Coastlines International

It must be the only global business to have originated in Ahipara. Sean Kennedy still calls the Far North village “home” but he has moved the headquarters of Coastlines International to Auckland – 330km closer to the airport when he needs to fly to Hong Kong, Bangladesh or Bordeaux.

Coastlines is a specialist in design, development, sourcing and supply of gear for surfing and other board sports, and of beach apparel. Most of its products are sold under the brands of major retailer customers around the world. The company has around 40 such customers including big names like Decathlon and Carrefour, French-owned international retail chains, Sonae of Portugal, Sports Direct in the UK and Germany’s Jagermeister. In New Zealand Coastlines has several major customers. Products range from surf boards and scooters, to wetsuits and tee shirts, to backpacks and beach balls. Some are used as heavily branded promotional items.

Since being launched in 2002, Coastlines has seen annual sales growth of 30-50%, says Sean Kennedy, cofounder and chief executive of the company. That is growth based on Coastlines’ big idea to combine “global reach” in the sourcing and trading of products, with “local performance” in the form of strong account management and focus on each customers’ requirements.

Sean says Coastlines works hard to build and maintain trust with its customers – and trust in this case stands for “think”, “relate”, “understand”, “solutions”, and “take action”. Most customers have been acquired by word of mouth. “We effectively become an extension of their business, working in their back office … and we have happy suppliers who tend to sit on our side of the table so we can work together on solving problems.”

It is a highly complex business, at any time working to supply 100s of product lines manufactured by many of its 200 regular suppliers, most of whom are located in China or Bangladesh. Coastlines has offices in Hong Kong and Bangladesh (where Sean is a director of a factory), and also in England, France and Spain. The latter are close to major customers’ headquarters. Packaging and logistics are an integral part of Coastlines’ service offering – and the company has been a member of GS1 Hong Kong since its earliest days. Now it has also joined GS1 New Zealand to support all that sales growth and a consolidation of administrative activities in Auckland.

The company’s reach and performance today are a far cry from Sean’s first Ahipara based ventures, designing and sourcing surfboards and clothing with surfer mates under the brand of “Town and Country”. Sean and his wife, Lianne Kennedy, went on from those first products to create the Aquapulse chain of surf shops.

That business developed into Coastlines which went global with investment from a group of individuals in Northland and Hong Kong. Sean remains the largest single shareholder in Coastlines – and he still draws inspiration and knowledge for products from treasured time spent on the beach at Ahipara’s nearby Shipwreck Bay.