MATT AND ALICE WHITAKER - THE SMALL BUSINESS SUCCESS STORY
Walk into the Wide Open headquarters in Rotorua and you would be forgiven for thinking you’re visiting a high-tech office environment on the US West Coast. The office space is fresh and modern, the walls are decked with high performance bike parts and action photography, and the staff are young and animated.
This is the home of one of Rotorua’s quietly up and coming, small business success stories. It is run by Matt and Alice Whitaker, a dynamic husband and wife team who have for the last 9 years made Rotorua their home. They moved here with a fledgling business in tow, in search of the dream that was becoming elusive in Wellington – a piece of land and an outdoor lifestyle. They now live with their children on two acres of land in a residential park just outside Rotorua.
Wide Open is a bike component wholesaler providing mid to high end products for both road and especially mountain biking. Their market is bike retailers all over the country who stock the brands they import, including bike parts and accessories like helmets and clothing. Customers are looked after by sales staff operating out of Rotorua. As Matt says, “It’s great having the airport and plenty of flights in and out to access Wellington and the South Island. Rotorua’s central location makes it ideal too for sales trips round the North Island.” As well as operating a national distribution hub, they also have a local workshop where they custom-build wheels and do suspension servicing.
Matt has been mountain biking since he was 13 and it was this passion that eventually led to five seasons in California working as a bike mechanic for a professional downhill team. Almost on a whim, he started a business with another Kiwi who was racing in the States, importing handlebar grips into New Zealand. The business started very much part-time, and for four years Matt also worked on building sites for four days each week, with a hammer in one hand and a phone in the other. It was the sign up of a couple of big brands that prompted Matt, and within a year Alice, to enter into running the business full-time.
The couple are still fully involved with the business, but now employ four other staff members. A significant part of their work is relationship building, with Matt attending several international trade shows and distributors’ meetings each year. The company has also just finished exhibiting at the world famous Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival held in Rotorua in March, which included hosting a number of international guests from brand companies. “The people we brought over loved it all, including Rotorua. They all went out riding in the forest every morning and were buzzing with what was on offer.” says Alice.
The Whitakers enjoy going out mountain biking as a family, but they also make time in their busy working lives to take advantage of Rotorua’s convenient location to Mount Maunganui and the Coromandel, and indulge Matt’s new passion, surfing. With beaches close by, 18 lakes on tap and skiing just a couple of hours down the road, Rotorua really is a place for outdoor entertainment.
When asked what little gems they would recommend in Rotorua, Matt is quick to answer, “The Ciabatta Bakery on White Street.” Alice laughs. “We tend to do the tourist stuff when we have visitors, but we still regularly use the Gondola, the Luge and visit Waikite Valley Thermal Pools with the children. We enjoy Eat Streat too. If you have visitors, they are just blown away by the variety of experiences and the laid back nature of this place.”
What does the future hold for this enterprising family? “Since we moved to Rotorua, there’s been a lot of growth in the mountain biking industry, and it has been very beneficial to have built up our business here. It’s just amazing how populated the forest is and if you pull up at the mountain biking car park, it is full of families and people who are relatively new to the sport. Events like Crankworx also provide great opportunities for us and for the City”.
Would the Whitaker’s recommend Rotorua as a place for their friends to live? “We don’t have to sell the benefits of Rotorua as many of our friends from out-of-town love visiting. They love the riding, the culture, there are nice places to eat, plenty of things to do. They can see there have been some really positive changes in Rotorua and the place is definitely moving forward.”