Design nuts

Pic makes peanut butter and daughter Bridie designs furniture and collectables, but both businesses reflect a family flair for creativity and craftsmanship, with a generous spread of humour.
Bridie and Pic Picot, father daughter entrepreneurs. Him of Really Good Peanut Butter and her of Thing Industries.

Bridie Picot wishes her father had begun making peanut butter much earlier in life. As a little girl, she’d open the tinfoil parcels he’d pack in her lunchbox to find two dry Weet-Bix sandwiched together with Vegemite.

These days, Pic Picot (as he’s affectionately nicknamed) is well known for his gourmet spread, Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter. In the past seven years, it’s grown from a humble garage operation to a multimillion-dollar success. Last October, it made the Deloitte Fast 50 index, which ranks firms with rapidly growing revenue, for the second year in a row.

Pic, who’s based in Nelson, started a number of companies before getting a taste for the peanut butter business. “I’ve always been self-employed, but I ended up with a pile of tax losses and they just kept growing,” he says. “I thought, sooner or later the tax department’s gonna ring me and say, ‘Stop pretending to work and retire or something.’”

Then his eyesight started failing from macular degeneration (he now struggles to distinguish people’s faces and has a guide dog). When he couldn’t continue with his sailing school, he turned to making peanut butter. He’d become disillusioned with shop-bought varieties which, he says, contained too much sugar. Friends raved about his additive-free, no-nonsense alternative so he decided to sell some at the local market. His peanut butter is now stocked in supermarkets throughout New Zealand and more recently Australia. Its popularity is also growing in the US, where his New York-based daughter, Bridie, is one of the spread’s biggest fans.

A full-time advertising account manager for clients including Microsoft and Tanqueray, in 2013 she also set up her own company, Thing Industries, in conjunction with Kiwi designer Matt Smith. Her aim was to make playful furniture and collectables that fit in small spaces. Their products have been praised by the American media and the business was recently named Best Maker in Urbis magazine’s Best of 2014 awards. “I just don’t like things that take up room for no reason,” she says. Among her most popular items is the “sacrificial chair” – a witty, seatless, chair-shaped clothes rack.

Getting the business off the ground hasn’t been easy, but her entrepreneurial-spirited father has always been on hand with advice and encouragement.

Pic Picot with Bridie and her dog, Rabbit, at her apartment in Greenpoint, on a visit to New York last year. The pouf, one of Bridie’s design products, is simply titled “Hairy Thing”.

Bridie, 35

“As a kid I loved hanging out in Dad’s workshop in Parnell. He had a business called Pico Productions, making beautiful wooden furniture. There was dust everywhere and the place smelled of glue, but it was cool mucking around making things like stilts.

I remember he started this range of funny wooden giftware boxes, too, with glass fronts that read, ‘In an emergency break glass.’ Inside would be things like a Mintie or a Band-Aid. Then he made marijuana fertilisers – which was really just fertiliser, but he was trying to sell more by calling it that. He ended up getting into trouble with the police, which to him was a sign it had reached a certain level of fame.

That sums up Dad’s humour. When I was growing up, he always had strange things he’d collected that made him laugh, like oars hanging from the ceiling and a framed real estate agent code of conduct from the 1940s. I’ve got a whole range of weird stuff in my own apartment now – samples of things I’ve designed, like a series of fruit cushions.

Dad’s always had his own companies, but I don’t think that influenced me setting up Thing Industries because until the peanut butter business I’d never seen him actually making money from what he was doing! It was more a case of me wanting to find a way of being able to travel back to New Zealand more.

I’d told him about my business idea early on. I’ve always designed stuff and sketched things I wanted to make. Instead of saying, ‘No, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t have a degree’ or whatever, it was more like, ‘All right, honey, sounds great! Send me over some of your designs.’

There have been many times I could easily have given up, but Dad’s been really supportive with advice. Recently a deal with a large retailer in the US fell through. He said, ‘Yup, that’s shit, but it wasn’t meant to be. Don’t worry, next time it’ll be treble the amount.’

He’s always been very positive. Even with his macular degeneration, which he’s handling amazingly. He’s never once felt sorry for himself and he’s so chatty with strangers. It’s a great ice-breaker, I guess, walking around with a cane or his guide dog Fido.

A family snapshot from the late 1980s when Bridie was about seven.

Seeing how his business has grown has definitely been inspiring. He’s so far ahead of me in the journey – he knows how to do everything already and his knowledge of making furniture’s really helpful. It’s great now that we have this in common. I call him a lot to share ideas.

He also shares a lot of stuff about the peanut butter company. When he was here the time before last, we came up with the idea for a giant mobile toaster, which he had built then took on a tour of New Zealand to promote the brand.

He gets strong ideas and just does them – he’s got no time to waste with research or people dithering. I’m pretty similar and that’s one reason I’m enjoying Thing Industries, because I can come up with an idea, see a sample within a couple of weeks and have it in my online store soon after.

