Established: 2012

Location: Christchurch

Contact Name: Sophie-Claire Violette

Website: www.skydivingkiwis.com

Business mission and vision:
The vision is simple, to create more skydivers.
Our mission is to bring skydiving back to the New Zealand commercial skydiving industry by weaving the principles of sport skydiving and sports skydiving culture into every aspect of our company.
Vote

Skydiving Kiwis is the only 100% NZ owned and operated skydiving centre in the South Island. We are the only skydiving centre in the South Island that anchors sports skydiving, tandem skydiving and a skydiving school within the same facility.

Our skydiving centre is located in Ashburton at the Ashburton Aerodrome and our booking office and HQ is located on New Regent Street in Christchurch. We operate x2 Cessna planes.

Our business is anchored by three hero products: Tandem skydiving, sports skydiving and our Sports skydiving school. These products speak to our mission to grow skydiving commerce, culture and community as a collective to bring skydiving back to the New Zealand commercial skydiving industry.

Our unique Kiwi as tandem skydiving experience merges sports skydiving and tandem skydiving. Our tandem skydivers get to experience a dropzone, plane ride, freefall, parachute ride and customer experience that are anchored by sports skydiving culture. They are not just a number for us. We believe and want to tell and show first time skydivers that anyone can become a skydiver so we have curated an approach to customer service and customer experience that highlights our values.

We offer tandem skydives from 6000, 9000 and 13000ft to visitors and locals. Our minimum age limit is 6 years old and our oldest tandem skydiver was 93 at the time of their jump. We are also part of the Making Trax pioneers. Making Trax is a New Zealand-based adaptive tourism company. Our tandem skydiving product is accessible to wheelchair riders and tandem skydivers with limited physical ability; an emerging and growing alternative adventure market gaining traction in the tourism industry here in New Zealand. As of 2016, Skydiving Kiwis has also partnered with charities to raise funds for and increase exposure of the causes these charities champion through. We host annual tandem skydiving fundraising events with proceeds going to our partner charities. Our main partners include the Cancer Society, SPCA, Girl Guiding NZ and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

We are in the process of bringing our Learn to skydive program to NZQF standards and are currently developing an NZQF approved Advanced Diploma in Sports Skydiving. Through our Learn to skydive program we form new skydivers and offer platforms for young Cantabrians, New Zealanders and foreigners who want to become full time skydivers to progress in the sport and in the industry. The Australian and New Zealand skydiving industries have experienced industry shortages and competency challenges in their staff, which has affected commercial growth. Once NZQF approval is secured we wish to fill that gap and accelerate the formation of competent and innovative industry professionals who will be positive ambassadors for our sport and culture as well.

The Skydiving Kiwis Sports Development Centre was created in 2017 to grow our sports skydiving market. Our sports skydiving community is growing rapidly and is made up primarily of South Island based regulars and visiting skydivers. Skydivers can and do jump everyday, sharing the plane load with our tandem skydivers, which adds another dimension to everyone’s skydiving experience. Why be a sheep when you can fly with Kiwis?! Our team of instructors, made up of world record skydivers, parachutists who have competed on the international circuit and up and coming skydivers trained through our Learn to skydive program offer one on one and group coaching; run events, such as coaching camps and our annual skydiving festival, Kiwi Boogie. Our multi-discipline skydiving destination adds itself to the extreme adventure activities portfolio of Otautahi and Mid Canterbury.

We are the only skydiving centre in New Zealand with an active display team which has become an official sub-department of our Sports Development Centre since 2017. This team of highly experienced skydivers jump at charity events, sports events, community events and schools with two main goals:
To bring joy by flying over and landing in front of people doing what we love doing most.
To bring skydiving to forefront of the imagination of New Zealanders as an exciting and accessible sport, profitable career opportunity and international lifestyle.

As a commercial skydiving centre operating among long-standing, successful and powerful skydiving corporations, we now know what differentiates us from other skydiving centres and it is the environment that we have created at Skydiving Kiwis. We are a centre and offer a tandem skydiving experience unique to Skydiving Kiwis. Fun jumpers and tandem skydivers interact together, feed off each other’s individual experience and their own is enriched by it. Read our Trip Advisor reviews.

