NBR Radar: Peter Butler

ABOVE: Peter Butler featured on the NBR Radar, a collection of 25 smart people doing smart things.

BEING TUCKED AWAY IN the ‘wop-wops’ of Golden Bay has proved to be no impediment to HealthPost, New Zealand’s largest online retailer of healthcare products.

Boasting annual turnover of $30 million and year-on-year growth of 30% for the past decade, the success of HealthPost success is testament to the customer-focused vision of the ex-wife Linley Butler who founded the mail order business in 1988.

Company chairman Peter Butler says he was shocked when his wife threw an extra bottle of something into parcels because he knew what the company finances were like but says they got incredible customer loyalty.

“It’s very much a long play. We’re not trying to build a company up to flick it off.”

Being socially conscious has also set HealthPost apart from its competitors. The company routinely donates about $15,000 a month to charities and recently teamed up with the Department of Conservation to create a 900ha eco-sanctuary at Farewell Spit.

“Businesses don’t just exist in a vacuum,” says Butler. “It’s not just about making our family wealthier, it’s also about being good in the community.”

With son Abel as chief executive, and daughter Lucy as executive director, Peter’s dream is for HealthPost to become an intergenerational business.

As with any family business they’ve had their share of dramas, and as the company has grown they’ve taken on two independent directors.

“If you’ve got professional directors there next to you, you have to act professionally and I think that helps.”

HealthPost is Golden Bay’s largest employer with 85 staff working from its Collingwood base and another 20 in Auckland to serve a sometimes fickle ‘boom/bust’ Chinese market.

It operates as a low-margin business in a cut-throat online environment and Butler admits there’s always a tradeoff between profitability and growth but says “I’m more excited to see good growth numbers than to have a yacht in the harbour or drive a flasher car.”

Competing against much bigger rivals has also forced HealthPost to differentiate by specialising in natural health products with no ‘nasties’.

“That’s really going to put us in good stead for future growth. We can hold our head up and say ‘Yeah, this is what we do’.”

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