Scott Cato is one of a number of people who took New Zealand carpet to the World. It was the early 1970’s and Scott had just completed a three-year cadetship at Bremworth Carpets. At only twenty-two years of age, Scott was to find himself on the other side of the World promoting New Zealand carpets; first in England, then the United States and later; the Middle East. Scott was in for the ride of his life.

At that time New Zealand’s population stood at about three million persons and manufacturers were looking at export markets to continue their growth. In addition to this, the United Kingdom was in the process of joining the European Union (EU). This caused some concern in New Zealand because EU nations had agreed on an agricultural policy excluding outside producers from the European market. This potentially meant an end to New Zealand’s exports of agricultural products to Britain.

However, New Zealand was a low-cost producer, so food prices in the UK were expected to rise if New Zealand produce was excluded from the market. Britain was also committed to maintaining the strong cultural ties between the two countries and so, in 1971 Britain signed up to the EU after an agreement to secure some agricultural imports from New Zealand. These were to reduce over the years, and it was in this context that New Zealand had to swing their exports over to secondary products. High quality New Zealand carpet was one of those products and Scott Cato found himself ‘in the right place at the right time’ as it were.

Scott is a born and bred Kiwi with distant roots in Britain and Italy. The youngest of three boys, Scott went to school at Auckland Grammar in the footsteps of many family members. He’d planned on continuing on to university and had the academic qualifications to do this but a friend’s father, a manager at a woollen spinning plant manufacturing for major New Zealand carpet companies, mentored Scott to open his eyes to a different pathway; industry and trades. This was the catalyst for Scott to apply and win one of only two cadetships awarded every two years.

And so, Scott’s journey was off and running, training in all aspects of manufacturing; production scheduling; quality control and machine efficiency; and experience in customer service, sales and marketing as the understudy to the factory manager at Bremworth Carpets. Bremworth (later Cavalier Bremworth) and Feltex were the two main players in the carpet industry at the time. Scott saw himself in manufacturing and jokes, “I saw myself as general manager of manufacturing at the ripe old age of twenty-one.”

Opening up Markets

Scott completed his cadetship in 1972 and a year later was sent to London to help set up Bremworth in the UK. He said, “It was perfect timing for me, New Zealand needed new export markets and others saw something in me, guiding me towards the export of New Zealand carpets to the World. I found myself in England for two years; I had a car and a bag full of carpet samples, selling as the manufacturer to commercial and retail residential outlets. The UK is a bastion of the World carpet industry and we needed a point of difference. Our distinction was the quality of New Zealand cross-bred wool and we developed products and colours specifically for our target markets, particularly in the USA.”

Scott was working with a number of people, all of them older than him. He counts them as mentors and is forever grateful for their support and trust in his abilities. Mark Sainsbury; Tom Parson and Stephen Springhall were all hugely supportive, as was Dave Cotton of Bremworth Australia. Scott says, “We were hugely successful; the New Zealand government were providing incentives to manufacturers to export secondary products and we took full advantage of the opportunities.” Bremworth even manufactured in the UK under license for a time.

After establishing the ‘London connection,’ Scott was posted for a further two years to San Francisco to repeat his success in the USA. Scott said, “In those four years I learnt that building relationships is the key to success, and this was to hold me in good stead in my next job in the Middle East.” Scott said this was “A surreal time in World economic growth for New Zealand and the wool carpet industry captured some of that growth.” When he first went to the Middle East, he remembers Dubai had only three hotels and a dirty creek. “It was a raw place to do business, but the rewards were phenomenal,” he said.

“Our wool was recognised as a premium wool for carpets; it held a high prestige factor. But we still had to get in with the right people; we didn’t always follow conventional pathways,” he says. It wasn’t easy for Scott to even get there, he had to go first to Kuala Lumpur to stand in line to apply for a visa, then wait two or three days for it to come through before continuing on to Saudi Arabia. He did this for five weeks at a time for three years and admits, “They were challenging times; we had a daughter at that time and eventually, we decided I should leave conventional employment and live on the Isle of Wight in the UK where my wife had a family home.”

Something Different

Scott’s friends said, “You’re mad, you have it all on a plate, just look at the way your career’s going.” But Scott had never really challenged himself in any other way and so, he spent seven years on the Isle of Wight doing various things like a carpenter’s mate; laying carpets and for a time, managing two carpet stores.

During this time their second child, a son was born and after a short time they decided to move back to New Zealand for their children’s education. Scott now found himself back at Bremworth, this time in selling but mainly management, including product development where his early manufacturing background came into play.

Scott was there for five years until Bremworth was bought by Cavalier and all of a sudden, he was without a job. He established Westridge Carpets and Vinyl and traded for seven years. Of the time he said, “We were putting our two children through school and like most self-employed people it was either a feast or a famine. I often wondered how I was going to pay the bills and so I got a second job as a proof-reader for the New Zealand Herald.” One day a supplier made Scott an offer to join a wholesale distributor known in Australia as Forbo. He joined in a management role, first looking after a branch and later as brand manager, a role he held for ten years.

Giving Back

It was 2009 and Scott was approached by several flooring industry contacts to take up a role in qualifications and training development for the New Zealand flooring industry, firstly with the NZ Flooring ITO and then within BCITO, a position he held until his retirement only a few months ago. Scott’s strengths in school were History and English and his work for the newspaper all contributed to his success in his new role. With several other people Scott developed the National Certificate in Flooring, Planning and Design; a course of study he completed himself; his first ever industry qualification, at the age of fifty-eight!

Scott said, “The depth of knowledge and skills at retail level is now recognised in New Zealand and we’ve had hundreds of graduates over the last few years. The qualification aids consumer confidence in the industry and I’m most pleased that it has assisted in the development of women in the retail sector; providing a pathway for women returning to the workforce.” Some women are also going into installations where Scott says it’s, “massively encouraging.”

Scott is now retired but still remains busy. He’s always there to take a call from the industry and help out wherever he can. He says, “I have a vested interest in the future of the industry. I’ve had a wonderful five decades and have many fond memories and friends. If I can still contribute, I will.” Scott also volunteers at a local primary school, developing reading skills to six to seven-year old children. He describes them as having ‘young and imaginative minds’ and says, “I absolutely love it.”

Scott has two grandchildren he sees as much as he can. He still travels but now only for pleasure where he can look at the World in a different light. Every year he intends spending five or six weeks on the Isle of Wight until he’s no longer interested in getting on a plane. He enjoys a bit of golf, trail riding with his e-bike and reading on his kindle device. He’ll take things as they come but now its time to get out and explore other things that interest him. Scott recently said, “Someone very wise said to me that you never truly retire, you just reinvent yourself.” The ride isn’t over yet, Scott has a lot more to offer but his legacy to the New Zealand flooring industry cannot be overstated. He’s a true icon of the industry in every sense of the word.