Skydiving Kiwis is a DZ that was built for skydivers, by skydivers with the ultimate goal of going beyond the current commercial skydiving framework into a living self-sustaining education and training facility. These statements are at the centre of our kaupapa. This is what makes us a unique skydiving centre. Whereas other centres focus on growing numbers, we focus on growing numbers and culture. This means that where other skydiving centres will plateau in terms of what they can do, we have the possibility, by having consistently invested in and nurtured a culture in which every aspect of the sport and lifestyle of skydiving is given a platform to thrive and become a viable by revenue and skill-generating enterprise under the umbrella of skydiving.

Another defining asset which is at the centre of our strength is our human capital. We believe in investing in bringing local skydivers up with us to become not only respected coaches and tandem instructors but also points of reference and strong voices to promote skydiving as a sport and a career choice for young Cantabrians. We have been part of Mid Canterbury and Christchurch’s regional stories but we are at the cusp of being able to contribute to elevate Canterbury and Mid Canterbury to the same level as Queenstown in terms of being an adventure capital if we play our cards right. This would be game-changing for all industries involved.

This is a unique New Zealand skydiving vision which captivates and entices. Other skydiving centres have begun recognising the value of bringing the principles we have advocated and this is proof that this model is financially viable.

In 2012, our first year of business, Skydiving Kiwis received its first nomination for video content created of the region, at the South Canterbury Business Awards.

In 2017 our CEO Lee Barraclough received the Civil Aviation Authority Director’s Award on behalf of an organisation (Skydiving Kiwis) for our dedication an innovative approach to safety. We are the first skydiving centre in New Zealand to win this award in its 22 years and the only skydiving centre to have received this award since.

In 2018, the international skydiving community and industry voted Skydiving Kiwis to be the Best Small DZ in the world at the Blue Skies Magazine awards. It is the first time that a skydiving centre outside of the United States wins this award. In 2019 we were selected by Christchurch NZ among a pool of up and coming tourism industry companies for a business development incubator program and have received a full scholarship to participate in the program.

We have been consistently featured in the Trip Advisor Hall of Fame for our Kiwi as skydiving experience as the top tourism activity in Mid Canterbury and top 3 activities in Christchurch.

‘There is no such word as can’t’ – a value I thank my parents for, this is the basis of my decision to buy the ticket and go for it. It had always been a dream of mine, since I embarked on my skydiving journey; to one day own a sports skydiving centre. At 30 and after 16 back to back summers spent working in and managing skydiving centres around the world, I became confident that I had the skill set to successfully run my own skydiving centre and a vision that had a unique proposition, which itself went beyond the existing commercial skydiving paradigm. Coincidentally, the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes devastated our region and called me back home.

I came back home with a dream and a rough business plan in hand, recruited the people who are now still my core team and set to work on starting not just a business, but a movement with a clear message. I intend to speak my speech until it is spoken.

Aftermath of Christchurch earthquakes – First and foremost, Skydiving Kiwis was launched at a time which many referred to us to as “the worst time to start a business”. However we saw an opportunity which others didn’t. We have grown with Otautahi as it has gotten itself back up on its feet. Our business continues to grow as the city rebuilds itself. The Christchurch story has been anchored by positivity and hope ever since, and the product that we offer and can offer weaves itself into this story.
Finances – Skydiving Kiwis was started with the savings I had left after travelling the world, skydiving and an investment from my father with a deal of sharing ownership 50/50 with my brother, Gregg who is now the CFO of Skydiving Kiwis. Belonging to the 1.5 generation of migrants who followed their parents’ migration, we had limited access to funding options. With a team made up of my partner, family members, some of my oldest jump buddies and friends we did everything ourselves.

We stripped an old bike shed down to turn it into our first reception office, painted walls, scavenged and upcycled wood to build a packing shed, mowed the landing areas by hand; and gave our time to get the business up and running, turn over our first clients and set up the founding structures of each role and department. My partner and I worked on and then at Skydiving Kiwis while she was studying and I was working at skydiving centre; all the while living in tents and in a van at the airfield. More friends and our early staff joined us at what will forever be remembered in the Skydiving Kiwis as “tent city”. There were no amenities and we couldn’t afford them so we build outdoor showers, fished for flounder and cooked on a barbecue.

We relied heavily on social media to carve a space for ourselves in the industry. The product we offered was completely different to the existing market and it was important to frame it in the Skydiving Kiwis voice. At the time we were filming and editing all our skydiving videos ourselves to capture and tell that story. All our content was created with the end goals of disrupting the industry and bringing sport skydiving back to the centre of what “skydiving” meant to Kiwis and the tourism industry. We would sit in our reception office at night and spend evening making videos that my partner would then spam the world with via our newly created social media channels.

