Tracey Karam is the Production Manager at Safety Genius and a Leadership Development Programme alumni.
This Kiwi Business Story is based on a podcast from 9 November 2023, and all figures quoted are from that time. You can enjoy the complete podcast here.
What does Safety Genius do and what do you offer as a business?
We manufacture safety signage, which we supply to resellers, so we're a B2B, mostly – all the regular danger construction signs or the hazard warning type signage you see pretty much everywhere these days.
But because we manufacture everything [on site], we have full signwriting capabilities. So, we do vehicle signwriting for the likes of Fulton Hogan, trucking companies, and similar clients. Our core business is the safety signage [and] there’s other related products, like electrical lockout signs, barrier gates that stop people walking into workshops and so on.
And it’s a family business?
The business I was in had signs that things weren't going very well. My brother Darwin had decided he’d done his time in the UK and that he was coming back to New Zealand. He had some savings in his pocket and decided his financial background and my experience and knowledge needed to come together.
So, we started out in my parents’ garage in a cupboard-sized room. We did tiny little thumb-sized stickers, just turning over $7000 or $8,000 a year, as an after-work-hobby, and that's when Darwin said, ‘Let's do it. Why not? Let's go!’
(The business is currently based in an impressive, customised plant in Tamahere in Hamilton).
[During expansion] We were in between buildings for a couple of years before we moved out to the Hamilton Airport area. We were surrounded by farms when we started here but now, we're surrounded by Trade Depot, we’ve got Torpedo Seven at the end of our road, and there are buildings going up around us everywhere! We’ve been part of this area for about six years and gone from isolated, to surrounded by other businesses that are growing and doing well as well.
What would you tell your younger self?
When you're much younger, there's a lot of fear around trying to go too far, too fast. You like to stick with what you know and stay in your lane. I guess my biggest fear was always getting too big that I couldn't handle it and couldn't manage pleasing all these people.
I wish I had embraced taking on more business running knowledge at a younger age instead of writing it off as, ‘that boring stuff’. It really did prevent me from understanding how and why we can do things, you know – when we've got money to invest in products or machinery and equipment or people, and so on.
And you did The Icehouse Leadership Development Programme?
The business has been going a while and we were bobbing along, paying the bills, paying the staff, but profit or growth wise, we were just doing the same thing day in, day out, not really taking leaps and bounds as such.
I signed up and met a really cool bunch of people, all mixtures of ages and roles and positions and companies. It just went really well, and our leaders Jo and Mel were just so relatable and made us really feel at ease.
What were your key takeaways?
I remember when we started talking accountancy stuff, and my eyes were trying really hard not to roll because I didn't understand really what the lingo was. But as it went on, I understood more, persevered with it, and of course being in teams or tables of people, you've got people that can interpret it into a language that you understand.
And as I always thought that was the boring stuff, I didn't want to pass that on to my production staff. Because we're all tools and hands people, I made the decision for them that it would be too boring for them to know. And that wasn't quite right.
They are interested in how we did for the day, and they are interested in our turnover for the month. They feel that sense of accomplishment when we achieve budget or exceed budget or just even sometimes when you see the figures at the end of the day. You nod and smile at each other and you know that you've worked really hard to achieve those. That's the sort of data I didn't think was very interesting for the majority of us, but I was wrong.