Dad and Mum separated when I was five. My half-sister Amelia was much older than me and my half-brother Louis and step-sister Lauren weren’t around at that stage so I consider myself quite lucky because I got lots of one-on-one time with both parents.

When I was 10, Mum and I moved to Nelson and, soon after, Dad set off sailing to the Cook Islands and Fiji. I went out to meet him. It was awesome. We just motored around the islands, swimming among the coral.

Dad’s such a social person, much more so than me. He made so many friends that every night we’d go ashore and have these huge feasts with people he’d met. There was no telly or anything so Dad and I would draw together and he’d teach me about perspective and lettering and stuff. He’s a really good artist.

He was away for two years. I missed him terribly, but he’d write me these great letters with detailed maps of where he was going and descriptions of the people he’d met. When he got back to New Zealand and settled in Nelson, it was really cool being able to walk to his house.

He’s a great drinking buddy when he comes to stay with me. My friends all think he’s great. ‘I wish he was my father-in-law, he’s so cool!’ they say.”

Bridie’s design company, Thing Industries, makes playful furniture and collectables for small spaces. From left: Banana Pillow, Brick Blanket and the Sacrificial Chair.

Pic Picot, 62

“Bridie rang me one day after a furniture fair and was a bit down. She hadn’t sold anything and it’d been expensive to exhibit. I thought, ‘Oh God, what do I say?’

I told her she was learning lots and to keep going because I knew she’d crack it. ‘It’s costing less than doing a marketing degree and you’re getting real experience!’ I told her.

My PA, Shelley, overheard and said, ‘Jesus, that’s just the sort of advice dads should be giving.’ I hope it made a difference, because I think that’s the first time I ever really felt I’d given Bridie advice.

I have every faith in her business. I think she’ll be another Karen Walker. She’s making interesting things, listening to her customers and she’s a really neat person with a lovely story. I think that’s so important.

As a little girl, she used to come and hang out with me at my workshop and make brilliant things from bits of wood. She’s always been creative. She’s the wittiest person I know and is unbelievably beautiful from the outside in and the inside out. She’s absolutely stunning – so cool to be with.

When she was small, we lived in Auckland and on Saturday mornings she and I would get up early and go for a coffee to a place where they had rocking horses, which she loved to muck around on.

It was really hard explaining to her when her mum and I separated. Luckily, though, her mum and I always got on; we still do, and Bridie would stay with me regularly. At the time, I thought she’d handled the split really well, but years later she told me that when I’d moved out she’d thought she’d lost me forever. I cried like anything when she told me that – I still do sometimes.

I went off sailing around the Pacific in Ajax, a boat I’d made. Soon after, she and her mum moved to Nelson. I missed Bridie terribly, but when she came to visit me for a few weeks it was amazing.

When I came back from the Pacific, I settled in Nelson too. Then, when Bridie was 18 and moved to Auckland to start work at Pavement magazine, I thought, ‘Shit, I can’t follow my daughter around for the rest of my life,’ and decided to stay put.

Her move to New York when she was turning 21 was pretty big for me – it seemed like such a long way. Luckily she comes home every Christmas and I love going there to visit her. She’s always so generous with her time and every night we go off doing things.

She’s a good drinker – she takes me to these karaoke bars. I hate to say it, but when she gets drunk she’s got a terrible singing voice. So there’s my gorgeous daughter, singing away shamelessly, and she loves it.

I’ve just bought a little share in Thing Industries, which is nice because Bridie’s now running ideas past me and I’m looking forward to spending more time with her. It’s also been helpful for our [Pic’s Peanut Butter] launch in the US to have her on the ground. She’s done a lot of marketing for us among friends and contacts.

When I was initially setting up the peanut butter business, Bridie was working in advertising in London. She was picking up a lot of the trends over there and I really valued her advice. It influenced my labelling. That’s why I added the poems on the back – little surprises that you don’t normally see. I like to bring fun into business; there’s no point in doing it otherwise.

This eyesight thing has been extraordinary. I can’t read or drive any more and I’ve had no choice but to delegate. It’s taught me I should have delegated with my other businesses and then they probably would have taken off like this one has.

My step-daughter Amelia’s on our board; she’s a clever girl too, and it’s also great having my son, Louis, on sales and production. I have vague hopes that Bridie might join us but she’s got her own thing of course and I hope she’s very successful.

I think her business could really take off in New Zealand, which would be neat because she’d start coming home more and we’d get to catch up.”

Words by: Fiona Terry

Photos: In New York by J.D. Durrans

Related stories

Lou Bentley from IT business analyst to opening The Akaroa Cooking School; following her cooking dreams.
Real Life

Cooking up a dream

Many of us enjoy pottering in the kitchen, but few take that passion for cooking a step further. Alexia Santamaria meets three women who are making a business out of their love of food.

Queenstown entrepreneur Sam Hazledine

No-limits man

Sam Hazledine walks the talk of the “anything’s possible” school of business thought. Peta Carey talks to the irrepressible Queenstown entrepreneur.