The bulk of our commercial marketing was done face to face, in a van, road tripping across the South Island to drop brochures, put up posters, introduce ourselves to accommodation providers and activity wholesalers. This is how we received our first tandem skydivers. The message was always the same. We are a new skydiving centre. We are like no other skydiving centre and we are here to change the skydiving industry from the inside out. Why be a sheep when you can fly with the Kiwis and of course, who said Kiwis can’t fly?!

We ran our first Kiwi Boogie in 2011, a few months after opening, with NZD250 and a bag of sausages.

Those were the most rewarding days of our journey and set the blueprint for the Skydiving Kiwis kaupapa which still stirs our ship 7 years on.

Skydiving is an industry in which the lines between personal and business relationships are often blurred. I had the added challenge of leading a family business and working with family. My main challenges were to create and maintain a defined organisational structure and hierarchy; while at the same time protecting the identity of my initial proposition. As CEO I expected a level of commitment from my core team to the business, its kaupapa and its day to day flow, which matched mine. I have to admit that I was improvising and learning as Skydiving Kiwis evolved and often lacked the professional tools needed to manage a team, everyone’s expectations and needs and simultaneously drive my team forward. Managing family members and friends and a new business is certainly a different beast to managing skydivers and an established DZ. Nevertheless, I was able to harness this challenge as an opportunity to develop a management style of my own that took into account the unique ecosystem of my company. I applied Google’s chaos management theory principles, adapted to the needs of Skydiving Kiwis; to the way that I ran my team and knitted a cohesive core unit, a crew, a tribe, whose very contention eventually became its and Skydiving Kiwis biggest asset.
Christchurch was always our target. However Rangitata Island was, at the time, the closest we were able to get to Otautahi and we took the opportunity. This little hamlet just off the State Highway one before the turn off to Geraldine was definitely not a tourist centre. Worse, it was on a stretch of the State Highway where no one ever stops unless they are aviators and know of Russell Brodie’s historical private airfield and World War Two replica aircrafts.

Rangitata in itself came with its own set of logistical challenges from no power, to no water, to no defined grounds maintenance, insufficient storage space, no amenities, among other concerns. Addressing and eliminating these issues to create the environment that we aspired to for Skydiving Kiwis required constant investments of time and energy by the team. We had no doubt that eventually, we would reach a point in our growth where we would need to re-evaluate but at these early stages, it was important to make the most with what we had to execute our short term agendas and did it well with the means we had!

Industry disconnect with regards to mine and Skydiving Kiwis’s innovative approach –
Skydiving Kiwis is a drop zone built by skydivers for skydivers. We stepped into an arena of skydiving centres built by business people for commercial tandem skydiving operations. We were not a clean cut, conveyor belt dropzone, ours was not an in and out bucket list tandem skydiving experience. Our experience was Kiwis as, grassroots skydiving. We made a statement that dropzones could thrive while at the same time welcoming, supporting and embracing sports skydiving and our culture by growing a small but motivated sports jumping crew. Because they felt welcomed and were able to jump after not having had a base to jump at, they in turn helped us with our commercial operations. I was very clear from the beginning that this was the first phase of my agenda and that this strategy would raise questions and ruffle feathers.

Soon after opening, we received our first backlash from existing operators questioning the legitimacy and safety of our approach to skydiving and focus on sports skydiving over commercial operations. In response I doubled up on ensuring that all policies were formulated in a way that incorporating best policies curated specifically for the Skydiving Kiwis ecosystem. Tandem and fun jumping numbers have increased consistently every year since.

As a young CEO, a full time skydiver and visibly not the CEO image that other business people necessarily expected; doing business in Mid Canterbury, I personally faced a certain level of prejudice towards me. Skydiving Kiwis is an extension of who I am. I never traded my identity as a skydiver first and foremost for a more polished business one, although I have adapted to the changing business environments I now have to frequent. Initially, arriving at business and/or council meetings in jeans and skydiving tshirts, sporting dreadlocks and a casual attitude unsettled a few people; and still does. However, I also always arrived prepared and ready to speak for the sport, the lifestyle and the industry I love, in my words and from my perspective. Over the years, I have gained a solid reputation in all three stakes that Skydiving Kiwis has its fingers in and I through my company and I am proud to have done that by staying true to who I am and to the mission and vision of Skydiving Kiwis.

It is my opinion that Skydiving Kiwis and myself have proven that it is possible to get through with ‘what you know’ and work out ‘who you need to know’ through the journey. I’d like to add that while this is true, this “strategy” does take patience as it is the longest road travelled.

