From Bust to the Big Time
Craig Burrows is about to go global, with the ink drying on a deal to supply 40,000 car parks to a Malaysian man-made island.
Craig owns Auckland’s biggest tow company, Supercity Towing, an MTA member. He also has interests in Global Parking Solutions (designing and supplying automated car stacking systems) and Kiwi Parking, a carpark management service.
Craig Burrows is a man who is prepared to fight hard for success, and keep on slugging despite the knockout punches.
“I left school at 15 and went to work for a wrecker’s yard. On Friday and Saturday nights
I worked for Bradley’s towing company. When I was 18, I started my own towing company in partnership with a local panel beater. Then Bradley’s approached me to manage their tow business and three years later I bought it.” Towing in those days was pretty cut-throat. “When I got my first council contract, one of my trucks was bombed.” Craig was determined to run a professional organisation and one of his first steps was to introduce a corporate uniform and now he teaches staff how to interact with the public.
Supercity Towing is made up of 15 tow companies Craig has bought over the years.
“We were doing really well until I made what turned out to be a bad investment in the car-stacking business set up by Ahu Development back in the early 2000s. On paper it looked great. They had the designs, and some initial investment from government, for a system that could be made in New Zealand and sold internationally. I invested heavily and started setting up sales licences in different countries around the world.”
But it all turned to custard. The company went into liquidation despite having received $18m in funding from a variety of investors.
“Those at the top of the company bought part of an Auckland building, lots of flash cars, paid for lots of first class travel and hired too many people. There wasn’t enough money left to actually build car stackers.”
Craig lost everything, including his home. “My accounts manager bought my tow company and I lived on my boat.”
With the backing of a financier friend, he struggled out of bankruptcy. “I was kept on as manager of the tow company and when I was able to get back into owning companies, I bought it back. I also bought the assets of the car-stacking company, which included a demonstration model. I still believed in it. It is a great concept and means car park buildings can be smaller and much cheaper to operate. Over the last 10 years, we’ve improved on the designs and with our stackers, we can provide multi-storey car parking cheaper than anyone else in the world. And we use electric motors rather than hydraulics which makes the system cheaper to run and easier to maintain.”
To get Global Parking Solutions up and running, he made a point of honouring the deals he had made with those who had bought international sales licences from him.
“We now have several supply contracts under negotiation and have just signed one with the group constructing a massive man-made island off Malacca, in Malaysia. They are not allowing cars on the island so need parking for 40,000 on the mainland.”
Manufacturing will be done in Malaysia, Thailand and New Zealand and production will start tooling up shortly.
“With around 60 trucks on the road and 85 staff, Supercity Towing has grown enough to allow us to do other things. Parking is part of our business, so is enforcement, and management of carparks” sya Craig. “Our Kiwi Parking business manages car parks for individual owners and corporates. Our first contract is for an outdoor carpark on Centurion Drive and another is about to be signed.” Kiwi Parking uses a computer software package and sensors at each carpark space to help manage and enforce usage. “We are also about to launch an app to help the public find, and then pay, for the nearest empty park we manage. Eventually we will add privately owned car parks to the app – those that are used by a business during the day but can be rented out to the public at night.” The technology behind the software is off the shelf but the app has been pulled together by an in-house designer, working out of Supercity Towing’s new headquarters in Penrose.
Craig and his team moved into the building almost a year ago and gradually additional staff are filling up the empty office space. Supercity Towing’s call centre, a meeting room, offices and a massive workshop and garage for Craig’s toys make up the ground floor. The first floor is still largely empty but not for much longer as his business interests grow.
No visit to Supercity Towing can go without a peak into the big boys toy cupboard. Out the back there are around 50 cars and motorbikes, most bought on a trip to the US last year. Craig’s earlier much smaller collection had to be sold when he went bankrupt, but fate gave him a second chance, in a strangely backhanded way.
Two years ago, Craig was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma and, he says, since he was not expected to live more than 12 months, he got a hefty insurance payout. Half went on his US buying trip and the other half into the business. It’s not his first brush with death. In 2015 he had open heart surgery to repair a valve. So far, the lymphoma appears to be in remission.
In February last year, Craig’s 1979 Ford Ranchero (pictured above) earned the nickname ‘Christine’ after its handbrake gave way and it rolled down the driveway and ran him over. He was badly bruised and suffered a broken collarbone.
Once again, Craig lives to fight another day.