Q + A with Simon Lack

S L Racing owner and founder Simon Lack stands with his hands on his hips wearing a black S L Racing cap and a grey SL Racing shirt on a grey backgroud.

Who are SL Racing?

We’re a rowing boat manufacturer that set up shop in Hawkes Bay in 2010. It’s a family business, owned by myself and my brother Hamish. We built our own workshop at the bottom of our family section.

Why did you set up in Hawkes Bay?

We love Hawkes Bay. It’s a beautiful part of the world and it seemed the natural choice when starting SL Racing. Boats are coming into New Zealand from all over the world now, and there isn’t that same need to be based in Cambridge as there used to be. By being in Hawkes Bay we can keep our overheads lower (which means more affordable boats), have access to a port for exporting, and utilise some of the forward thinking and smart manufacturing companies that are in the Bay. It’s also a lifestyle choice – with friends and family based here, we have an incredible support network that lets us focus on making a top quality product.

Why did you start SLRacing?

A lot of the rowing community knows that my boatbuilding career started with KIRS, but what they might not realise is that in 2009 I was looking to purchase that company. After 18 months of discussions, my offer was turned down, and in retrospect, that was the best thing that could have possibly happened. I realised that I wanted to start my own company and start producing boats that I could be proud of. I thought I could produce a better NZ made product than what was available, and do it for a lower price.

SL Racing boats are now seen throughout NZ and Australia, how have you got to this point?

Hard work. We have built and paid for every part of SL Racing including moulds, machinery and infrastructure from boats we have either sold or repaired. When SL Racing opened it was just myself and Hamish working through very long hours to make sure the boats went out. Over the years we’ve been able to hire 3 full time employees, along with a few part timers and a great group of contractors who have specialties that assist us from mould making to engineering and RnD. With our current growth rate it looks like we will need another two employees per year.

What makes SL Racing different to your competition?

Because of the attention to detail and performance of our hulls.

We invest in keeping our production consistent, taking steps like building laminating rooms which are climate controlled, so every boat is built in exactly the same conditions no matter the season. Because of our lower overheads, the smarter way we make our boats and the way we have grown the company, we are able to offer boats at the most competitive prices. We then combine that low price with a commitment to quality that we stand behind (every hull that leaves our shed has a 5 year warranty).

Finally, Hamish and I are both rowers, so that means we understand all the little details – what feels good, and what doesn’t, as a rower in a boat. We’re constantly investing in research and development to make both the little details and the overall boat better and faster. We will never rest on our laurels.

What is SL Racing’s approach to business?

It all starts with not being ‘showy’. The ‘head down, bum up’ approach is one that rowers throughout New Zealand bring to their training every day and we’ve brought that attitude into our business. We won’t post a photo of every boat we make because we have our focus on getting the next boat out, not patting ourselves on the back.

We like all our staff to ‘think smart’ about any issue they tackle in the workshop and have a very hard working ethic. We push them to be client focused because we take pride in the fact that every boat that comes out of our sheds is a boat we would love to row ourselves. From day one we’ve always made sure we have a forward thinking approach to what we are doing. Along with constantly developing our boats, that also means we have made a huge investment in holding stock. Ultimately that comes at a big cost to us, but it means that we can build any boat at any time without waiting on suppliers.

So where to next for SL Racing?

Right now we’re focussed on two things – improving our service to our current clients, while expanding our sales both in New Zealand and overseas. We’ve just hired travelling reps in both the North and South Island to make sure that if a client has something that needs attention, we have someone that can come to them and provide that one on one support we think is so important. On a global scale, our Australian and American sales reps are just getting into the swing of things and over time we will slowly look to expand into overseas markets. We’ve adopted a slow and managed approach to expansion, and whenever we do grow we always want to make sure the service to our current clients is a priority. A recent goal we have set ourselves is to make sure we have SL Racing boats being rowed by top international athletes at the next Olympics. We know our boats are quick, so we’re now just in the process of identifying the right talent to represent SLR on the international stage.

Any more words for the rowing community reading this?

Yes, two big ones – thank you. Starting any business is a risk, and without the rowing community getting in behind us we wouldn’t be where we are today. We’ll always be hugely grateful for every new client we get, and every smile we see when someone hops into our boats. When it comes down to it, we started SL Racing because we love this sport. It gives us so much pride seeing an athlete grinning when they get out of one of our boats, and that’s what makes this company tick. So, to everyone that has been involved in our journey, THANK YOU…and to any that are yet to experience the SL Racing difference, we look forward to meeting you!