Our first test, was also one of the most significant ones to date. In 2011, the Civil Aviation Authority became the regulator of what is now known as the Part 115 Adventure Aviation framework and took over auditing adventure aviation across New Zealand. I took the decision to write our own operational manual as a way to educate myself on the finer details of the framework and how they could be operated within the scope and nature of our skydiving operation in a way that strengthened our commitment to safety and ability to innovate. It was a lengthy and arduous process which required me to dig into my knowledge as a skydiver, unlearn my biases related to the industry, relearn new thought patterns and condense them into our Part 115 manual. It took several months and during that time we had no other choice, like all other adventure aviation operators; to close down and await our turn to have our manual and operations audited by the CAA. We were on our knees financially and only had a few weeks left afloat before we would have had to close down when we finally received our certification.

This manual became the blueprint for our kaupapa and for our growth strategy for the next two years. A few years later Lee was awarded the CAA Director’s Award for safety mentioned in our answer to the Question about Business Awards.

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it”. This is a quote by Henry Ford. I can also reference my parents who instilled resilience into my siblings and I. “You can be anything you want to be, as long as you put your mind to it.”

The highs and the lows of aviation are renowned to be extreme. I like to think that business mixed with aviation have taught me one of the most precious gifts of all; patience. I have applied many of the teachings my parents gave me in embracing perseverance and adversity and recognizing them opportunities to learn, grow and succeed in a way that matters to me. An old school SDK favourite is, “there are only solutions”. We usually get to engage with it when it’s time to take a breath, smile, laugh and improvise or ride the adventure that running a business like Skydiving Kiwis.

Adversity comes in many often unexpected forms at Skydiving Kiwis and perseverance is then demonstrated in equally unusual but meaningful and effective ways.

It is important to note that our growth has been deliberately slow. Firstly, we have since the launch of Skydiving Kiwis reinvested a portion of our profits into our Sports Development Fund. This money has been used to help get New Zealand teams to international competitions, pay for world class coaches for our skydiving events and is being grown for larger projects we have in the pipeline to grow our sports skydiving scene in New Zealand. Secondly, it has been a struggle for us to move into a turbine aircraft even though we have been ready for one and so we are limited in our lift capacity and therefore growth.
In spite of this, we have succeeded in running a thriving operation and our three hero products have shown steady and positive growth year after year. The first 3 years of operation saw encouraging growth in our tandem, sport skydiving and newly launched learn to skydive products. Tandem descents declined in 2018 but this situation was felt across New Zealand and Australia in 2018. Our 2019 forecast is however looking good at this stage.

With our commercial sector showing positive growth and returns we now shifted our focus to setting the foundations for our two other key goals of growing community and culture. SDK Skydiving School was launched and today is the only dedicated student training facility in the South Island.

Even at these early stages within the industry, the forecast shortage of Kiwi Instructors/guides/storytellers was eminent and we channeled our community focus into creating gateways to the New Zealand Skydiving Industry for Kiwis through our Learn to skydive program. For feasible growth and returns in all three sectors

  • Community
  • Culture
  • Commerce

We needed a bigger hangar and a more versatile airfield with the scope to accommodate the potential for growth that we foresaw in our three sectors. We took over the lease of a hangar at the Ashburton Airport which had been purposely built for multi- discipline skydiving which we still operate out of today. This new location brought us closer to Christchurch. We are now just off the main tourist road to the South and accessible to FITS and buses. Our move to the Ashburton Airport also opened up opportunities to build stronger ties with EMC and Christchurch NZ. During this next 5 year period tandem numbers, our sports skydiving market and our Learn to skydive program continued to grow. We really began to understand and market what differentiated our commercial product and how to pitch it to ITOs, trade agents and new partners.

The growth of our sport following continued and this strengthened our voice within the industry. We reevaluated and redeveloped our Learn to Skydive program into a completely tailor-made course only available at Skydiving Kiwis and through Skydiving Kiwis coaches. This program has formed and provided pathways for Kiwi skydivers, some of whom who have gone on to become industry leaders both here and in Australia. This earned us the respect and backing of the CAA, the commercial regulator, and the sport industry. Remember the sports skydiving event we launched in 2011 with 250 dollars? We shifted Kiwi Boogie, into a 100,000 dollar multi-disciplinary sports skydiving event, attracting professional skydivers, sport skydivers and industry leaders from New Zealand, Australia and Europe. How cool is that?!

