When Richard Allan was a biology teacher at Hamilton’s Hillcrest High, he was one of a few teachers* who not only thought the existing textbooks were less than adequate, but actually got around to trying to devise their own learning resources.
Investing in an Apple computer – a stunning $12k at the time, and a printer that was nearly as expensive, Tutor Courseware got underway in 1988. “It was an environment at the time conducive to accepting new ways of learning, and we were very much in the vanguard,” Richard recalls.
After a couple of years balancing a teaching schedule with the demands of text book writing and designing computer resources for teachers, something had to give for Richard and that was teaching. The impetus for change was when his biology simulation software was sold to more than 200 schools throughout New Zealand, providing much needed cash flow for expanding the publishing venture.
The start-up was like many owner generated businesses: baby on the hip, packing books in the garage, cash flow hiccups. It was also work-from-home. But in 1998, the company acquired the former Hillcrest branch of the Hamilton library, a converted house that came with plus factors like open plan spaces and metres of shelving!
As the company grew, the Tutor Courseware name was confusing and less relevant. It became BIOZONE International in 1998.
Note that, because this is an educational publishing company that truly specializes. They produce biology texts and teacher resources, principally for the last two secondary school years. There are three product groups: Course Workbooks, high quality books with 300 – 400 pages; smaller 200 page Modular Workbooks on selected biology topics, and for teachers, editable power point presentations provided on CD-ROM for the classroom. Also in the spectrum is that other resource for all parties: Model answers for student workbook!
Where many school text publishers diversify their ranges by covering other curriculum subjects, BIOZONE International took a different path. If they were doing it right for New Zealand, surely they could sell in Australia? Check, even if different states had different curriculum requirements. The UK? Check, even if there were different syllabuses for each of the three examination boards for A-Level school leavers
BIOZONE has also been in the US since 2001. “It wasn’t planned, we were pulled into the market by a good show of interest from teachers.” They also market this resource as an international one, as it also covers the requirements for International Baccalaureate. The company was making inroads in the vast American educational market, and were even planning to open a sales office there until the recession put those plans on hold; currently the US is supplied out of New Zealand.
Richard Allan has also taken BIOZONE to China, albeit in a different way. In 2007, BIOZONE concluded a licensing deal with Peoples Educational Press, the major educational publisher there. Richard is following progress with interest. “Our style of product is not mainstream for them – Asians learn by rote and repetition. Critical thinking which our texts encourage is not the way in China as yet, but they are keen to develop those new skills.” Richard says it won’t be a big money spinner for BIOZONE, but will be good for the brand.
BIOZONE International has also won Waikato business awards and in 1997 was awarded New Zealand’s Educational Exporter of the Year .
Richard has been 20 years out of the classroom, so how does BIOZONE stay in touch with today’s learning needs? “We have very good relationships with the teachers who are our customers, and we rely on them for insights and constructive feedback on what is working for students.”
You get a better feeling for the depth of the company when you realise BIOZONE has three full time writers on staff, and between two and three graphic designers. Whereas most education publishers contract out text authorship, Richard says it is his in-house team who give them the ability to make changes and give the company control in real time. Important when all the texts and courseware have to be altered for the markets within markets – the three UK education qualifications, the varying requirements of Australian states and so forth. The writing team too have more recent experience of teaching and are up to date with current pedagogy and curriculum demands.
BIOZONE now has sales offices in both Australia and the UK. In time honoured Kiwi fashion, BIOZONE in Australia was opened in 1993 by Richard’s sister, Liz Hayde, who lives on the Gold Coast. She still heads the Australian operation. The UK Sales office began with a niece in Glasgow, but is now north of Birmingham in Burton-on-Trent with a staff of two full timers and a part timer.
Richard now spends several weeks of the year on the road internationally, with several trips to Australia and at least three trips to the US, UK and Europe. Apart from the constant travel, there are other challenges in going international for this publisher. One is managing international exchange rates. “A lot of good work can be undone by unfavourable exchange rates,” says Richard.
Printing is now done in India. “It was a cost issue; prices kept going up in New Zealand even though print quality was good. We halved our print cost by going to India and this is important in the viability of the business.”
Is there ever a time when all resources for all markets are up to date and BIOZONE International can cruise for a time? Not likely. “There used to be fairly constant reviews of the biology curriculum every five to six years; now significant reviews are is more likely every three years. BIOZONE’S course workbooks are revised and upgraded every one to two years.”
About to be released is Environmental Science (modular student workbook) second edition. “This is an important upgrade to an already great product with an additional 100 pages added on such topics as the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill and even a reference to the current Fukushima Nuclear disaster. It is cutting edge and will be in 2-colour… our first product to do so.”
And the driving principle behind concentrating on one educational area and taking it to multiple markets? Richard Allan says “Biology is biology wherever you teach it.” Which leaves BIOZONE International with a continent or two – Europe, South America, Africa – for further expansion.
*Hillcrest High’s staff room in the late eighties and early nineties must have been a hothouse of publishing ideas as both Graeme Abbott’s ABA Books and the NuLake maths texts co-authored by Carl Nugent had their beginnings at Hillcrest at the time.