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Kitchen business born out of lockdown

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A visit to family in Cambridge turned into a new business venture for Daniel Billings.

The founder of Maple & Stone, a bespoke kitchen and cabinetry manufacturer, was on the way with his family to Bali when the first lockdown hit.

“The flights were all booked and the week we were flying out all the flights were cancelled.”

Looking to establish roots in Bali and further his Muay Thai skills, Daniel had been living in Australia for the past seven years and had sold an investment management firm to make the move to the tropical climes of the Indonesian tourist mecca.

Finding himself locked down in the Waikato with the in-laws, Daniel very quickly bought a home, luckily, he says, in a time when no-one was in the market for a house.

It was the next step in adjusting to this unexpected Kiwi life, when he began making-over the new family home that sparked his business venture in the Waikato.

“I started renovating and it was through that process that I got interested in the kitchen side of things.”

Not able to find a kitchen in the local market that appealed, Daniel looked overseas to see what was available.

He had a kitchen contract-made to his design specifications in China and shipped to New Zealand within four months.

“The quality of the product is terrible. It looked amazing on the front. And it was unbelievably cheap,” he laughs.

As well as not being the quality he would have like, Daniel realised when he made changes on the plans, he couldn’t change the kitchen design as it was already on the way.

“The idea in the beginning was for me to design these kitchens, get them made in China and sent over. This was before the COVID supply chain issues had really kicked in. Because of the issues I had we decided to manufacture locally.”

He’s thankful that it was his kitchen that taught him a few valuable lessons in setting up Maple & Stone.

“It was a good plan to begin with, because I couldn’t believe how cheaply I could get it. But this was before the shipping costs had tripled and time delays of three months are now six or eight months.”

Keeping the production local also means Daniel can support local businesses like Laminex in Te Rapa and the timber board they use is a New Zealand product.

This first foray into kitchen manufacturing piqued Daniel’s interest in the technology behind the industry and he purchased his first CNC machine from Taiwan.

“The technology is incredible. We design everything on the computer. We are more like an interior design firm, who manufactures kitchens, which is the opposite to most kitchen manufacturers in New Zealand, who are mainly manufacturers and they do design where they can.”

The CNC machine interprets the design and moves cutting tools to cut the desired shape from the material. The automated cutting process is much faster and more accurate than a manual movement of tool.

“The CNC flies around 300 meters per second cutting out all the individual parts, everything gets a label which makes it easy for the guys on the factory floor to put it all together,” Daniel enthuses.

The Maple & Stone team of nine, soon to be 12, work in depth with clients to create their dream kitchen.

“We come up with the most amazing design for them first, and then from there we work out how to make it.”

Kitchens are not the only products Maple & Stone offer, they now do wardrobes and commercial fitouts, including Homebrew café in Cambridge and the new Leamington Village development.

When Daniel started Maple & Stone two years ago, he was operating out of a small industrial unit in Titanium Park. They have since doubled in size and taken over the unit next door,  and a new warehouse and showroom is scheduled to open at the end of the year.

“We will have a beautiful, purpose-built showroom which will be an experience centre where people can come in and touch and feel and play with this incredible product.”

There’s also a new CNC machine on the way from Italy, which will increase production capacity.

Daniel reckons he couldn’t have picked a better time to start up his business than the 2020 lockdown.

“It was the best time to launch a business in the sector. There was a lot of people spending quite a bit of money on housing. But from what I’ve seen, we’re winning a lot of business off other firms, which really comes down to our design,” he says.

And, Daniel says, the business isn’t slowing down despite the deceleration of the real estate market.

“We’re seeing 20 to 30% price decreases in housing but we’re still growing with lots of new inquiries. A lot of that’s coming from the different product we are offering the market.”

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