ADVERTORIAL: HILL LABS
What started out as simply “the right way to do things” for Hill Labs founders Roger and Anne Hill, has – over the past 40 years – become an embedded culture, resulting in five qualities that embody their way of doing business: reliable, supportive, responsive, local and trusted. With six locations and up to 700 staff across the country, Hill Labs services a range of industries – including honey. So, how do the core values of Hill Labs play out in practice for beekeepers?
Known for the best part of 40 years as Hill Laboratories, since its launch by his parents in Hamilton in 1984, managing director Jonno Hill says the company’s recent rebranding and renaming to Hill Labs is simply a small change, to reflect growth in what is still very much a family-owned and run business.
“Those things that we really care about remain unchanged,” Hill is quick to point out.
“It’s the detail of scale and scope which evolves over time, and giving the business a new ‘skin’ periodically helps to reflect that ongoing journey.”
Hill Labs started out with just the two founders – Roger and Anne Hill – whose initial aspirations for success were to add two more technicians to the team. Back then they never envisioned the company being as successful as it is today. Jonno says that his parents are still sometimes astounded, and always humbled, by the size that the business has grown to. Most of that growth has been due to the way that services are provided to customers across a range of industries, driven by a set of values and culture that Jonno and brother Geoff, who will soon become the latest addition to the Board of Directors, are keen to maintain.
“Retrospectively, you can see it clearly. At the time, our parents were just operating on intuition, and it would have just felt like the right way to do things. It wasn't like they had a 40-year business plan up there on the wall with a big box saying ‘culture’ and what they were going to do. But, by virtue of their own personal values, and the way they cared about the work they did and their sense of responsibility towards their customers, all that good stuff has flowed naturally from it, and over time has become embedded in the way that we do things,” Jonno Hill says.
In the honey testing business reliability is critical, Hill acknowledges, and for their labs, that means providing accurate testing in a timely manner.
“We understand that often the services we deliver are in the compliance space for customers, to enable market access, or to support transactions involving the buying or selling of honey. So beekeepers need to be able to know when they can expect results, and to be confident in those results when they arrive, to enable them to manage their businesses, whether it's sending honey offshore or getting a deal done domestically.”
Of course, client needs are not always as simple as turning around a honey test quickly and accurately. So, for Hill Labs, being approachable and offering extra support is also an essential part of their service.
“It’s about understanding that things aren't always going to go smoothly for clients and maybe, sometimes, something a little bit unusual crops up. Maybe a test just needs to be done urgently, a sample gets submitted but then something has to be changed with the requested testing, or there is a question relating to some results. Adapting to those situations and supporting our customers is what we strive to do,” the Managing Director says.
“A culture of agility” is how Hill describes their lab’s aspiration to respond to the changing needs of the industry.
“If something has gone wrong for someone and our services are needed to fix it, or maybe it's a new compliance or market access requirement, then we will be there to respond accordingly.”
In recent times, for beekeepers, that has meant quickly providing honey testing for glyphosate at ultratrace-levels, to maintain export access into Japan.
“When things are changing in the market then you may need a lab partner who is agile and responsive, and we really aim to be that. We've got a decent sized R&D team, we've got a good arsenal of equipment, and we have a culture of agility in the business,” Hill says.
It doesn’t get much more local than the Hill family maintaining almost 90% ownership in the analytical laboratory, with the remaining 10% also New Zealand-owned, largely by staff. Roger, Jonno, and shortly Geoff, all hold Board of Director roles, meaning, while the business may now be large, it is still firmly owned and operated by Kiwis. For the honey industry in Aotearoa New Zealand, partnering with a locally owned testing provider for the highly-valuable and unique mānuka honey makes sense.
While the majority of honey testing takes place in their Hamilton lab, Hill Labs is well represented across Aotearoa New Zealand, with facilities in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga and Blenheim, to service a wide range of industries.
“After 40 years, it would seem that the first four attributes have combined to create a sense of trust among our clients”, the managing director says.
“It flows from doing things well, and operating with honesty and integrity over time. We are playing a long game. Our reputation is really important to us, and that means that we work hard to get things right.”
These are values that will surely resonate with beekeepers right now, many of whom are refining their businesses to remain committed to a struggling honey industry.
“We've always stayed committed to honey testing, through ups and downs, and we've been investing quite heavily in this area over the last year in particular. Strategically, it's a really important market for us,” Hill says, adding, “we are strongly committed to the honey industry in New Zealand, and we want to be the preferred provider of testing services”.