Renaissance, which is likely to be renamed YooBee, plans to develop a range of computer devices, including its own-branded tablet computers that could compete with Apple's iPad, which it will sell through a new chain of concept stores. The NZX-listed company has engaged leading brand specialist Brian Richards, whose clients include Icebreaker and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, to make over its image. Chief executive Richard Webb says it will test the YooBee brand with its new offerings before considering a name change for Renaissance in 10 to 12 months.
"The goal is to have a single brand and not spread our limited marketing resources."
Mr Webb visited Wellington and Dunedin last week to scout for retail premises. He says there is a "clear mandate for change" after investors watched a "pretty significant" slide in Renaissance's share price over the past five years, mitigated somewhat by an uptick in the past week.
The company's core business has been distributing imported computer equipment, including Apple computers and devices, but Mr Webb says all distribution models are being challenged as the big global brands find ways to take out middlemen.
Renaissance is responding by transforming into a business that creates its own intellectual property, owns its client relationships and brand and "ultimately exports products from New Zealand", he says.
"We do not think there is a long term future in being a pure distribution company. 'Pure distribution' is code for being a freight-forwarder some day and our strength is in marketing and not particularly in logistics – although I think we are good at it."
Renaissance has made personal computers since its 2000 buy-out of Christchurch assembler Insite Technologies. But Mr Webb says it believes the market for internet-connected devices is fragmenting.
"Everything from a light switch to a thermostat – anything you would want to control from afar from a phone – will have an internet protocol (IP) address in it and we think the future will be in innovative, new IP-addressable appliances."
The company could prototype devices at its facility in Onehunga in Auckland and test demand through its retail stores, before contracting out manufacturing overseas, he says.
"We have a great place to test and trial prototypes. We are going to move to branding a whole range of devices and peripherals.
"Most companies are coming into the post-industrial era saddled with huge infrastructure in manufacturing. The world is awash with excess manufacturing capacity and this is the time to focus on the consumer, who is consuming less, and to take advantage of all of this excess manufacturing capacity."
Mr Webb says Renaissance's YooBee retail outlets – in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin – will sell its own-branded devices alongside products from Apple and others that it distributes, but will not look like traditional consumer electronics shops designed simply to sell hardware. "Our promise is to facilitate and enable creativity. We will have communities of photographers and various other creative pursuits involved in our business which will engage online and in real-time and `community nights' in our retail outlets – they have got to be set up to engage people."
The company's ownership of Natcoll, which provides tertiary courses in digital design, means it can "take people along that entire curve in a one-stop-shop", he says.
Renaissance owns 11 stores, all of which may be re-branded if the YooBee concept proves successful, and expects to have a total of 18 outlets in the next three years. It employs 400 staff and is valued on the NZX at $16.5 million.
Mr Webb – an expat American – says it plans to export the retail concept overseas. "We think we have a unique idea that we haven't seen anywhere in Europe and North America." Renaissance also plans to expand its 30-strong software development team.
Mr Webb says two "major publishers" in the United States asked Renaissance to develop applications for them on the back of its success with an iPad application aimed at teenage girls, My Secret Diary, and it is considering opening a sales office in New York. "We are clearly competitively priced." Businessday.co.nz
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