We now have an HQ and booking office on New Regent Street. Our presence on one of Otautahi’s busiest inner-city tourist destinations increases exposure of all our products to locals and to tourists. We listened to industry-drivers who told us that visitors stay in Christchurch for an average of two days. This proximity along with our inner city pick up point and shuttles departing daily from New Regent Street allows us to capture more of the Christchurch tourist.

I am the most proud of the community that in interconnected through Skydiving Kiwis. I think of people who would never cross paths perhaps and certainly live very different and diverse lives. However, Skydiving Kiwis has played a part in bringing them together and creating connections among them that sometimes last a lifetime.

I am proud of the reactions of parents when they cheer their kids from the viewing area, whether it’s for their first tandem skydive or their last AFF level, or just a jump. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that I created a platform through Skydiving Kiwis for people to start living a larger life, with more excitement and which challenges them to push themselves. Some people do a tandem skydive and experience one of the most intense and fun moments they’ve ever had. Our young and upcoming skydivers have an opportunity through Skydiving Kiwis, if they want it; to choose their direction in our sport and industry. It’s great to know that I played a part in those opportunities being taken advantage of.

We employ 15 people. The majority of our staff are Christchurch born or have lived in Canterbury and Mid Canterbury all their lives. We also employ foreign skydivers in summer. Our management team is spread over South Island locations and all bring different backgrounds to the table.
We use several contractors for parachute related maintenance, special events, design work, video production and media and merchandize. We also work with freelancers.
We provide training opportunities that will foster leadership within our team to support our agendas for growth. It is important for us that the skydivers who work with us also have plenty of opportunities to progress as skydivers while accessing skills which will open up opportunities to them. These include skydiving progression training, the NZ aviation industry frameworks, safety and its implementation via SMS and skydiving progression training.

We regularly upskill on procedures and systems related to the following key roles:

  • Manifest
  • Packing
  • Video Production
  • Coaching
  • AFF Instructor
  • Canopy coaching
  • Tandem and commercial skydiving

Training is also organised regularly for the following:

  • First Aid Training and Currency
  • Aviation Safety
  • Maintenance Control
  • Safety Management
  • Marketing Management
  • Social Media training
  • Industry related training
We have been on the list of recipients of the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 6 back to back years and were featured on the Trip Advisor Hall of Fame 2 back to back years Hall of Fame. We have an active Trip Advisor page full of reviews and testimonials from our customers.

Please follow this link to view our page: https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attraction_Review-g255118-d2462083-Reviews-Skydiving_Kiwis-Christchurch_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html#REVIEWS

I wanted to build a place where my friends and I could skydive everyday all day. As a skydiver, getting to wake up and open the doors to your own hangar is one of the greatest feelings of satisfaction so be able to jump at your own dropzone is a clear benefit of being a dropzone owner.

Other than that, the other benefits I get from being a business owner are satisfaction, pride, and an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many whether it be tandem customers, professional athletes or students.

We support local clubs, fundraising events, charity auctions and other adventurers with skydiving vouchers which they can auction off throughout the year. Our Skydiving Kiwis display team mentioned earlier in this entry form regularly performs skydiving displays at events such as the Cancer Society Relay for Life, they jump into school events, and we partner with charities for tandem skydiving fundraising events every year.

We are currently working on our charity fundraiser page which will be launched in October. We want to ramp up our involvement and give people and charities ease of access to register, organise fundraising events and ultimately raise more funds towards causes we would like to support as a company. This platform will facilitate the registration and participation process for anyone wanting to join existing fundraising campaigns, start their own individual fundraising campaign and for charities wanting to host tandem skydiving fundraising events at Skydiving Kiwis.

Please see our LinkedIn profiles, social media profiles and some press articles featuring Skydiving Kiwis below:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/lee-barraclough-8a060758/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/sophie-claire-violette-889b425a/
https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attraction_Review-g255118-d2462083-Reviews-or10-Skydiving_Kiwis-Christchurch_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html
https://www.facebook.com/SkydivingKiwis/
https://www.instagram.com/skydivingkiwis/?hl=en
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12237639
https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/88178442/chinese-visitors-feed-skydiving-boom-and-shortage-of-jump-masters
https://www.odt.co.nz/news/the-south-today/skydivers-drop-kick-book-week-tinwald-school
https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/08/cantabrian-attempting-100-skydives-in-a-day-for-westpac-rescue-helicopter.html