Southern Stone & Timber was registered by John and Kim Drain (pictured) of Invercargill in 2005 with the vision of providing decorative aggregate products.Peter Owens visits a unique quarry in the deep south that has secured a global market for decorative aggregate, thanks to an American friend and businessman.
Southern Stone & Timber (SST) is a quarry operation overlooking Awarua Bay, which is about a 20-minute drive from Invercargill.
The base of the operation is on an elevated 105-acre property that yields what is known locally as Awarua White (also known as Glacier Blue), which is quarried into highly sought after decorative pebble that the company exports for use in swimming pools, flooring, landscaping and aquariums.
This aggregate is a naturally round, smooth pebble mostly blazing white with some grey and blue pebbles and a peppering of green pebbles throughout it giving a unique colour that makes it highly sought after.
The company also offers a wide range of selective pebbles known as Southern White, Southern Gold, Ebony, Full Black, Sable Black, Gunsmoke, Jade and Sedona Sunset.
Southern Stone & Timber was registered by John and Kim Drain of Invercargill in August 2005 with the vision of providing decorative aggregate products. It took another two years for an appropriate aggregate resource located and secured and for their quarry operation to become a reality.
By early 2008 processing plants were in place and operational thanks to the assistance and investment of their friend and colleague, Laurence Turley, a successful American business man who provided initial start-up funds of more than half a million dollars and who has continued to support the business. Until recently, the ownership of the company was shared by Turley’s company TIR (Turley International Resources) of Mesa, Arizona, USA, and John and Kim Drain. John remains the managing director and contact person in New Zealand for the company.
Since 2008, the quarry has developed as demand for the products grew through export markets. In February 2012 a new drying production facility became operational that incorporates a rotary kiln, further screening plants and a bagging system capable of bagging four 20 kilogram bags of aggregate per minute.
In February 2017, the company’s new Cedar Rapids washing plant became operational and capable of washing 100 tons of aggregate per hour at peak capacity.
As a result of what was once a vision, Southern Stone & Timber has become one of the biggest exporters of decorative pebbles in New Zealand. And the future looks brighter now the American part owners are going to make a large investment for expansion that will see 10 new jobs and a 50 percent increase in productivity. The Overseas Investment Office approved the deal in August 2021.
The new funding has been made available after Fairfield Maxwell Inc. of New York purchased the undertaking of TIR and, in 2020, the wholly American-owned Fairfield TIR New Zealand was formed to take over the original TIR shareholding in the Kiwi quarry.
Fairfield Maxwell is now investing $1.7 million in SST to expand the operation to meet the growth in demand.
John Drain says since the first lockdown last year the company has not been able to keep up with demand. Some months have brought a 50 percent increase in demand, he says. The Fairfield TIR investment will mean a new washing plant, warehouse, rotary kiln and new mobile screening equipment. There are currently nine staff at Southern Stone and it will need to more than double that.
Southern Stone and Timber, like a number of successful southern businesses is a team effort at management level. While John Drain is manager as well as managing director of the company, he concentrates on the marketing side.
Kim Woodruff-Drain controls the day-to-day management of the company and is the administration manager. Kim says she became closely involved with corporate administration as John found he was needing to spend more and more time in marketing and sales.
The rapidly expanding export market includes consigning containers to every port in Australia and, in some months, consigning up to 55 containers to other overseas customers in Fiji, Japan, South Korea, New Caledonia and Indonesia.
Among customers in the United States supplied through Long Beach, Savannah and New Orleans, is Petsmart, which retails aquariums in its 2000 plus stores across the US. At the same time, markets for the pebble aggregate are opening over Europe.
This adds up to everyone in the operation working long hours and John admits it’s easy to; “lose track of what is happening if you don’t remain focused”.
“My biggest hinderance is not being able to get space on vessels at the moment,” he adds.