are investigating other opportunities to expand our range further.

The change was about being more appealing to the local market, and was supported by Jamie Brock, The Icehouse Regional Lead in Bay of Plenty, and one of its business coaches. Jamie has seen a recent rise in the number of wine-related clients looking for coaching advice and assistance, just like Volcanic Hills Winery. “Realising you need expert help is often the first step to taking a business to the next level,” he says

Larissa says she was “a little sceptical” because the couple had had mixed results with previous coaches. “As a familyowned business, it’s important to be careful, and finding a coach who understood both the wine industry and tourism was imperative for us.” But they asked a few “complicated questions” early on, “and he came up with what seemed the right answers”, says Brent. “He told us to trust the system and trust in what we do, which was a success pre-Covid, and that really resonated, along with ways to enhance our business going forward, which we are working on now.”

Gavin says The Icehouse programmes tackle many of the challenges owners face on a day-to-day basis, including leadership, resilience, financial planning, sales, and developing clear and practical growth strategies. “There are approximately 530,000 small businesses in New Zealand representing 97 percent of all firms. They account for 28 percent of employment and contribute over a quarter of New Zealand’s GDP, according to Statistics New Zealand,” he says. “Since 2001, The Icehouse has worked with more than 5,000 ambitious owner-managers and entrepreneurs and has winemakers and growers, sellers and viticulturists among its programme alumni.”

Larissa says The Icehouse helped the couple focus on a path “which will accomplish short-term success and longterm goals, as well as coming up with some low-cost ideas around marketing and sales which has really helped our online presence”.

Simon Stock, owner and founder of Vinoflow, a Blenheim-based crossflow filtration service, participated in The Icehouse’s Taking Your Business Forward (TYBF) programme in July 2020. “A big challenge for Vinoflow is how to grow the business and sales at scale, and meet the extra capacity we’ve got now,” says Simon. “We delivered projections on what we wanted to achieve year-on-year for the next four to five years and how to achieve that growth, which was great. We also tackled health and wellbeing, which is huge, because sometimes in business you put that to the back and don’t focus on it as much as you should. So, all in all, TYBF helped tackle some of the toughest challenges we’re facing.”

Eva Pemper - Icehouse Alumni

"I come from a winemaking family,” says Eva Pemper, of Eva Pemper Wines in Marlborough. “My parents, who are my inspiration, started making wine in a garage in Croatia in the 1980s. Making wine in a war zone is pretty hard and I definitely have their drive and ambition.” It’s an ambition she’s helped stoke through The Icehouse Knowing Your Numbers workshop, which enables participants to develop a better understanding of the important numbers in their business, and how better financial decision making can unlock growth.

Eva arrived in New Zealand in 2012 and soon fell in love with its wine, people and places. She says it was important to her to keep her parents’ legacy going here, including in her label, which is taken from the old family label. She has put a lot of hard work into introducing more products, “and it seems to be working”, she says. “The new wines are looking great and I have just expanded the range to include a Chardonnay to accompany the Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc that I already produce.”

The next expansion will likely include Pinot Noir and sparkling wine, which she is also “extremely passionate about making”, she says. “In the next two to three years I would like to see 70 percent of sales coming through exports.”

While in that whirlwind of activity, Eva knew she had to make time for capability development, and relished The Icehouse course. “It was amazing to be with all these other people. You learn so much from their experiences, and there were great people from very different industries all sharing the room,” she says. “As a sole business owner I knew I would have had to do this workshop or something similar at some point, because it’s a skill I just didn’t have and you can’t know everything.”

She plans to do more programmes and workshops with The Icehouse over the next few years. “Being a business owner you really need to get talking to people and to learn what you can, but you’re often so busy running your business that you think you don’t have the time.”

New Zealand Wine Scholarship

New Zealand Wine, in conjunction with Xero, is offering five $1,000 scholarships to its members for The Icehouse’s Taking Your Business Forward (TYBF) programmes that start in August and September 2021. Go to for more information and to apply for your New Zealand Wine scholarships. Each $1,000 goes towards the individual TYBF programme price of $3,495.00 + GST. All applications must meet The Icehouse’s eligibility criteria.

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