In your space: TRA

TRA has always positioned itself as one of the cool kids of its sector and its previous High St office looked more like a trendy agency than a dowdy research company. It’s taken that even further with its new office in Britomart, which developer Peter Cooper has pronounced “as the best fit out in the precinct”. And it’s bringing a few new clients along with it after winning the Spark, Toyota and Te Wananga o Aotearoa research accounts. 

Designed by Jose Gutierrez, who also did the previous fit-out in High St, the 400sqm space on the top floor of an existing 110-year-old heritage building continues the neon theme seen in last year’s rebrand from The Research Agency to TRA.

“The original brand for us was always the idea of a sign,” says Lewis. “It pointed in a direction, it showed the way. Now it’s about activation of insights. ‘Here’s something really interesting, but how does that come to life?’ And that’s the whole idea of the neon and turning it on.”

Some eyebrows may be raised at the combination of neon and rooms with one-way glass and while managing director Andrew Lewis jokes that they’re “moving into new and profitable territory” (it is quite close to Fort St, after all), there’s nothing dodgy going on. It simply added a room to hold focus groups that tries to make it a more pleasurable experience for participants. 

“Those [focus group]rooms typically look like a 1970s state house lounge. We tried to make it better so it’s got a bit of a movie feel with curtains and big red seats.”

He says the business is all about collaboration, so while it’s not taking that philosophy to the level of ASB and embracing hot desks, it is open plan and it has created a number of spaces where staff can work together. 

Previously, the space was a boxing gym, the office of Duco Events and, way back, a wool or grain store. And, as it says on the Gutierrez’s website: “The brief was for the architecture to define the company brand, creating a progressive space within a historic building. Space was created by the insertion of pragmatic volumes within the existing framework. The mirror-clad volumes dematerialise to reflect and emphasise the history and patina of the existing building.” 

As for the business, Lewis says it’s still on the up. Recently it was awarded the contract to run all of Spark’s quantitative research following a competitive pitch and this means it takes over as its ‘lead’ agency in this space. As such, it won’t be seeking renewal of its contract with Vodafone.

“We’ve got big plans around where we take the Spark brand and we see TRA as the ideal insights partner,” says Charlotte Findlay, head of brand and insight. “Their ability to to turn complex data into simple and insightful customer stories is going to be critical.”

TRA is also partnering with New Zealand’s second largest tertiary institution, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, in major brand review, following a competitive pitch. And it’s also picked up Toyota in a competitive pitch and will now act as their insights partner across all work.

TRA also works with IAG, VW, Foodstuffs, Lion, Mercury and ASB, so it’s an impressive list and, while the amount spent on research declined significantly during the global financial crisis, Lewis says the business has grown at around 120 percent per year since it launched in 2007. 

He says its success has come from using data analytics, design and strategy and planning with the tools of research.  

“I think that’s where the magic happens, when you bring all those bits together. And that’s a lot of what we’ve been developing over the last few years, hence the change to TRA, rather than The Research Agency.”

It has also been focusing heavily on the idea of customer-centricity, which has also paid dividends. 

“Getting the voice of the customer into a business is a lot easier to do now than it has ever been before. The customer is now being seen as the second most important stakeholder when it comes to strategy behind the C-Suite. That’s really shifted up the list. The whole view of technology being the greatest influence on business performance is nearly universal now and I think those two things are hugely inter-related because technology has given power to the consumers.”

Typically, he says companies work inside out: they develop a product, find out who it could be for, and then figure out how to sell it. But that needs to change. 

“It’s still the mantra in many cases, but the ability now exists to really flip that on its head in a way that didn’t before. You can go out and talk to consumers. But they can’t innovate. The only way you can innovate is by taking the human inside the business and ideating around it. That’s the best use of research. And that’s how problems get solved. They don’t get solved by external agencies very often. Companies know that stuff best. They just need the raw materials to start with.” 

Currently TRA has 26 staff, and it’s on the hunt for five more. It hopes to increase that to 40 by the end of this year (the new office fits about that many). It’s also gunning for $20 million in revenue by 2020. And if the past seven and a bit years are any gauge, you wouldn’t bet against it. 

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