04 Mar 2015
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Kiwi veteran in retail distribution strikes out on his own

By Shannon Williams

Auckland-based Play Distribution may be the new kid on the technology and entertainment block in New Zealand, but its has solid foundations based on years of experience in the industry, which means it can confidently foot it with more established players.

Play Distribution’s founder Raja Henley has spent the last 20 years involved in all aspects of the entertainment distribution business in New Zealand.

“When I was 16 I started working for a gaming specialist store, Future Music Entertainment, which was the first gaming shop in New Zealand,” Henley told Techday from Play Distribution’s Parnell headquarters. “We were importing Japanese PlayStation Ones and selling them for about $5000. We couldn’t keep them in stock, they were just flying out the door.”

Henley worked at FME for a couple of years and was promoted to manager before the shop was purchased by retailer The Gamesman, which was later acquired by EB Games.

At 21 Henley moved to Auckland and began a long innings at a GDE Distribution. After 13 years, Henley made the big decision to resign and set up Play Distribution in September 2014.

“I’ve always wanted to do something by myself, so I was looking at setting something up towards later this year, but as soon as I resigned there were opportunities popping up everywhere,” he says.

“The first products I was offered were for a brand called SteelSeries, which is basically PC gaming products, for New Zealand and Australia.

“The deal I was offered was SteelSeries clearance products, older products, relatively five or six years old, that they had an over stock of in the SteelSeries warehouse. So I just looked at prices and things and offered it to a few resellers and had a huge interest in demand.”

Henley says, “That’s what got the company up and underway, so it happened a lot sooner than I had anticipated, which was good.”

Henley flew up to Las Vegas to the CES convention in January this year and picked up 47 potential suppliers, a number he says is far too many for the company at this point. “I’ve been cherry picking part of the top ten and working through the product ranges and customers and everything else there. It’s very exciting times,” he says.

Gaming most of his life, Henley says he is trying to branch a little outside of gaming. He says gaming in New Zealand is slowly becoming digital only, just like music and eventually movies and films. He aims to focus on products that can’t be downloaded.

“However, with my background, I’ve got gaming opportunities popping up all over the show, so gaming will be part of it,” he concedes.

Play Distribution’s focus for 2015 is to travel to all the main conferences and expos across the globe. “Every month I’ll be at a different convention or trade show. My main focus is to sign up agencies and products for distribution in New Zealand.”

Henley says many of the overseas manufactures and suppliers only want to deal with one territory, and Australia and New Zealand become one territory for them. “So a lot of what I’ve been signing up is New Zealand-focused at the moment, but as the company establishes itself and grows it’ll be looking at Australia as well, probably later this year.”

Henley currently has two staff but is in the process of hiring more, expecting to have about six staff over the next few months.

Henley says Play Distribution looks for innovative products that are not yet available in New Zealand or Australia, which a lot of consumers may see on other websites such as Kickstarter or Amazon.

“I’m looking at opportunities across that spectrum,” he explains. “Rather than people seeing a product they like on Amazon or Kickstarter, I’m looking at those products, and talking to suppliers, and picking certain agencies and brands to promote.”

Play Distribution currently has seven accounts set up, including MightyApe, Fishpond, EB Games, Home Direct, Chrisco, PB Tech, my Layby, as well as other promotional-based companies, and is in the process of signing up more.

“My main focus is to get products that I can start going to mass retailers with, such as The Warehouse, Noel Leeming and JB Hi-Fi. At the moment I need more of an offering before I can start building relationships with those guys.”

Henley says the main challenges the company has faced since launching is getting set up with the major retailers. “The reason for that is you’ve got to be a worthwhile supplier, you’ve got to have a good product offering to get set up with those guys,” he says.

He also expected signing up agencies to be a struggle, with the company not having any historical experience or background, but his experience in the industry has seen Play Distribution overcome those obstacles.

Henley says there has been huge interest and demand in the products he’s getting in. From electric skateboards and drones to licensed memory sticks and battery packs, to a whole heap of gaming products and accessories, including notepads, apparel, gift card holders, key rings, wallets, coasters and cufflinks.

“Selfie sticks were another product I didn’t expect to have much demand or interest, but consumers seem to love them,” he says.

“I’ve been quite lucky with what my picks are. Everyone seems to agree.”

Henley says the company is constantly looking for online resellers or physical stores looking to distribute these kinds of products. He’s not interested in selling directly to the public.

Still in its early days, Henley says the business is going well, and he can remember getting the first order just before Christmas. “It was nice to see the first order come in, just before Christmas. And it was a relatively large order as well.”

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