Australia has some of the toughest terrain on Earth. In these conditions, a poor-quality 4WD part can be the difference between life and death. The Don Kyatt Group was founded to supply reliable parts, and over 50 years has grown from local business to global success.
Starting as a spare parts store in the suburbs of Melbourne, The Don Kyatt Group has grown to become Australia’s largest specialist supplier of 4WD replacement parts. Established in 1969 by Don Kyatt and Frank Hutchinson, the company now has 16 branches in six countries and around 3,500 customers across more than 80 countries.
Under its Terrain Tamer brand, the Don Kyatt Group designs, manufactures and sells more than 40,000 4WD spare parts for customers including emergency services, farmers, mining contractors and recreational 4WD enthusiasts. In 1995, the Group purchased the Flashlube brand from its inventor, and it’s now Australia’s top-selling lead replacement additive for LPG vehicles.
Throughout its growth – which has been intentionally slow but consistent – Don Kyatt has maintained the same brand promise since day one – “Quality Products from Genuine People”.
‘We’re matching an old-school craft of developing strong 4WD parts with a savvy approach to technology and personal service, so customers can easily order parts whether they’re in Papua New Guinea or Mozambique,’ says Brent Hutchinson, General Manager, The Don Kyatt Group.
The road to export success
The Don Kyatt Group established its first overseas branch in New Zealand, 17 years after it launched. Since then, the company has opened branches in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, France and South Africa. Each branch acts as a launching pad, allowing the company to reach other countries in the region.
‘Setting up operations in multiple countries is a way of expanding the business and spreading risk, while staying true to our values and niche,’ says Hutchinson.
The core of the business may still be the same today, but exporting has shaped everything the company does, from product design to sales. The Terrain Tamer website is translated into 16 languages and retail platforms use multiple currencies, so changes to product information and marketing material must be carefully planned.
The key ingredients of the company’s export success, according to Hutchinson, have been courage, clear branding, and company culture and relationships. The team at Don Kyatt built a strong culture from the outset and has replicated that in each new branch. Of 140 employees, 26 have been with the business for over 20 years, and co-founder Frank Hutchinson is still Managing Director after 50 years.
Opening each branch has involved personally connecting with potential partners and spending time on the ground.
‘So much of successful exporting is about relationships,’ says Hutchinson. ‘When we opened our France branch, I spent three months living there and travelling through other countries to meet potential and future distributors. Only by walking the street can you really know the market.’
Going further, faster with Austrade support
For 20 years, The Don Kyatt Group has turned to Austrade for help. The company has benefited from the Export Market Development Grant scheme and accessed Austrade advice to break into new markets, navigate regulatory, tax and safety issues, and overcome bumps in the road.
‘We’ve used Austrade at every moment we can,’ says Hutchinson. ‘Without Austrade, we wouldn’t have been able to export with so much velocity.’
Hutchinson says working with Austrade can halve the time the team spends on research and planning for new markets.
‘Austrade can give us the lay of the land before we set foot in a new country,’ he says. ‘It means we can walk with confidence once we’ve landed.
‘If you’re looking to export, Austrade is your greatest ally out there in the world. If you’ve got them in your corner you’re able to move as swiftly and as smartly as possible.’
Into Africa and beyond
For other businesses looking to start their export journey, Hutchinson says it’s vital to have the right mindset and a long-term approach.
‘Exporting is more of a 20-year strategy than a three-year strategy,’ he says. ‘And it’s certainly not easy. You need to be willing to do the work. You also need to know the market and then balance that with what you specialise in.’
Looking ahead, the Don Kyatt Group plans to expand into new African countries, using its branches in South Africa and France as launching pads. It will also look at new emerging markets in Asia and South America, helping people all over the world to safely traverse rugged and remote terrain.
‘As long as we’re clear about our position at the top of market, there are always customers who want high-quality products, including in countries with low wage rates,’ says Hutchinson. ‘Because down time is just as expensive, wherever you are.’
Featured Image: Frank Hutchinson (far right), Co-founder and Managing Director of The Don Kyatt Group, with his son Brent, daughter Belinda and wife Dianne, at the company’s 50th anniversary celebration in November 2019.